Teach your parents well
by Edward Cone
News & Record
It occurred to me during the course of Sydney's bat mitzvah that something was backward, and not just the Hebrew she was reading to the crowd gathered in the sun-drenched old sanctuary of Temple Emanuel on Greene Street.
does scan from right to left, the opposite of English. Hence this
cheerleading-inspired synopsis of a Reform Jewish service as it moves
Read to the left!
Read to the right!
Stand up, sit down, praise God's might!
But I was feeling something deeper, something about my relationship with my daughter. This backward thing was about role reversal. As the father, I'm supposed to be teaching her all kinds of stuff, yet as I listened to her lead the congregation through a recent Saturday morning service, it struck me that I am learning as much from Sydney as I'm imparting in the way of wisdom.
What she teaches me goes well beyond the upstreaming of pop-culture knowledge that every generation offers its predecessor, although my grasp of instant-messaging abbreviations is pretty impressive. It comes down to this: Sydney is making me a better person.
I guess all kids do that for parents, if the parents are interested in doing their jobs. Children grow us up, give us reasons to behave like adults when we still feel like kids ourselves, force us to model the kinds of behavior we want from them. They give us perspective, allow us to look at our own parents with fresh eyes and realize that our moms and dads, too, probably were winging it half the time. But Sydney, possessed of an old soul, a big brain, and the kindest of hearts, seems an especially good teacher.
does not miss much, or forget anything, and things that I tell her have
a way of boomeranging and hitting me in the head. I say recycle, she
busts me for throwing a dogfood can in the garbage. I preach
compassion, she volunteers at an old-folks home. I drop her off at
Sunday school and head home to read the sports page, she takes it upon
herself to study Hebrew and pull off a bat mitzvah (the feminine name
for the Jewish coming-of-age ritual) with aplomb. Healing the world:
I'm talking it; she's walking it.
This is all for the good, more like Grasshopper snatching the pebble from the master's hand than Vader showing Obi Wan how good he's gotten with a light saber. And it applies to the really important stuff, too.
Last year, Sydney and I were at the Dean Dome, watching Miami apply the finishing touches to a drubbing of the Tar Heels. With about a minute to play, I said in disgust that we might as well head out and beat the traffic. Sydney was appalled. She told me to never give up -- after all, Carolina once overcame an eight point deficit against Duke in the final 17 seconds of a game to win a great victory. Which is a true story, albeit one that happened in 1974, back when I was about the same age she was at that moment in Chapel Hill. It was a morality play from my own youth, recited ritualistically to her over the years, internalized and retaught to me.
Like her brother before her, Sydney eschewed the lavish party that has come to define the bar/bat mitzvah experience for so many Americans, and asked that gifts be made to charity instead of to her. She worked hard and executed well and kept her focus on the purpose of the event, not the world's gloss on it, and when she spoke at the end of the service she tied her reading of the biblical story of Jacob's dream to her own dreams of a better world.
Sydney has always been plugged into something larger than herself, able to sense feelings and connections in a way that sometimes passes the understanding of people around her. Because of her, I was able to tap into a bit of that larger something during her bat mitzvah. I think she learned a lot from the whole experience. I know I did.
© News & Record 2006