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Please Listen to Little Yankie

This essay is dedicated in loving memory of my dear father, Reb Shlome ben Reb Yakov Moshe Horowitz a” h, whose yahrtzeit is Rosh Chodesh Iyar. May the positive outcomes of the dissemination of this column be a zechus for his neshama.

In his classic poem, The Rainbow, William Wordsworth coined the phrase, “The child is father of the man.” Those famous words are the subject of much discussion as they are open to a wide range of interpretations. Perhaps the most common one is that the external factors that affect our childhood will govern the way we think and act as adults. According to that reading, those words would express the notion that, “The child is father of the man ”

Upon reflection, I would say that the seminal event that shaped my adult life was the sudden passing of my father a”h forty-six years ago this week before my fourth birthday. This is not to suggest that those of us who were orphaned at a young age spend our days with morbid thoughts. Rather, the searing experience of losing a parent early on cannot help but frame life’s experiences differently that most other folks. Having walked many miles in the shoes of the heavy of heart, we often find it easier to empathize with those around us who are undergoing challenging times. And losing a loved one at such a young age very painfully teaches us to appreciate the value of time and the gift of life.

As time gradually heals all wounds, I had always hoped that the grueling day each year when my father’s yahrtzeit day is observed would continue to get easier with the passage of time, as it progressively did for most of my adult life. But over the past few years, as my wife and I have had the incredible zechus of walking our children to the chuppah and seeing our newly-born grandchildren through the plate glass windows of hospital nurseries, I am finding that these yahrtzeit days are becoming more and more gut wrenching; almost too painful to bear. For while earlier in life, I spent the day reflecting on my personal loss, now my thoughts on RoshChodesh Iyar are preoccupied with thinking of my father’s loss and all the things he never got to do.

The past two years, I decided to channel much of that energy into writing a column on the day of his yahrtzeit designed to provide a modicum of comfort to children who lost parents at a young age. This year, however, I will let the child in me pen a few words to parents who are divorced, separated, or experiencing significant difficulty in their marriages.

In the twenty-eight years that I’ve been dealing with children, I have seen true nobility of spirit where countless divorced fathers and mothers set aside differences and worked together to make the best of a difficult situation for the sake of their children. I’ve watched divorced parents attend the parent-teacher conferences of their children together, celebrate stress-free birthdays, bar/bas mitzvos and graduations together, even jointly walk their child to the chuppah. I have had the privilege of observing amazing parents who decided to let their kids sleep in their own beds after the divorce in order to minimize the disruption in their lives, even though it required the mother to move out each time the father had visitation. All these accommodations deliver a resounding message to their children – that they are valued and their parents always put the needs of their kids before their own.

At the same time, I have also had the misfortune to see the most shameful and horrible behavior displayed by parents seemingly oblivious to the long-term and often permanent damage they are doing to the children that Hashem has blessed them with and entrusted to their care. I have listened to horror stories of abusive parents doing unspeakable things to their children and spouses. I have watched parents use the children they once lovingly brought home from the hospital as helpless pawns in their hate-driven battles with their ex-spouse, bad-mouthing the other parent, using the children as carrier pigeons to send toxic messages to each other, and engaging in protracted litigation over every facet of their lives. I have witnessed soulless, evil fathers cruelly withholding gittinfrom the mothers of their children to extract money or other concessions. Each and every time I see this type of behavior, the child in me remains dumbfounded that people can knowingly make their children rootless, virtual orphans.

In fact, in many ways their kids are in far worse shape than I was. Everywhere I went as a child, people would stop me and tear up as they spoke glowingly about the very special father I had and how much they missed him. I had the unwavering love and support of my amazing mother and the wonderful man she married a few years after my father passed away. I can’t even imagine the confusion and pain experienced by children whose parents are in midst of a bitter and public divorce. It is no wonder that so many of them wash up on the shores bloodied and bruised – addicted to drugs, alcohol or worse, doing whatever they can to dull the pain of feeling worthless and wind driven.

So; a few words to parents who are struggling with your marriages: please do what you can to make it work – go to your Rav and/or for professional help as soon as possible and see if you can save your marriage. If the marriage is to be dissolved, please, please keep the children’s needs first. On behalf of all the confused and tormented kids I have met over the years – those with abusive/neglectful parents and those whose parents behaved poorly during messy divorces, I beg you from the depths of my soul to take a giant step back from the abyss if you are headed there and remove the sword of the Angel of Death from your hands. For make no mistake. If you continue down the path of discord and machlokes, you will, in all likelihood be calling me or one of my colleagues a few years down the road in the worst agony you have ever experienced – watching a gehenom unfold that you helped create.

Please listen to Little Yankie now, rather than Rabbi Yankie later on.

© 2009, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Recommended reading:

An Open Letter to Girls Who Lost a Parent


This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. R’ Horowitz, having lost a parent at 17 I identify. I also gain chizuk from my wonderful siblings and the gracious woman my father married who has been a fine grandmother for my children. I think the key is putting the kids’ best interests first, and making sure they have good adults in their lives, particularly of the same gender as the missing parent.
    I wondered myself about the chazal of the need for introspection as we approach the age of our parents when they died. I don’t know if this is what you’re going through though I imagine your father z’l was younger.

  2. It’s interesting that–as adults–those of us who did not grow up with one of our parents seem to connect in ways that cannot be described. Many of us carry a sadness and/or darker view of the world. A “Things don’t always work out” attitude buried under the layers of friendly neighbor, successful employee, dedicated parent, funny friend. Many of us walk around carrying that extra load, even when the divorce wasn’t messy or when the parent dies when the child is young as in your case. We carry it and we are changed because of it. Even the most upbeat among us will view the world differently and make different choices than those of our friends who had the Brady Bunch childhood with the white picket fence. The messier the divorce, the older the child when the parent died, the shakier choices the remaining parent made after the loss/divorce, the greater our load.

  3. Although my parents are both B”H living, I cannot help but applaud Rabbi Horowitz’s words. They may seem to restate what should be obvious, but this is a message that needs to be repeated again and again so that as many people as possible hear it.
    And we who still have parents, and who are B”H happily married, need to take this as a cue to never ever forget the berachos we have, and to express eternal gratitude to the One Who gave them to us.

  4. You hit the nail on the head. And yet, that is NOT true bitachon, that things will always have a happy ending. We have to graduate from that elementary (preschool?) level of understanding. The key is, how things do work out is part of Hashem’s plan.
    Truth is, we get to a certain age and we’ve all seen this and have to grapple with the great and classic questions, even if we don’t directly experience it – death of a friend, implosion of another’s marriage. I guess that if we process it for the first t

  5. “this not …bitachon”. Your statement is the the exact opposite of what is written in many chassidic sefarim. [& – I believe also the navhordak magnum opus Madreigas Haadam ]. that it is bitachon!!!

  6. I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t gone to primary sources, nor even secondary ones for a while. What I meant was, one doesn’t always get the happy ending one wants. Obviously, however it ends up is what Hashem wanted, which is for the best, which we should be happy with. But it’s not like, if you do teshuva, tefilla, and give tzedaka you are absolutely assured of the yeshua the situation warrants.

  7. im sorry, again. but i believe ur statement about tshuva etc.vs. bitachon is inacurate or at best overly simplified. if ur interested see the sources&/or speak to an ehrliche yid who is a baki in these inyanim.

  8. Young children are taught, we daven, Hashem listens and answers. Older children are taught, Hashem always listens, and always gives us what’s best for us, so sometimes the answer has to be no.
    What am I missing?

    Do you mean to say that if one does perfect teshuva, tefilla and tzedaka his tefillos will be answered? That places a terrible burden on children, on everyone for that matter, and totally evades the question of tzaddik v’ra lo.

  9. ok lets try to clarify. u wrote in # 4 “ not true that Bitachon, that things will always have a happy ending” i believe that is not accurate. the above seforim seem to say that if one is in a predicament & has complete bitachon that it will turn into a good thing [possibly even being specific what the good will be] that bitachon has the power to make it [the good] actually happen.
    see tehillim 18:4,22:5 rashi & meforshim. Ramban ah”t p. shoftim 20:8 (& 19). Noam elimelech p.bishalach, parag. vayomer hashem. p.chukas, parag. vechi. Nefesh hachaim 1:9; 3:12. Sefer Tanya igeres hak.11 [near the end ]

  10. I think I should have put “happy endings” in quotes. There are many difficult situations that people need yeshuos for. Say one needs a job, davens, doesn’t get one. Then there’s plan B (or C, or D), which can include retraining, gemachs, minimum wage jobs, etc.
    When it comes to a yeshua for an illness, if the person dies, there IS no plan B, just the need to understand that this is what Hashem wanted, and this is the way it had to be.

    Back to the article: Children learn security from their parents. If their parents answer their cries as infants, if the parents tend to their other needs (needs, not all their whims) as they grow, they learn from them how to relate to Hashem as the ultimate reliable Giver. The death of a parent shakes up the worldview of a child. Because there is no plan B, and this is a lot to take in, at any age.

    These kids are not ruined, or damaged goods, chas v’shalom. They will have depth and maturity and a tenacity that many others won’t. They will have deepened and profound connections to the family they do have.

  11. a. anonymousfornow, you are so right. those who experience this often have greater fortitude and depth. I have seen that time and time again. This is something that cannot be explained in words to those who don’t get it. HaMaiven Yavin. b. I am lucky that I went to a Shiur by Rabbi Ezriel Tauber when I was about 18. I was struggling as I always do with the notion of “bitachon.” My mother–who has had a tough life–walks around believing that everything will work out, just daven. I admire her attitude. It has gotten her through some really hard times, but, the truth is it hasn’t always worked out for her. I had to witness that and, therefore, I didn’t get the understanding of Bitachon that others were spouting all around me. Rabbi Tauber expressed a thought that was new to me. Things may or may not work out, but you can’t sit and wonder, worry, or doubt it to death. Bitachon means going forward and doing your Hishtadlus knowing that what will be will be. I became a much calmer person after that Shiur. I haven’t been to a Shiur by this man since, but I consider that moment one of the top three AHA moments of my life. I wish others who are in pain or who feel out of synch with the Hashkafos of their schools/families were able to get another worldview. Teens who are struggling need that desperately. c. Re: Chasidus and the approach mentioned above. I love Chasidus and I hope that one day I can buy into the approach you mention, anon. I believe you that it is written in the Sefarim. It’s just that your approach puts a lot of pressure on me. Not all of us do well under pressure. Does that make sense to you?

  12. I would ask Rabbi Horowitz if he could perhaps write an article to be deseminated widely titled “Happy Endings.” Perhaps it has been done. But, so many of us need to learn tools to grapple with the fact that we are not necessarily witnessing or experiencing the conventional “happy ending.” Our teens need to know how to deal with adversity whether it be molestation, divorce, school difficulties, death, illness in the family. The book “Man’s Search for Meaning” is an excellent book that can be life-changing in that regard. I know that Torah sources are optimal, but this is an unbelievable book written by a Holocaust survivor who was a brilliant neurosurgeon. It explains that while we cannot always control what is happening around us, we can control what we think and do. It is so profound. I wish all teens who are struggling had access to its tools.

  13. Yes–great book. The author is Viktor Frankl. his main argument is that man can tolerate and perhaps even appreciate every challenge of life, even the most horrific, provided he can find meaning within the experience. And no one but you can lend meaning to the collective experiences which, at the end of the day, define your life.

  14. to # 11 yes it make sense to me. bec its a high level madriegah, it doesnt come automatically with birth.
    Sorry but no intention to put pressure. i didnt say that evryone reading this is able/obligated to have it. however , obviously anyone who does-WOW! he’s got The life!!

  15. Thanks. I will look into this a bit more anyway. Even if I can’t do it. Who knows?

  16. very interesting

  17. Unfortunately, in this day and age, not everyone views it this way. They are so wrapped up in their own anger,
    indignation, and their own need to hurt their ex-spouse that they don’t think about what it is doing to their children. Or the anger is so strong, they don’t care what it is doing to their children.
    Something else to think about and to discuss: If the children do make it through the divorce and grow into well-adjusted adults, what is the attitude of the shadchanim and future machatanim toward them? The parsha of shidduchim is difficult enough without the added burden of people prejudging someone just because they are the product of a divorce. Each person should be judged based on their own individual circumstances, and not summarily dismissed because their parents are divorced.

    Thank you Rabbi Horowitz for speaking out on this extremely important topic.

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