Regular readers of this blog will know that my parents abused me (physically and emotionally) as a child.
I was walking down the street with my son, Jonah, having a wonderfully companionable time with him when a thought came into my head: I feel so privileged and thankful to be able to have children of my own who will never be abused as I was. In fact, I sometimes think of having children in the same way Emil Fackenheim, the great historian of the Holocaust, used to talk about the 614th commandment which he defined as perpetuating the Jewish people and so denying Hitler a "posthumous victory." In other words, for me the act of having children is a way to deny a moral victory to my parental abusers. Some may say that this puts an excessive burden on my children or somehow wrenches the normal act of parenting out of its simple form and transforms it into something too freighted with moral meaning. I don’t believe this is so. All I can say is that my life has been so marked, nay devastated by my abuse (even though it was not the most severe abuse one could imagine) that I know I will never fully overcome it. But knowing that my children will never face this because I will never allow them to–somehow this gives me great comfort.
A few new Jonah stories: he wanted to make pizza so we went off to Pike Place Market to buy fresh basil, bufala mozzarella and Roma tomatoes. After returning home we took out all the ingredients we’d need to make the fresh dough. Jonah turned to me and said: "Do you know why we’re making pizza, Dad?" "No, why." "Because pizza keeps you alive!" Nothing more elemental than that, I guess. I should’ve replied to him that it tastes mighty good too.
While we were at the Market, Jonah saw fresh flowers and wanted to buy some. I told him that I wanted to wait until we got to the Hmong women who sell gorgeous tulips. Jonah’s not very good with patience, but he somehow waited until we arrived at their stalls. I decided to buy 12 stems for $10 and began picking out the tulips individually. Right then, Jonah tugged on my sleeve and pointed at an especially vivid yellow tulip with scarlet stripes. "Dad, don’t you want to buy it?" Of course I did. I was so stunned by the flower’s beauty and by the fact that it’d been sitting right in front of me and I hadn’t seen it; and by the fact that he HAD–that I showered him with affirmation: "That’s so great Jonah! I never would’ve seen it if you hadn’t shown it to me. Just wait till you get home to show it to Mommy."
When we got home he brought the flowers proudly to his Mom and said: "You know why we buy you flowers, Mommy?" "No why, sweetie," my wife replied. "Because you like beautiful things."
With a child like that all I can say is that life is good.
What a beautiful story and wonderful relationship you have with your son. Jonah is lucky to have you for a father.
I completely understand your Fakenheim comparison. I too was abused as a child in what those on the outside considered a “nice Jewish family”. (My father works as a professional in the Jewish community where he lives. Yuck.)
I strongly believe that everytime we nurture a child in a healthy and appropriate way we comfort and help our wounded child and help to lessen the likelihood of abuse in that child’s future (G-d willing).
Thanks for putting a smile on my face and for warming the heart of my inner wounded child.