So far, fatherhood has been a journey of obligation, an exploration of identity, and an opportunity to experience life through my child’s eyes.
I am honored that this year, in 2023, I will be celebrating my first Father’s Day.
In the first moment of fatherhood, I felt responsible.
I stood beside my wife in the delivery room as she held our daughter, and the first thing I felt was a sense of responsibility.
Before affection and love, I felt a deep sense of obligation to protect and provide for this tiny human. At the moment, I thought about the immediate, our time in the hospital, and the long-term, how to help this child become the best person she could be.
I knew every choice I made from this day on had a new set of factors.
But what is my obligation?
The Talmud and Halakhic sources offer meager and degrading answers regarding daughters. I feel embarrassed by them.
Too many of them say that we are obligated to sons but not daughters. Too many.
As an egalitarian, I revisit them with eyes toward broader application. With the recognition that our wise sages lived in a context and at a time, and we can do better when it comes to how we think of how to apply our Tradition to all of the people.
In reviewing what it says on Kiddushin 29, one of the core texts on this question of fatherly obligation, I believe that we can derive four core responsibilities we have to our children. We are obligated to:
- Welcome them to the community to bring them into a sense of peoplehood.
- Teach them Torah to have ownership and access to the Tradition.
- Teach them to navigate the wider world and be responsible citizens.
- Teach them to be good partners and friends to others.
At a minimum, these are what the Tradition demands of us as parents.
And even though fatherhood began with a mentality of responsibilities, I remember how the Tradition describes itself using these terms.
This doesn’t negate the love, affection, joy, and care that have grown within me as a parent and father. These, too, are interwoven into Judaism along with obligations.
In addition, I am a stay-at-home abba.
I have the honor of being the primary parent at home in my family. It is a glorious and special role to have. One that I wouldn’t trade away.
It is also really difficult and isolating.
I love being home with my daughter, and being a parent is hard no matter what. Our society is still figuring out how to support parents at home. And we’re still finding new language and support for fathers like me.
When I bring her into meetings or when I teach classes, do people judge me? Am I being a good father? How have stay-at-home mothers and parents dealt with this in the past?
Don’t get me wrong, having your fingers chewed on while teaching a Talmud class was an adorable and memorable experience.
Being a stay-at-home abba has given me a sense of identity and focus.
I wrote, earlier in the year, shortly after my daughter was born, on the question of identity:
“So, now, I’m a parent and I have a new name: Abba. Does this mean I’m no longer Jeremy? The answer is: I don’t know. Maybe not. Sort of. Yes.
On one hand, I don’t feel like this replaces the name or identity I had before.
I am still me. This new role, title, and name are in addition! It is more like Yaakov and Israel, two parts of the same person. I still like science fiction, a strong cup of coffee, and a quick walk around the neighborhood. That stuff hasn’t gone away.
On the other hand, I’m definitely not the same person I was before.”
My sense of self is not the same, the things that are important to me have changed. I have a newfound sense of focus. And every day, every hour, I am reminded of what matters: kindness, love, and learning. This is what my daughter and I do together.
Being with my daughter all day, every day, is a gift.
As she discovers the elements of our daily lives, the parts we take for granted, she lifts the mundane into the holy.
Each day she learns how to use her body, sit up, chew, and make sounds, telling me about her day. If only I understood what fourteen da’s mean in a row. Each time she discovers a part of our shared reality, she reminds me of how much life there is in every moment.
Even when we’re both tired because no one has slept quite enough, we have the opportunity to soothe each other through a song or a laugh. We remind each other that having someone near who loves you can change everything.
This is possible because of my partnership with my wife. Through balance and conversation, agreement and compromise, we are learning to be parents together.
Fatherhood has been a journey.
Beyond my journey of self-discovery as a father and the discovery of life by this little human, I have the opportunity to reflect every day. To think about what it means to be a father, what it means to be a partner, and what it means to be a child to my parents.