Family & Education

The joy of fatherhood

It's Father's Day on Sunday. Three JC writers reflect on the experience of being a Jewish dad


Father of teenagers

This will be the first Fathers’ Day on which two of my three children are teenagers.

For some reason, this seems quite a significant milestone. Mainly, I suspect, because it is a sign that James, 17, and now Ruby, 13, are maturing faster than I can often comprehend.

Their younger sister, Mia, is still only nine, but there is a yearning on my part to make sure I now cherish every day of her childhood years.

All three have never been left in doubt that they are Jewish, but for the elder two, High Holy Days and Sunday Maccabi football matches were, for a decade, the furthest they would be made to delve into their heritage.

But schooling, and then James’s barmitzvah led to a reappraisal of values and life choices by my wife Emma and myself.

I probably pushed most for a place at JFS for James once he needed a secondary school. The idea of private education was a non-starter, while our local, non-faith school reminded me of my own — which is not to say I didn’t enjoy school but only wished I was pushed to try just a little bit harder. 

I suppose I was attracted to the Jewish ethos of JFS — that desire to achieve your full potential in life, as well as community spirit. James, and more lately Ruby, have thankfully both found the school to their liking.

While James’s academic future rests on his A-level grades this year and next, he continues to excel on the football pitch as a goalkeeper with London Lions’ men’s team and Hendon FC in the Rymans under-18 league. I still proudly watch him play whenever I can. As for Ruby, she, too, is a keen footballer, and has replaced James as my partner at White Hart Lane and elsewhere watching Spurs play.

At school, Ruby continues to be something of a free spirit — but, fortunately, while also displaying high levels of academic promise. Both of my teenagers seen entirely comfortable with their rather more meaningful Jewish existence these days.

Their dad has found much within the community to inspire him in recent years — along with the realisation that it is the sole responsibility of Mum, Dad and our children to carry the family’s Yiddishkeit into the next generations. 

Being a father means you think about your Jewish identity from a new angle.

Dragging them to into our local synagogue in Brondesbury Park has so far proven a step too far — although James has signed up to be goalkeeper in the shul football team!   

It was his barmitzvah, four years ago now, that brought me back through the doors of a synagogue for the first time in decades, so maybe I shouldn’t object too much to my son’s sporadic  attendance.

The past few years have seen some tricky times for us all as a family. You want to be there for your children at all times.

Sometimes you need them to be there for you. And they have been. 

All three of them.

Lee Harpin is the JC’s Senior Reporter

New dad

Everyone tells you that becoming a parent will change your life completely. Until my daughter Jessica was born last December I had no way of knowing how accurate they were.

For all the clichés about dirty nappies and sleepless nights, nothing could have prepared me for the realities of fatherhood — chief among them the utter joy that a baby brings, both to its parents, and to the extended family.

Nearly six months after Jessie was born, there are still many moments when I’m hit by the sheer enormity of becoming a father. It seems utterly surreal.

In practical terms, my desire to spend as much time with my little girl as possible — within the bounds of having a demanding full-time job — means I aim to get home every evening in time for her bath and bedtime irrespective of what else my day holds.  

I’ve thus found myself in a variety of bizarre circumstances — most recently interviewing the Prime Minister ahead of the election — plotting how quickly I can get home and whether I’ll make it in time.  

The weight of responsibility — my child’s life depending on the attentiveness of me and my wife, Amanda, 24 hours a day — does not actually sit that heavily I’ve found. 

Every nappy, every feed, every broken night is  — if not exactly always a pleasure — collectively the best thing that has ever happened to us and puts the minor quibbles and disagreements of the pre-parenting past into perspective. Jessie’s arrival has also confirmed what I had long-suspected, that Amanda would be a devoted mother, dedicated to packing her daughter’s days with fun, education and love. 

Shortly after she was born, I held Jessie for an hour, quietly telling her all about her family — about her parents’ lives, about her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and about her late great-grandmothers after whom she would be named a few days later. 

But most clearly I remember telling her we were Jewish. It feels slightly bizarre now, but was it so strange? Being Jewish is an enormous part of our lives.

As a boy, I danced around the coffee table on a Friday evening singing Adon Alom after my mum lit the Shabbos candles and my dad made kiddush. 

Now I find myself sitting in shul on a Shabbos morning, with Jessie on my knee, bouncing her up and down to the same tune, her chuckling away, me marvelling at the miracle of life.

The week she was born, we brought Jessie home from the hospital on the Friday afternoon. That evening, with my parents and our families around the table, I broke down while making kiddush.

It was partly the sleep deprivation, but more the deeply moving realisation of what Amanda and I had just done; ensured the continuity of another generation of Jewish life, and brought into the world a beautiful, happy little girl who injects immense joy into so many lives every day.

Enjoying more than three decades of Father’s Days with my own dad has been wonderful, but this year, as a father myself, it promises to be a day of even greater happiness.

Marcus Dysch is the JC’s Political Editor

Father of grown up children

In September 2010, I had just dropped off my younger son Joseph in Brighton — he was then at Sussex University — when I switched on my car radio to hear the result of the Labour Party leadership election.  “The new Labour Party leader,” said the sonorous newsreader, “is Ed Miliband”.

“Oh, get it bloody right, BBC,” I moaned, “Ed Miliband! It’s David Miliband, you idiot.” But, no, it wasn’t. And so began the steady distancing of the Labour Party from my once ardent affections.

A friend of mine who, like me, has four children, blamed the mother. “Just imagine,” my friend said to me, “you are sitting with your offspring around the family table and your eldest announces that he is going to put himself forward to be the leader of an important group, for which you know he is more than qualified. Then, a younger sibling, nowhere near as qualified, says: ‘I think I’ll go for that, too.’ Wouldn’t you just send him straight to his room for such outrageous chutzpah?”

Well, yes, but not when he’s grown up. Especially when, as in my case, two of the four live in their own separate homes. And while it is not unusual in today’s economic climate to have two adult kids — the younger two, in their twenties — still sitting at the family table, their motives and actions are, like it or not, independent. 

This is something young parents with babies and toddlers can’t envisage — and parents of teenagers can’t wait for! In the meantime, Jewish parents’ ways of coping with their children’s dependency seem to be contained within a narrow spectrum from the obsessive to the almost smothering.

The spectrum of relationships with adult children, by contrast, is very wide, ranging from naches to tsores, sometimes both at once. And there are always intriguing surprises — how on earth, for example, do my journalist wife and I come to have a daughter, Amy, doing a PhD in science?

And then the grandchildren come along. I have two, one boy aged two years and another aged two months. Watching them develop and seeing how doting my elder daughter and son are, is both delightful and objective. Though, given that my son

Ben’s other half is called Becky, and my daughter Becky’s other half is called Ben, there is scope for confusion. 

Amid all of this, it is so warming that I am still treated by all the children to Father’s Day celebrations and I await Sunday with pleasurable anticipation. 

But older parents can also face salutary moments. I taught Joseph to play squash and, for years, I’ve given him a five- or six-point lead and gently overhauled his score while giving him a good workout. 

But the last time we played, a few weeks ago, we started level — and he completely thrashed me. It felt like a turning-point, though not quite as momentous as young Ed’s usurping of big brother David’s destiny.        

Gerald Jacobs is the JC’s Literary Editor

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