I have to admit, I like mother’s day so much more than father’s day. At this point in my life it is simply, because it is the one day of the year when I get totally smothered in appreciation and pampering. For twenty years, as long as I have been a mother, my family has done their very best to bring a new meaning to mother’s day. They make it all about me, not about the mother I lost when I was just a teenager. And that is just fine, because there is still not a day that I don’t think of my mother, cherish her memories and thank her for helping to make me into who I am today. Even the fact that she left me so early in life impacted me enough to mold me; hopefully by now, in a good way. I like to think she was able to cram all that I needed from her into just seventeen years. I am sure I could have gotten more beyond that; I don’t know what it is to be an adult with a mother or even a mother with a mother of her own, but I have a blessed angel that follows me throughout my days, my ventures, my trials and tribulations and I am okay. There are lessons in all of it.
Father’s day, on the other hand, will take on a new meaning this year for me. Less than six months ago I lost my father and the world still doesn’t seem quite right. For the past 32 years my father was both parents to me, even at the end when I became more of the parent as he was no longer able. I am not sure how I will feel on that Sunday in June, but when I think about my father now, I wonder if he knew how much he taught me in life. Actually, I wonder more if I were to list the basic lessons I got from him, if he would be surprised or annoyed that those are what I choose to acknowledge as the wisdom he passed on. He probably would prefer to hear that I learned to always put part of my paycheck into savings, or to light the candles every Shabbat, but the greatest lesson I inadvertently learned from my father is to give everyone a chance. No one I know was friendlier and more willing to lend a hand than my dad. He talked to people in the checkout line at the supermarket or on the train platform, which can be mortifying for a teenager, but in retrospect I believe he brought smiles to peoples’ faces and that is always priceless.
My father came to this country from Germany as the Holocaust was beginning to unfold. He shared few stories with us about that time in his life, but what I took away from them was amazement that people could literally harbor a hatred for others simply because they appear different. Different religions, different colors, different beliefs. Although my childhood was limited to a pretty flavorless existence, as I ventured into the real world an excitement to explore blossomed. I still feel fortunate to have been introduced to a slightly different culture just blocks from my own when I began teaching in NYC. This is where Shades of Gray was born and a passion to keep children in school and open minded developed. Anyone who knew my dad would never suspect him of teaching me about acceptance. My best explanation would have to be that we don’t always plan what we want others to learn from us. It just happens.