Editor’s note: This blog post by Rabbi Address was originally published by the Union for Reform Judaism. It is repurposed here with the URJ’s permission.
For me, Father’s Day is a time of memory.
My dad died more than two decades ago. My parents were divorced when I was little, so my father-son bonding took place on alternate weekends, when I traveled from Philadelphia to Baltimore to see him. Especially when I was young, he needed to work for almost the entire weekend, so our bonding was usually around meals and, most notably, during football season, when we attended Baltimore Colts games on Sunday afternoons.
It was sitting on those seats at the old Memorial Stadium that we quietly “talked.” I learned a lot about “stuff” just being with my dad at those games. We had the railroad schedule down to a science. We could leave as the game ended and still make the 4:40 p.m. train back to Philadelphia.
Fast forward many years to Sunday afternoons at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, where I sat with my then young son. I got to know a lot about what was going on with him in between innings. Maybe it is the environment or the informality, but real bonding took place in those stadium seats – and it still does.
Although I didn’t realize at the time how meaningful those bonding moments were, we still share that Sunday afternoon tradition. My son, now grown and married, and I still sit in those stadium seats. I can’t begin to count how many times we have discussed life transitions over the years of games we’ve watched together. Always present is that bonding, that closeness, and every once in a while, I can feel my dad’s smiling presence sitting next to us.
L’dor vador (from generation to generation) says the text in our prayer book. Indeed, time has moved on and now my grandson pushes for some grandpop-grandson games: “Just you and me, Pop,” he says. And so our tradition continues. From generation to generation we make memories, creating a legacy that helps sustain us.
It’s not the venue that really matters, is it? Rather it is the time we spend with the people we love. As we get older, it is those times that become precious, as we slowly come to understand that we have no control over our time, elevating the meaning of these moments of memory-making.
Being both a father and a grandfather offers a powerful opportunity to learn about life again – through different sets of eyes. No matter where the bonding happens, the experiences are as unique as each child. Each small, quiet moment is precious and personal and powerful, and often, we do not realize their beauty or meaning until later in life.
As Jews, memory carries us forward in countless ways. Whether it is our people’s history or the history of our own journey in life, we cannot escape the memories that accompany our histories. The day after my dad’s funeral was Shabbat. Instead of driving back to my dad’s home after services, I took a private detour, driving from the synagogue in Baltimore to Memorial Stadium. A marching band competition was underway on the field, but I approached an usher, explained why I was there, and asked if I could go up to my dad’s seats. With his OK, I walked up those familiar ramps and sat down in the same seats my dad and I had occupied on Sunday afternoons all those years ago. It was a cloudless, sun-splashed October afternoon, and as a band practiced on the field, I let the memories flow over me. After a while, I shed a tear and said good-bye.
On this Father’s Day, may the memories of all those we hold dear be a blessing, and may we remember that the love we shared with them in life embraces us and will carry us forward forever.