On Father's Day, Whither the Jewish Dad?

'J-Mom' Stereotypes Abound But Hubbies Are on Sidelines

Henpecked?: In ‘A Serious Man,’ Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlberg) feels put-upon by his wife Judith (Sarah Lennick).
Focus Features
Henpecked?: In ‘A Serious Man,’ Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlberg) feels put-upon by his wife Judith (Sarah Lennick).

By Lenore Skenazy

Published June 10, 2013, issue of June 14, 2013.
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Happy Jewish Father’s Day — and you know what that means, right?

Well, actually, you probably don’t. Because unlike Jewish mothers, who’ve got a stereotype that just won’t die (not even if it goes outside without a sweater), Jewish fathers are not defined as any one thing. Which got me wondering: Why not?

Why are us J-moms the butt of so many jokes, stories and songs — well, jokes and stories, anyway — while Jewish dads sit on the sidelines of pop culture, smoking their pipes and carving scrimshaw?

Or… whatever it is they’re doing? They just don’t have the same definitive brisket-braising/doctor-raising image that the moms of our tribe do. “I asked my dad, ‘What’s the stereotypical Jewish father?’’’ said Shaun Eli Breidbart, comedian and executive director of The Ivy League of Comedy, a troupe that does “clean” comedy at colleges and other venues. “He said: ‘I’m busy. Go ask your mother.’’’

The point being that Jewish fathers tend to defer to their wives. But how is that a particularly Jewish trait, considering most men defer to their wives on at least some topics: “Honey, do I like red snapper?”

“The stereotype is, the Jewish husband does whatever the Jewish wife wants,” said Ellie Hirsch, a Tampa, Fla., mom of three who gives parenting advice under the moniker The Mommy Master. “That’s why Jewish husbands are so fantastic!”

Hardly, says author Elliott Katz, whose 2005 anti-wishy-washiness manifesto, “Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants,” has been translated into 24 languages. The stereotypical Jewish father, Katz believes, is “henpecked by a domineering stereotypical Jewish mother. [He’s] doing whatever she wants, in the hopes that maybe one day she will be happy.”

Which is exactly what Hirsch was saying — whooping about, actually — except to Katz this is a problema, and to Hirsch it’s unbelievably great. Both perspectives are pretty well represented in this joke, repeated by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center: “There are two friends who have a 40-year friendship. Sit next to each other every Sabbath. We will call them Steve and Joe. Steve passes away, precedes Joe by only four days. When Joe goes to heaven, he has to find Steve. He asks where the recently deceased people are. There are two lines. The first is filled with hundreds of people. The title of the line is ‘Henpecked husbands.’ Joe looks up and down the line and does not see Steve. He walks to the other side and sees one person in a line: Steve. The line is for ‘Liberated Husbands.’ Joe is confused and asks him why he’s in this line. Steve replies: ‘What can I do? My wife says I should stand here.’”


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