The Essence of Honoring My Father
“Give kavod to your father and your mother; that your days may be long upon the land which Adonai your God gives you.” (Ex. 20:12)
This Father’s Day, June 17, 2012, I will give kavod (honor) to my deceased dad by doing something he never would have approved of. Yet, I believe, he would affirm the essence of the act.
A month shy of my 48th birthday, I — formerly the kid chosen last for every school and camp sports team of her childhood — will run my first half-marathon. I — who have only four 5Ks (3.1 miles) to my running history over the course of 20 years — will do whatever it takes to cross that 13.2-mile marker line.
The run is unlikely to be joyful. No matter how much I’ve tried to run rhythmically, to smile and release my shoulders, arms, legs, jaw, cheeks, and eyes, to facilitate a gentle and swift flight in space upon a beckoning open road, much of the training time all I can do is tell myself: I’ve born the whole tortuous thing before, so there’s no reason why I cannot will myself to do it yet again.
Moreover, energy in my life is a slippery friend. Although I eat healthfully to summon it, and sometimes seize it in overflowing measure, other times I’m sleep deprived, brain fogged, plagued by mysterious allergens and the night sweats of menopause — honestly, they should rename it menostopped. I may not be rested or rejuvenated on Father’s Day.
And yet, I run. Because it intrigues me, challenges me, and inspires me. Often, after a hard workout, a powerful, relaxed, open feeling washes over me — for hours afterwards, I feel firmly planted, joyful, and free, prepared to flow with anything. I’m often mentally sharper, more creative, and able to understand that around the shadow of an unwanted encounter the sun is peeking through. Post-run, I can be the best me I am capable of.
My father, however, a consummate Renaissance man, would not have approved of my running. Born in 1912, he accepted prevailing views of sports as unladylike (and ill-fitting for intellectuals, too). Women with such proclivities would best pursue ice dancing and gymnasts in the Olympics — acceptable choices, that is, for other people’s children.
Dad, who lived through the Depression, had larger lessons to impart. Doing your very best was the most important thing you could accomplish in life. Life could be hard, and there was meaning and growth to be garnered through personal grit.
In 1998, five months before he died, he composed an ethical will for me. In this beautiful Jewish tradition, passed on by such greats as the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, a parent writes a reflection on life purpose and teachings to transmit to his/her children. These are some of the words my father chose to say to his only child:
…I am so proud of you for all your accomplishments. You may have been there at the right time in the right place. But when you received your chance, you accomplished it with energy, initiative, and creative thought. It’s what you do after you are given the opportunity that is an indication of your worthiness….
Happiness is such an elusive term that I hesitate to use it. As we go through life, there are good times and bad times. In the bad times, we do not give up, but struggle through. In the good times we are productive. What do I wish for you, dear Joy? That as you go through your daily tasks, you may always say, “These are the best of times.”
Run after run, I am reminded of my father’s confidence in me. Running teaches me that in real life, not only in Hollywood movies, we can be more than we believed. This physically awkward kid can become a half-marathoner. What else might she become that she never thought possible?
Running, I struggle through. And afterwards, when I am at my most energetic, productive, and unlimited, I experience what Dad called “the best of times.”
So, Dad, I will do whatever it takes to complete my half-marathon on Father’s Day. And I will run it in your honor.