Father’s Day Fix
Several years ago, my wife, Linda, and I attended a conference of psychotherapists and sat next to a recently divorced female therapist who said to us, “Next time I’m going to marry a Jewish man.”
My wife asked, “Oh, are you Jewish?”
The female therapist replied, “No, but I’ve always heard that Jewish men make the best husbands and the most involved dads for their children.”
This wasn’t the first time we’d heard someone insist that Jewish men were the “chosen” husbands. But my wife and I weren’t sure if she was correct. Should we have told her about certain Jewish men (including some in our extended family) who are quite frustrating for their wives and frequently unavailable for their kids? Or should we have let her go on believing the stereotype?
As a Jewish psychologist counseling couples for more than 23 years, I wanted to find out the truth about “The Myth of the Menschey Jewish Husband.” So, for the past few years, I have been collecting data. I’ve surveyed several hundred couples in my counseling office and several thousand more at workshops nationwide. I’ve interviewed individuals and couples at men’s club programs, sisterhood events, federation gatherings and temples nationwide where I’ve been a guest speaker or instructor. I’ve also talked to friends and colleagues. Based on this sizeable but unscientific sampling of over 2,700 Jewish men from 22 Red states and Blue states, here’s what I found:
Good News: Almost 34 percent of Jewish husbands and fathers seem to qualify as a definite mensch.
Slightly more than one-third of the Jewish men I was able to assess in these surveys fit the criteria for a great husband and father. These individuals are able to work hard at their jobs and still find time and energy to be involved in household chores, child-care, shared spousal teamwork and family activities. On Father’s Day 2005, these multitasking and compassionate men deserve something a lot nicer than another department-store tie. They deserve our heartfelt thanks because their kids are growing up with great role models and their wives know the joy of having a true teammate in life.
Sad News: Almost 29 percent of Jewish husbands and fathers are emotionally unavailable to their loved ones.
Despite the stereotype that says Jewish men are great catches, in fact, there are a sizeable number (some with high incomes) who don’t seem able or willing to be good listeners or helpful partners at home. They don’t tend to pitch in much with child-care or family activities. His wife and kids typically complain that, “When he’s finally at home, he’s either cranky and short-tempered or he’s obsessed with golf or video games or watching his favorite shows on television while tuning out the rest of us.” Or he’s described as, “A bit self-absorbed and even though he does some good volunteer events for the community, he’s always got an excuse as to why he won’t do his fair share regarding the kids or the chores.” It’s almost as if the kids are being raised by a single mom.
Mixed News: Approximately 37 percent of Jewish husbands and fathers fluctuate between sometimes being a caring family member and at other times being too stressed or unavailable because of other priorities.
This group fascinates me most as a psychologist. More than one-third of Jewish marriages have occasional tension because a husband/dad, who deeply desires a peaceful and involved family life, gets pulled away by stressful work demands, sporting events, volunteer commitments or hobbies that eat up most of his free time. Most, it seemed, didn’t grow up with good modeling from their own dads or from other adult males in their lives. These dads are appreciated sometimes by their wife and kids and resented at other times for failing to follow through on family commitments.
There are remedies, and the problem is obviously worth addressing if you are a Jewish husband and dad (or if you know one) who needs either a minor tune-up or a major overhaul. The first place to start is early in the week when you carve out sacred family time. You should make sure nothing will disturb a beautiful family Shabbat dinner, and you should plan some enjoyable, connecting family activities on the weekend. You also should set aside time for one-on-one conversations during the week. And you should volunteer to share the load of weekly tasks with your spouse rather than waiting for her to plead or get fed up.
To do this, it helps to carry in your wallet a “Kavanah Note Card” stating your good intentions. You can pull it out and reread it just before entering your home each night. The note card that you write in your own words should say something like: “The precious souls I am about to listen to during the next few minutes and hours are more important than any customer, boss, or colleague I’ve spoken to all day. They deserve my most compassionate and helpful self, not my crankiness or my criticism. Don’t take this for granted, because the emotional and financial costs of doing a mediocre job with my family life will be enormous.”
Collectively, we Jewish men still have some inner work to do. Father’s Day 2005, possibly, will inspire each of us to make improvements and learn what they don’t teach in high school, college or even graduate school — how to be the involved, deeply caring husband and dad that your kids and truly deserve.
No Jewish Child Left Behind
Amid the troubling statistics of the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, there is one genuinely positive trend. The percentage of children in Jewish day schools is the highest it’s ever been. Twenty-nine percent of Jewish children today have attended a day school at some point.
Many Jewish parents have recognized that a day school education can give their kids the strong identity and sense of rootedness that they need to navigate an increasingly complex world.
There is no greater measure of a grass-roots phenomenon than the fact that such a large percentage of Jews are willing to shell out upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 (after taxes) a year from their own pockets to finance their children’s Jewish education. The current generation of young parents is trying to embrace day schools as never before. Sadly, however, everyone cannot afford day school. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish children whose families are not religiously committed or very rich are still being left behind. They just don’t have enough money to pay the high cost of day school tuition.
As young families try to vote with their feet; communal philanthropies are woefully lagging far behind.
Notwithstanding the countless commissions that have produced endless dialogue and flatulent institutional rhetoric, there has been no massive infusion of cash to help boost this positive trend in Jewish life. Philanthropies shrug their collective shoulders and claim that there are other existing priorities that must be met. Meanwhile, they are failing to cultivate this healthy new shoot of Jewish life.
Funding Jewish education can no longer be borne solely by the parents. As tuitions are doubling every eight years, fewer and fewer families can afford to educate their children Jewishly. The user-payer model of teaching our children about their heritage is bankrupt.
It is in the entire Jewish community’s self interest to have the next generation of Jewish children literate in our heritage, history and understanding of Torah values. Statistics have conclusively illustrated that children of intermarried and assimilated families do not support Jewish institutional life. Lack of adequate Jewish education funding is becoming a spiritual euthanasia. If existing philanthropies will not or cannot redirect funds to help our own children, new options must be sought and pursued.
In an attempt to solve this extraordinary funding crisis, a movement is fomenting across North America. The idea is simple and direct: Establish locally controlled and managed Superfunds for Jewish Education and Continuity (SJEC) that would raise money to provide scholarship funds for all students in that community. The raised money would be distributed in only one of two avenues.
• The scholarship money would be distributed on a pro rata basis to all of the day schools in the local area, based on their respective enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade.
• The donor can designate a particular school or schools. The donor’s request would always be honored and would take precedence over the first option.
As an added encouragement for people to give, each superfund would have an affiliated Ben Gamla Society of donors which would match every donation with an additional 10 percent incentive gift. The goal is very simple: Every Jewish child should be able to attend a high quality day school that has an affordable tuition, irrespective of the family’s stream of religious affiliation or financial resources.
In Chicago, SJEC has just begun to organize and commitments to establish the Ben Gamla Society of Chicago have already been made to match 10 percent of a $2 million scholarship fund.
Critics will argue that we don’t need another Jewish fundraising organization. While it is true that the existing philanthropies provide much-needed assistance in many deserving areas of social welfare, the costs of education are not being adequately served. And it is unlikely that existing philanthropies will commence a systemic overhaul of their funding priorities. Most institutions are too entrenched in their political culture to rethink themselves; however, business cannot continue as usual.
Others will argue that day schools are an Orthodox issue. But increasing enrollment in community day schools over the last decade belies this claim. In addition, distinguishing users by denomination is discriminatory and inflammatory.
We must recognize that every Jewish child deserves a chance to love their Jewishness and that it is a communal responsibility to provide our children with those educational opportunities. If we don’t, for most of us, intensive Jewish education will only be available to the rich.
George D. Hanus is chairman of the Jewish Broadcasting Network.
Give a Little Bit
Last week, I watched as Adam, a preschooler at Temple Akiba in Culver City, handed a beanbag to Melissa. She was crying because she didn’t have one. He had two. In Parshat Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89), we are told that we must give one-tenth of our yearly income to the Levites. Can you tell me what percentage of his “property” Adam gave to Melissa?
Sometimes we think, “No way! I’m not giving part of my allowance to tzedakah.” Or, “Uh-uh! I wanna eat my whole lunch. I don’t care if Brandon forgot his today.” Chances are you don’t need it all. You just think it’s too valuable to give away to someone else. God teaches us: The portion you give away is much more valuable to God than the portion you keep. So, if you only have to give away 10 percent, how much do you get to keep?
This Father’s Day, which falls on June 15, you will have a chance to appreciate the person who has taught you so much about life: how to share, how to ride a bicycle and how to take care of yourself. Show him how much you’ve learned: make him breakfast, clean up your dirty room and give him a big hug!