Dear Rabbi Kula,
I am 15 years old and in need of a consistent father figure in my life. It is not that I do not have a wonderful father — I do! It is just that he is rarely around. He is always working, traveling and at the office. It is quite upsetting. Please advise. Thank you.
POOR ORPHAN GIRL
P.S. I am not really an orphan. I have a wonderful mother who is often around, but it is not the same as having two parents!
Rabbi Irwin Kula Replies:
Thank you for your letter. You sound very fortunate to have both a wonderful mother and father, and understandably you want to have more time with your father. First, take a deep breath and feel grateful that you have the sort of father with whom you would like to spend more time. Your yearning for more time, though clearly painful, is itself a sign of the love you feel for your father and the love you know he feels for you. As you, your mother and father wrestle with this stage in your family’s life, try to remember this feeling of love that underlies your being upset. I am sure you know that your father loves you very much, and probably on plenty of occasions he has even told you that he feels bad that he is not around enough, that he misses you and that he is going to try to spend more time with you. And then things do not really change. So the second thing I want to say to you is to try to remember that changing our patterns of behavior is really very difficult. We each have a yearning to be successful working in the world, whatever our work may be, and we each have a yearning for the love and intimacy of family. We have to try to satisfy both yearnings to have a good and full life. But, for many reasons, we do not always give equal attention to these two powerful yearnings, and so we wind up being better and more successful at one than the other. And the better we are at that one, the more we tend to do it. It is sort of like when you have a subject in school that you are really good in and then another subject that is more difficult, you tend to want to spend more time dealing with what you are good at. Well, chances are your father is really good at work and gets a great deal of satisfaction from his success (and you probably benefit from that success, too) and probably, though he loves you and your family very much, he is not quite as good at just sitting around, talking and hanging out and showing how much he loves you. Believe it or not, doing this sort of stuff actually calls for different skills and for being vulnerable in different ways than working does. (To your father’s credit, he developed a relationship with a woman who is very good at this, and who is a wonderful mother.) You may not know this, but there is a rabbinic teaching criticizing Moses — yes, the Moses from the Torah — for being so involved leading the people of Israel that he had no time for his wife and two children! Now, I know your father is not Moses, but this teaches us that balancing work and family life is a very old parental problem that even someone as enlightened and spiritually aware as Moses had. So here is the third thing: You seem to be mature enough and wise enough to understand that sometimes parents need help to do what deep down they really want to do. So do not stop asking your father to spend more time with you even if things do not change precisely the way you would like. You may even want to try scheduling specific times each week in which the two of you will eat together, go to a movie, hang out and talk, go for a bike ride, etc., as sometimes actually setting aside a specific time will make it easier for your father to do what, if he were able to see his life a little more clearly, he would do. Continuing to tell your father that you want more consistent time with him is one of the most honest things you can do for yourself and one of the most important things you can do to help your father be the person he really wants to be. Even little changes in his behavior will begin to break his patterns and will make you feel very special — which of course you already are. The truth is that sometimes children are their parents’ very best teachers!
Rabbi Irwin Kula is president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He is the author, most recently, of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life” (Hyperion, 2006) and was featured in the public television special “The Hidden Wisdom of Our Yearnings,” which was based on his book.