The answer came to me when I was driving my daughter to her bat mitzvah training. We were listening to postelection radio coverage, but I was not really paying attention because my daughter had just told me she wasn’t practicing her Torah portion when she was at her mother’s house.
I was in a tough spot. If I became visibly frustrated and pushed her too hard, my daughter would experience the learning process as a slog, which would suck the joy right out of it. But if I let her think it was okay to study only when she was with me, there was no way she’d be ready in time for her bat mitzvah.
Just then, a story on NPR cut through the noise of my frustration — something about the communication styles of presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney — and it hit me that these two father figures represented very different visions of what it means to be a man today.
Romney, with his sublimated emotions and cool, logical approach to problem-solving, was often described by media pundits as being unable to connect with voters. Obama, on the other hand, rated in polls as the more likable of the candidates. Where Romney advocated hands-off government, lambasting in a leaked fundraising video those who believe they are “entitled” to government help, Obama promised tough love. Take responsibility for your actions (and pay your fair share of taxes), he said, and we’ll take care of you when you need help.
The Obama approach to my daughter’s lackluster study habits would be to place the responsibility, and the joy of that responsibility, into her hands, while supporting her when she needed it. Which would be often (she is only 12, after all). I could ensure progress and practice on the days she was with me, while helping her realize that she could motivate herself to study when she was at her mother’s house, too.
The Romney approach would be to tell her she was messing up by not studying, and let her face the consequences if she didn’t take responsibility for her progress. A failed bat mitzvah performance would be a valuable life lesson, but I’m not sure her bubbe and zayde would approve.