Friday, June 14, 2013

Fathers Day: Bless Your Children - With Praise

Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Connecticut just put out a beautiful message just in time for Father's Day in the United States. Here it is.


His message resonates with me for a couple of reasons. First of all, my parents also didn't bless us each Friday night;we got blessed once a year, on Erev Yom Kippur. When we first married and had children, I felt that it would be appropriate to follow my parents' custom. My wife disagreed, and strongly felt that we should bless our children weekly, as he father had done. Her encouragement (and I think a very powerful Paysach Krohn lecture on the topic) convinced me, and we've been blessing our children every Friday night since that time.
The danger of doing something regularly - even weekly - is falling into a routine. But how many loving, tender routines do we really have? How many times each week do we (fathers) physically embrace our children - even if it's just putting our hands on their heads. Fathers can be (I might be describing myself, perhaps) somewhat authoritarian, distant and even off-putting at times. That simple blessing - placing your hands on your children - might very well be the only loving physical contact of the week.
I would add two thoughts to Rabbi Cohen's wonderful message.
The words of Birkat Kohanim are, of course, powerful and meaningful. But they're also not personal. They don't relay any specific message to each individual child. I'm not altogether sure that my children are even listening to the words. Yet, the classic blessing of children in the Torah - when Yitzchak blesses his sons - isn't simply a formulaic recitation, but instead reflected a deeper truth about each of his sons (even if he didn't realize it at the time!). My mother, who blesses each of us once a year (as is her custom) before Yom Kippur, after she reads the text in the Machzor, shares thoughts about each of her children - what she's proud of over the past year, and sometimes expectations that she has. That's a bit much for a weekly blessing, but somehow, after giving each child a brachah, I began telling each of my children something they had done during the week that made me proud. Now, they eagerly await that moment, when I give them a positive word for something that they've done over the course of the week. It might be good effort on a test; helping their mother; my three-year-old will often be noted for sleeping through the night. The content is of course important, and I take a couple of moments to think about what I want to tell them before coming home from shul on Friday night. But, perhaps, even more than that, is the positive encouragement that they receive. As a parent, it's so easy to criticize. We're far stingier with the praise, which is so much more effective.
Finally, when I began giving brachot to the kids, so did Rena. I think the first time I gave her a quizzical look, as if to say, "Hey, this is a father thing?" Why, she wondered, is it only for fathers? Shouldn't mothers bless their children as well? Indeed they should. And our children's mother does. Every week.
If you already bless your children, try adding a word of praise for each child afterwards. And if you don't yet bless your children before kiddush on Friday night, start now. (If it's not your minhag, I give you a heter to start a new minhag. Really.) It will be one new custom that you'll always be happy to keep.