The streets of Tel Aviv are great to walk through. This was close to where I had my first interview.
“My father taught me how to deal with all the shit thathappens to you,” Emily told me. Emily isan international director at a newspaper in Tel Aviv, and she decided to meetas a favor to a mutual connection of ours. We ate some baked lasagna in a restaurant around the corner from heroffice, where she talked about her father.
These flowers were one of many beautiful arrangements throughout Tel Aviv.
Emily reflected on how her dad handled what he could not control as a parent. Emily’s dad started working at a company at 16 years old and remained there his whole career. Emily described the privilege of having the financial and emotional stability of both parents. Her father came home at “a quarter to 6” every day. Her dad helped create a stable environment so his children would have more opportunities than himself. Emily did not go straight through high school and on to college to get her degree like her father wanted. She felt he wanted this for her because he did not have the same opportunity to solidify a better future for himself. She knew that this is not what he wanted, but at the same time she knew that she would always have his support. He loves her because she is his daughter, and this does not come with conditions.
This playground was parked close to where I stayed, and as I got to know the city I saw these playgrounds everywhere. I love how family oriented Tel Aviv is.
Emily made clear that as a father, it is imperative you are thoughtful about how you respond to what you cannot control. “I don’t want you to finish this year thinking that you will have your life figured out, and you will know how to be the right dad for your family. There is no formula. I have thought about the nature versus nurture thing, and I’ll tell you that you don’t get the child you dream up. They have their own personality and ways and you just love them,” Emily said as we finished up our meal. “You also don’t see the shit coming that you didn’t ask for. You don’t see yourself losing your job during a bad economy or your partner’s parent passing and suddenly, they are a different person. You cannot control everything so don’t beat yourself up trying to; just love your kid.” Emily stayed well over our scheduled meeting time and into her next meeting. She also ordered espressos to-go for us as we finished up. When we walked back to the front door of her building, she repeated,“There is no formula.”
I could not walk around Tel Aviv without seeing a garden of beautiful flowers.
Emily said a father should be an example of how to respond to the unexpected and a father should know he cannot control everything. Robert, an executive over at Tel Aviv University, explained a similar lesson he learned from his father:
“My parents came from Iraq in the early 60s because they were forced out. My father went from Iraq to Iran and from Iran to Israel. When he became 17 years old, he joined the Israeli defense force. He met my mother when he was 22 years old. So, the first takeaways are my parents came here with nothing. It’s probably true for many people in this country. This country was formed from people from the diaspora, and it’s one big melting pot. The two last waves of immigration were fromEthiopia and the last one was from Russia. It takes many years to get assimilated in the culture here, so every generation has its own jokes and challenges. Secondly, my parents were very much involved. He was very much a family man and he showed it. I remember my father comes at 1AM and covers me. I remember this as a young kid. This was an age where people had to work very hard, not that today people don’t work hard, but this is hard labor. My father was a bus driver. Even though my father was one of the smartest people I know, he really didn’t get a chance to finish high school. He spoke five languages. At a later stage, he mastered trading. He was buying and selling currency. I had two other siblings, and he set us up.
Tom, my friend from Vanderbilt, introduced me to Nitsan and we went to this restaurant with delicious cheese pastries in Jaffa.
"The other thing that left a mark on me was the relationship between my mother and father. Even though she was 16 and he was 22 when they got married, their relationship was platonic. They loved each other literally to death. When my father died, my mother died. She kept living 10 years later, but something in her died. She stopped dying her hair. She felt like, 'My soulmate is gone.' I think this is something that impacted all of us. If you build a relationship, be thorough. Look at the long term. Yes, there are ups and downs, but look at the long term. You have to make it work. The ability to find positive in every negative is something that I got from them. It’s interesting; no one ever asked me these questions. You make me think, what did I actually get from my parents? The ability to look at every scenario and say, ‘Okay, that’s a shitty situation, but let’s see how do we turn that into lemonade.’”
Even the drive to Jerusalem was a beautiful ride through the mountains.
This theme of responding to the unexpected and understanding not everything is under your control repeated through Robert’s interview. A few days later this theme came up again during Ezek’s interview. I stood outside the building of Emily’s boss, Ezek, who is head of the company. His father also taught him how to deal with the difficulties of life:
People gathered in the square in front of the Western Wall. At the wall, it was the religious experience I had hoped for when I first wrote my application for this fellowship.
“You live in Tennessee?” “You were raised without a father?” “What age were you when he left home?” “How many brothers and sisters?” “The reason you study fatherhood is affected by the way you used to live up to now without a father?” “So this isa BA on fatherhood?” “You got already your BA, and this is following your graduation?” “And your BA is on?” “What type of engineering?” Ezek was thorough. He wanted to know exactly with whom he was speaking before he would answer any of my questions. When he was satisfied, he put his pen down on his desk where he was noting my responses, and he began.
“So, my father was born in Tunisia. He immigrated to Israel in 1956 as part of leaving a country where they could find themselves in danger searching for their Jewish homeland. He met my mother in 1960 in Jerusalem. They got married. As a child I remember it was hard, but on theother hand I remember that he was a man who took care of his family. He worked very hard. He left home very early, and he would come home late at night. He was an engraver in the metal industry, motor pistons. Even when we expanded our house, my father did part of it by himself. I think he was capable of anything. He helped my mother by all means. He was a very nervous man and impatient, but on top of that, he was very optimistic. He lost his father in Tunisia when he was 7 years old. He had a substantial impact on the way I look at life to the extent where I always take responsibility for my family, my job (in my case it’s my company, in his case it’s the machine he used to work on), and to be very optimistic about life and the future. That’s why when he died, we wrote on his headstone in Hebrew ‘Loving family man, descent, and very optimistic.’ For everyone, when you have a journalist or a salesman, it’s not just him. He has his own life, his own feelings, his own character. If you really want to get the best of him, first he has to get the feeling that he is important to you. But this is something that is natural. You have to really care about people and empathize and be yourself.”
The Old City in Jerusalem was a maze of markets with beautiful clothes and souvenirs. If I did not have to carry everything I have to buy, I would have gotten more than a t-shirt.
Life was difficult for Ezek’s father, and now Ezek handles the difficulties of owning a business with the inspiration of his dad’s story. Ezek’s questions at the start of the interview felt difficult and gave a sign that he would not open up. However, people have reminded me that I cannot control everything and that I decide how to respond to difficult situations, and that interview turned into a warm history of Ezek and his father.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcre was packed with people from all over the world.
These fathers reflected a culture of optimism inIsrael. The diversity of Israel was not completely reflected in these interviews, but these lessons in fatherhood offer advice on how to respond to the unexpected absence of my father and understand that I cannot control everything now that I am learning about fatherhood.
Zoë, who stays in good contact with me from South Africa, asked me while I was in Israel how I was handling these conversations about fathers overall. This has been a great challenge, so it felt incredibly special to be asked about it. It is a contradiction that my greatest difficulty has led me to meet amazing people on every continent this year, so I told Zoë I feel really happy about it all. The reminder that I cannot control everything is a relief, and the idea that I can continue to learn from difficulties is inspiring.
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