Saturday, November 27, 2010

This Daughter Who Teaches Her Father

Today was my daughter Josephine's Bat Mitzvah ceremony.

She stood before her congregation and taught them about dreams.

When a father looks at his daughter, he sees in her every age she has ever been. Yesterday, as she ran through her d'var Torah in her final rehearsal, the first time for me to hear it, when I saw before me what an accomplished, intelligent, poised, thoughtful, and beautiful young woman she's grown into, I felt as if I was offered a glimpse into every age she will ever be. I used to think that she was a girl upon whom a light always shined, but it has become clear that the light is her own, one that will make the world a brighter place as she now steps forward in the tradition of the Jews and accepts the full rights and responsibilities of life in her tribe.

Those who know me understand that I'm not temperamentally suited for sitting in churches, mosques, or synagogs no matter how much singing and dancing we do. Since I was a child, I spent my time in the pews with my eyes on the windows, imagining myself out there. I am a spiritual person in my way, but I've never been able to get my mind around the idea that some guy behind a lectern or some dogma can tell me anything more about the condition of my soul than I already know. I am a communal person in my way, but I've always found that spiritual connection with my fellow humans in other places, like amongst the families of our Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool. I'm a reflective person in my way, but I find being alone with the dogs in the woods to be the proper place for meditations.

That said, I've made a mistake in all of this. When Josephine first began talking about her Bat Mitzvah over a year ago, she did so with a certain amount of ambivalence. As she learned more about all the work it entailed, she confessed to me at least that she didn't want to do it at all, that she felt compelled, that she didn't have a choice. I take comfort in the knowledge that we're all stupid parents sometimes and with the pride of an idiot I took that to mean that she wanted me, her father, to save her. I had made my escape from organized religion, she was my daughter, of course she would want to join me on the other side of those windows.

With my help she was able to stand up and say, No, I will not do this. And it was only once she stood there before God, family, and the world having said No, I think, that she felt free to make this decision for herself.

Within a few days of having her No accepted, she turned around and committed herself fully. Maybe I thought that her occasional griping meant that she was going to change her mind again and she would need me to be waiting right where I had always been. But that was part of all the ages my daughter had ceased to be. The young woman she has become is one who makes commitments and sees them through no matter how hard the path or how easy it would be to give up. That was my mistake, seeing only my little girl and not this powerful woman, this daughter who teaches her father.

I'm excited for her and incredibly proud. She is the greatest gift in my life and I love her more than she will ever know.

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Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

Print this post, put it in a file, and give it to her when she leaves for college.
This personal post brought tears.
As corny as it sounds and is, I have learned most and continue to learn the most from being a mother.
Thanks for the peek into your life at this important moment.

SquiggleMum said...

What a beautiful post Tom. Thank you so much for sharing. I often think that our children teach us more than we ever teach them.

Unknown said...


Saya said...

Beautiful beyond my words can express... Thank you very much for sharing this, Teacher Tom!

Deborah said...

My daughter is so much the same way - and I too had to learn to distinguish between what I thought she might want (because of my own ideas) and what she ultimately did want to do or commit too. It is such an amazing thing to see our children become young adults and express themselves in ways that surpass our expectations.

Launa Hall said...

Tom, you've taught me so much about teaching, and you're teaching me about parenting, too. Thank you for sharing your insights. Your blog is a great inspiration to me. Best wishes to your daughter on her Bat Mitzvah!

Play for Life said...

You're such a sweetheart Tom.

Donna :) :)

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