FATHER’S DAY 5777
Two men were playing golf, when a funeral procession drove by the road adjacent to the 7th fairway. One of the men paused for a moment, placed his hat over his heart, and stood silently as the procession passed. The other golfer was impressed and said, “That was really nice of you.”
He answered, “It’s the least I can do. We were married more than 50 years!”
Thank Gd, few of us would miss a family member’s funeral for a golf game, although I once had a man ask me to make a funeral later in the day so that he wouldn’t miss his scheduled morning tee-time. How often do we ignore family, because something more important came up?
This week we saw one golfer whose priorities are in the right place. Phil Mickelson is one of the greatest golfers America has seen.
His short game is legendary. He’s won every major tournament but one—the US Open, where he has come in 2nd 6 times! “It’s the tournament that I want to win the most,” Mickelson said. However, this past Thursday, Mickelson withdrew as the tournament began. Why? His 18-year-old daughter Amanda graduated from high school on Thursday and was giving the commencement speech. For Mickelson, attending the graduation and missing the tournament was a no-brainer.
Mickelson was hoping that there might be a way to make both. The graduation was in California and the tournament in Wisconsin. The weather forecast potential storms over Wisconsin and if there would be a 4-hour delay—not unheard of…that would allow him to watch his daughter graduate and then zoom across the country in his private jet. But it was not to be. The U.S. Open began Thursday under clear skies.
Amanda nearly caused Mickelson to withdraw from the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Mickelson’s wife, Amy, was about to give birth as the tournament opened. Mickelson carried a beeper with him and pledged to leave in the middle of the tournament, if necessary—even if he were leading. Payne Stewart made a 15-foot putt on the last hole to beat Mickelson by one shot. Amanda was born the next day.
The last time Mickelson finished 2nd at the U.S. Open was in Merion in 2013, the week Amanda graduated from Middle School. Mickelson attended that ceremony too, though it was on a Wednesday. He flew overnight to Philadelphia, arrived at 4 a.m. and took a quick nap before his 7:11 a.m. tee-time. He took the 54-hole lead that week until Justin Rose surged past him on the back 9 of the final round.
All this heightens just how important this US Open was to Mickelson and his need to play the US Open now while he—at 47—can still compete at this level. However, as he said, “This is one of those moments where you look back on life and you just don’t want to miss it. I’ll be really glad that I was there and present.”
The Talmud (Ketubot 3a) teaches that if a man goes off to war and worries that he may not return, he can write his wife a conditional get (writ of divorce). If he’s not back in 30 days the get will take effect and she won’t have to live a life as a “chained” woman, unable to remarry if his body is not found. The Talmud asks: What if he’s across the river and there’s no ferry when the 30 days are up and cries out, “I have returned, I have returned”? The Talmud rules that this is not really returning. One is not considered to be there unless he’s actually present—no shouting across the river, no skype, no facetime. One must actually be present.
We desperately need to celebrate Phil Mickelson and others who have the courage to stand up and be a real dad, because fatherhood is now under assault as never before. More than 20 million—or 1/3 of all children in America—live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. The impact of fatherlessness can be seen in our homes, schools, hospitals and prisons—in almost every societal ill. Today we have all sorts of new family arrangements: single moms, single dads, step-parents, adoptive parents, partner parents, gay and lesbian parents. Being a parent today can be complicated.
And at the same time, many young fathers today are more involved than ever in parenting than their fathers ever were. One of my favorite stories about new fathers is the story of a new dad whose wife went out to do some errands a week after they brought their newborn baby home from the hospital. Soon after the mother left, the baby started to cry. The father did everything he could think of to get the baby to stop. He picked him up, he rocked him, he sang to him, he fed him, but the baby wouldn’t stop crying.
Finally, the dad got so worried he decided to take the infant to the pediatrician. After the doctor listened to the father tell all that he had done to get the baby to stop the crying, the doctor began to examine the baby’s ears, chest and then down to the diaper area. When he undid the diaper, he found that the diaper was indeed full. “Here’s the problem,” the Dr. said, giving the father an impatient look, “Why didn’t you change his diaper?”
The new father was very perplexed and said, “But the diaper box says it’s good for up to 10 lbs.!”
Yes being a parent is every bit as much a growth opportunity as being a child. So be like Phil Mickelson. Find a way to be present, to be involved in your kids’ lives. Even if you mess up from time to time like the new father in the story, what matters is that you’re there and trying.
A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something. As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed up to the spot where the brick had been thrown.
The angry driver then jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”
“Please, mister...please, I’m sorry but I didn’t know what else to do. I threw the brick because no one else would stop...” With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, he pointed to a spot just around a parked car. “It’s my brother. He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up. Can you help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.”
Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly ran to his brother and saw that he was basically ok and then lifted the handicapped brother back into the wheelchair.
“Thank you and may Gd bless you,” the boy said. Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home.
It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but he never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him of its message: “Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!” And I would add on this Father’s Day weekend—especially your children.
So on this Father’s Day weekend, may all of us who are fortunate enough to have children be grateful to Gd. Father’s Day was created by the retail business world so that each father would receive cards and gifts from his wife and children. We will, therefore, receive an assortment of shirts and ties and wallets. But among all these gifts will be one—the one gift that really matters the most—and that is to realize what a blessing it is to be a parent.
My friends, Gd whispers to our souls and speaks to our hearts. Sometimes when we don’t have time to listen, He has to throw a brick at us. It’s our choice to listen or not. Let’s be like Phil Mickelson and listen. Happy Father’s Day. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis
Congregation Shaarei Shamayim
1600 Mt. Mariah Rd.
Atlanta, GA 30329
Author of: Dancing With God