Guest post by David Karpel
When my fifteen year old son approaches me as maariv is ending Pesach 2014 for good, I know something is up.
“I know what you’ve said about not listening to music during sefira, but a lot of people draw the line at live music,” he says. “So I’m thinking that’s what I’m going to do. I mean if the halacha is unclear – ”
“In our house, it’s very clear.”
Lately, we’ve been having teenage attitude issues, which Webster’s defines as a tightrope walk between teetering skyscrapers with no net in a hail storm while wearing ice skates.
“In our house, we don’t listen to music during this time. You know this. It’s been this way since you were six years old. This is the way it has been, this is the way it is. I have no doubt it will be difficult. I know. I have more than 25 years of hardcore music listening over your – what? year? As long as you live in our house – “
And it hits me: Oh my G-d! I have become one of those evil parents I have always despised.
My son’s size 10 shoes creep me out. That’s where all of this really starts – his big floppy feet.
I fear him.
For him, too, of course, but I know I fear him more. Adore him, love him deeply, often expectant and demanding to a degree from him – I’m his Dad – but I don’t know him.
That’s right: I don’t know him. And so I fear him.
He’s a hormonal hurricane.
Our son is a teenager taking the space of that short gingy just-say-yes kid with the hearty laugh and joy for family, faith, and community, our all-American suburban Yid, his tzitzit fluttering behind him as he rode off in the sunshine on his Huffy.
Now he’s a sprouted yeshiva bochur. When I look at him now, I look at him eye to eye.
His life is brand new to us even though we’re the one’s who brought him into it. We didn’t experience anything like what he’s going through now, what we’re putting him through now.
We started to observe Shabbos when he was three and our daughter was six months old. Since then, we’ve changed our lives completely for ourselves and for our children and, ultimately, for their children, and so on. We have so much more to learn, so much more to do, but we’re all doing this together.
Baalei teshuva raising a yeshiva bochur. Who are we? Who is he?
The answers are constantly changing. But the goals are the same. At least, I think they are.
“Dad, you didn’t go to school from 8 a.m. until almost 9 p.m. every night.”
“I’m 15! It’s so uncomfortable. I don’t want a long beard like yours.”
He’s right. And at 15, I wouldn’t have either.
His mother and I, worried about the negative attitude, sit him down and talk. And talk.
“Music is my therapy!”
Of course it is. In this one area, secular music, we chose not to be hypocrites. But we have kept to a strict abstinence during this time period for nine years, long before music meant anything to him. Now it’s his therapy? Oy. Not that there’s anything wrong with therapy.
It’s dependency we worried about.
“What am I supposed to do? I mean, how do you survive? After a day at school – my gosh!”
We explain how not listening to music during this time period allows us to better focus on what comes at the end of the seven weeks. Who are we, where are we holding in order to receive the Torah?
“Really? What am I supposed to do, meditate?”
My leg is running a marathon. I want him to have the best boyhood in the history of time. Yet none of this, our reasoning, my wish, is realistic.
I want him to flourish in yiddishkeit and chassidishkeit, the kind I never knew, the kind I’m still growing into.
The only kind he’s ever known.
Sitting there hearing his complaints – legitimate complaints! – I realize my frustration with his negativity is my own envy.
Part of me still believes that I’m giving to my son a boyhood I never knew, the kind of boyhood as an adult I wish I had.
And then I lose my temper. I admonish him. Inexcusably, I call him spoiled and list the reasons why. Open your mind to different perspectives, I say without an ounce of irony or self-awareness. What’s wrong with learning to like quiet? What’s wrong with spending time actually thinking without noise, away from the iPod and PS3?
I give him a taste of my boyhood.
And then I walk out of the house and go for a walk. I’m such an asshole.
The next morning I knock on his door.
His big floppy feet stick out of the blanket.
“Dad – “
“Hold on. Listen. I couldn’t sleep last night. I’ve only ever wanted the best for you. Just a couple of years ago you were delirious about being bar mitzvah, about putting on teffilin and getting an aliyah in the Rebbe’s room. But I know this is a tough time for you, lately. That the adjustment to mesivta and this period of your life has been hard. Here’s the thing: We don’t listen to music during sefirah. I want you to keep that, but I can’t be with you every minute. What you do in your private time is up to you.”
“Dad, I couldn’t sleep either. No wait. Don’t interrupt, please. I was so wrong. I was chutzpadik, and I’m sorry. I gave it a lot of thought. You guys are so right. I’m not going to listen to music. I deleted a couple of apps to help with being tempted. I’m just going to learn to spend more time reading and practicing guitar.”
And then he throws those big feet on the ground, comes into my arms, and gives me a great big bear hug and kisses me on the neck.
“I love you, Dad. Thank you.”
To fear him has been folly. Because I know this, this love, this is how it always ends with us.
David Karpel is from Miami Beach and now lives in a South Florida suburb. He is married to the funniest woman in the world and they have two freakishly well-behaved children. When he’s not teaching Krav Maga, practicing Brazilian jiu jitsu, or eating leather in muay Thai classes, he’s a high school English and Social Studies teacher, aspiring poet and amateur essayist, neglectful blogger at Jew Jitsu: Life in Search of the Soul Roll, and the founder of Frum Fit to Fight, a self-defense academy dedicated to serving the Orthodox Jewish community of Coral Springs and Boca Raton, Florida. David is now also on the editorial staff of The Good Men Project.