Every June, when I pick out a Father's Day card for my dad, I'm disappointed by the selection. The choices are often clad with a cartoon of a slug parked in his La-Z-Boy chair drinking beer. Others feature a father playing golf with a message about some life lesson relating to the putting green.
My dad is neither lazy nor beer guzzler nor golf aficionado so those cards never resonate with me. In fact, that "Lazy Boy" stereotype doesn't fit the bill for so many of the fathers I know.
As we approach Father's Day, I thought we could spill a little ink in tribute to the many menschy fathers -- and father figures -- out there, who sometimes don't get the credit they deserve.
The Talmud tells us that "a father is obligated to teach his son how to swim." That directive can be taken literally that a father must teach his son (or daughter) to swim in order to survive in actual tumultuous waters. But, this verse is also meant to be interpreted metaphorically that a father must guide -- but not shelter -- their children through the tumult of life.
That's certainly true of my father. My whole life, he's been guiding me, and pushing me, to take on the challenges of life with confidence, but at the same time he's there to help me if I fall, too.
As a kid, I recall him sitting with me, his mathematically-uninclined daughter, for hours on end, reviewing ad nauseum long division or improper fractions. And I remember him acting as my lab assistant for my middle school science project, which was testing the bacteria count in our neighborhood's water supply.
Then, when I was 15, he took on the task of teaching me to drive. It was smooth sailing doing loops in an empty parking lot near our house. But two minutes into us both feeling brave enough to test my driving skills on real suburban streets, I got overly cocky and turned the steering wheel right when I was supposed to go left and landed the car on a neighbor's lawn. My dad, unlike me, didn't panic, and, after cracking a couple jokes about the situation, reassured me that my driving would improve if I kept at it.
His duties went beyond homework help and driving instruction. My mom, who is thankfully healthy and has been for most of my adult life, was seriously ill on and off throughout my childhood. My dad, a busy doctor, would step in Mr. Mom-style during those times to take care of my mom, as well as my sister and me.
He has instilled in us Jewish values: Both a curiosity of the world -- it was my dad who had me reading the international section of the morning paper as soon as I was old enough to read -- and a deep compassion for others. Though I'm not so sure he's familiar with the Hebrew term gemilut chasadim, I can't tell you how many times I saw him performing them, acts of lovingkindness, toward others.
For instance, whenever kids tell him they're interested in pursuing medicine, he invites them to shadow him at the hospital. When a waiter at his favorite lunchtime haunt mentioned he was having trouble making ends meet, my father hired him to work in his office.
But nothing compares to his dream of helping the troops. Fifteen years ago, my dad -- an ophthalmologist -- wanted to do something for deploying soldiers who serve in combat. So, he launched a program in which he performs laser vision correction surgery on U.S. combat soldiers for free. My grandfather, his father, had served in the Pacific during World War II, but in my dad's own military service, he never saw combat, so he thought it was "the least he could do" to support the troops.
He wanted these brave men and women, put in harm's way in war zones around the world, to feel even just a bit safer knowing they can see their way through perilous combat conditions without the burden of eyeglasses or contact lenses. To date, he has operated on 800 soldiers.
He's a healer, a mentor, a sage, and a rock -- but to me, he's just Dad.
To my dad, and to all the wonderful fathers and father figures, thank you -- and happy Father's Day.