Friday, May 06, 2016
[a letter to a special 11 year old boy who lost his father, which his mother may show him - in its entirety or in parts - whenever she feels the time is correct]
My dearest Netanel, you know me as one of the many grown-ups populating your parent's world. But because I have known your parents for many years - well before you were even born - I know you as a special young man whose very presence in the world is as wonderful as it is miraculous.
As I write this, it has been a month since your father was taken from us. His death left a gaping hole in the lives of those who knew and loved him. But I'm sorry to tell you that you and your Ima are the ones who will feel the pain of his absence the most strongly, and for the longest time.
At the funeral, and during the shiva, you heard many people speak about what a wonderful and appreciated man your father was... how he was a good and honest person, and how he always, ALWAYS, tried to do the right thing.
I won't repeat what you've heard and must already know, but I do want to share a few personal observations from the many years I was privileged to know him.
Your father grew up in a working class city that was suffering through a difficult economic time. I know this because for a time, my family lived a few blocks from his (although he was a few years behind me).
Ours was one of the nicer areas of the city, but the neighborhood and its schools were full of challenges, temptations and dangers. I tell you this because from the many hours of sharing stories with your father about 'the old neighborhood', it has always been clear to me that, even back then, your father was already making good choices and carefully charting a moderate and sensible path that would define the rest of his life.
Your father was a respected accountant in his earlier years, and worked as a bank examiner. But even as he was laying the groundwork for this prominent career, he made sure to have a back-up plan... a 'plan B', just in case things didn't go as planned (or as a way to make extra money). Since he was always gifted in understanding how mechanical and electrical things worked, he decided to get a degree in electrical engineering. Just in case.
'Just in case' is what responsible people plan for, to protect themselves and the ones they love from the pitfalls and unexpected setbacks that life tends to throw at us. It is because of your father's 'plan B' that your parents were able to make Aliyah, knowing that even if a banking career was not possible for your dad in Israel, that he would always have a way to make a living doing something that would always be in demand.
This was just one example of the careful, methodical way your father approached everything in his life. If you ever watched him work, you could see by the organized and practiced way he put out his tools and arranged his parts, that nothing was left to chance.
Unfortunately, the one thing that nobody can fully plan for or control is death. And although I'm sure your father planned ahead for even this sad eventuality, the one thing he couldn't put aside for you or place in trust... was himself.
And that is really why I am writing you this letter.
As you get older, the lessons you learned at your father's side will always be with you. But each new day, week, month and year of your life will present you with questions and decisions that you may not be equipped to make on your own.
You probably already know that your mother is the single best source of information you will ever have, and you can go to her for help and advice with any decision you will ever have to make. Seriously... she is one of the smartest, wisest people I know!
But it is natural that as you get older and begin testing your independence, there will be some things about which you may want the advice of someone other than your mother (or maybe in addition to her).
Be warned, your friends and the kids in your school, youth groups and sports teams will be full of advice. In fact they will offer it to you even when you don't ask.
When they do, listen carefully, nod your head, and store away anything you may hear from these schoolyard sages. And remember, just because something is 100% wrong doesn't mean it isn't useful. Just remember that the kids you know - even those who are a few years older than you - probably know just as little as you do about just about any subject you can imagine.
A good rule of thumb is that the louder and more confidant a person sounds when sharing information and advice, the more likely they are to be wrong. That's why I recommend listening to everyone and storing away the information. Over time you will figure out who is a reliable source of information... and who just talks loud to hide the fact that they know just as little as you.
So, to review... your friends may be so loyal that they would lay down in traffic for you. But when it comes to learning new and important lessons, they are an unparalleled source of myths, legends, misinformation, half-truths and dangerous misconceptions. They will exaggerate (or downright lie) to cover up their inexperience, insecurity and fears (as you will too, I'm sure). And most of them won't even realize they are doing it!
That is part of growing up. Just remember the golden rule: Trust but verify.
That's where a son might seek out his father... to test the theories and suggestions to see if they are even a little bit true.
And this is what tore my heart as I watched you saying Kaddish for your father at the funeral, and afterwards in synagogue. Your father would have been a fantastic source of information and advice for you. He was wise in a quiet, modest way. And he was never afraid to say "I don't know" when he didn't. And 'I don't know' is one of the most powerful and precious truths you can ever hear from anyone. Remember that.
Netanel, I have been humbled at how bravely you have comported yourself throughout this difficult month. I see the confusion and pain in your eyes, but I also see you acting just like your father; trying always to figure out what the right thing is, and then doing it with quiet, confident conviction.
But as you get older, figuring out right from wrong will become more and more difficult. Many times you will find that there is no single right answer.
Nobody can ever replace your father. And as I said before, your mother will always be the single best person from whom to seek advice.
But I want you to know that I am one of many friends your father had who will always be here for you.
If you ever want to talk about something, bounce an idea off of someone older, or just hear or share a story about your dad... please know that you can reach out to me day or night.
As I always tell my own kids, 'You don't have to make all the mistakes yourself... please learn from some of mine (and I've made plenty)'. Think of it as having a 'cheat sheet' for life. Just about any challenge you may face in your life, I've already faced. Some I may have beaten... and others will provide you with some entertaining stories from which to learn.
I don't pretend to know everything, but like your father I promise that if I don't know... I'll say so. And then, together, maybe we can figure out the answer.
Posted by David Bogner on May 6, 2016 | Permalink
Beautiful, Dave. Xo
Posted by: Val | May 6, 2016 6:07:25 PM
A beautiful letter, and I am sorry for the loss of your friend.
Posted by: Kiwi Noa | May 9, 2016 1:59:37 PM
Baruch Dayan haEmet.
This is a truly wonderful letter.
Posted by: Mark | May 12, 2016 11:07:22 PM