Where have all the Jewish fathers gone?

A father and a daughter pray together.

Photo by Peter Mulligan via Flickr.

Thank goodness, it’s almost Father’s Day! Which means the pressure is off, at least for a day, to please mom. Whew! I mean, my mother’s so good at needling me, she’s earned her honorary degree in Jewish acupuncture. Ba dum ching!

Ah, yes, the Jewish Mother joke. There is a short hand, a collective understanding of the archetypal Jewish Mother we all know so intimately:  overbearing, commandeering, uber demanding, guilt provoking, martyr-stoking, ego stroking and… pushy.  But we love them! The real ones, and the stock characters too, which are deftly explored in Joyce Antler’s book, You Never Call! You Never Write! But you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Jewish Mother, and you don’t have to be Jewish to have one. So saturated are we with this Jewish Mother stereotype that it has gone from funny, to identifiable, to ironic, to cliché, to (yawn) almost passé. But, if the Jewish Mother has occupied the role of archetype, to stereotype, to having lost some of her hype, the question that begs to be asked is:

What about the Jewish father? What about him?  Who is he, really? And what of the Jewish daughters he has raised?

The Kabbalists believe that there is something sacred about the mother-son, father-daughter relationships, a certain kind of sacredness and closeness achieved only through such unique ties.

Kabbalism aside, in our culture if a son is deemed too close or reliant on his mother, he is called “a mama’s boy.” If a daughter is the apple of her father’s eye, she is called a “daddy’s girl.”

Interestingly, the first example, “mama’s boy,” always seems to have a pejorative tone. The second example though, “daddy’s girl,” seems charmed, almost whimsical and makes you want to smile. Why is this?

At times it seems there is something quite magical about the father-daughter relationship.  It’s almost untouchable, as if gold dust and sunshine, sea breezes and wind chimes swirl and circle around the father and daughter as they grow and mature into old age and adulthood, respectively. 

Just try fitting the general stereotypes of “FATHER” – stern, severe, distant, punitive—to the words “Jewish Father”; it just doesn’t stick. To clarify:  I’m sure there are many Jewish fathers out there who exercise those classic, paternal adjectives, but that doesn’t work as a catch-all description, like the way the Jewish Mother stereotype can slide right into gear.

A man calls his mother in Florida. "Mom, how are you?" "Not too good," says the mother. "I've been so weak." The son, concerned, asks, "Why are you so weak?" She says, "Because I haven't eaten in five days." The man says, "That's terrible! Why haven't you eaten in five days? The mother replies, "Because I didn't want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”

A woman calls her father in Boca Raton.  “Dad, how are you?”…  And he replies…

And he replies…

I got nothing.  That’s me, the blogger, writing, “I got nothing.”  Because really how does he reply? Why is there so little attention (either positive or negative) on the role, personalities, and affect of our Jewish fathers?

When I looked up “Jewish mother” in Wikipedia, there was a plethora of funny, nuanced, and scholarly references. When I looked up “Jewish father” in Wikipedia, this is what my search returned: “The page Jewish father does not exist.”

Whoa.  What a statement. 

But then it continues… “You can ask for it to be created…”

So, let’s do that, friends.  Share your thoughts, here at this blog, on the role of the Jewish Father—in our western society, in our Jewish traditions, in your home, and most immediately, in your life.

What I’d like to do, is close with one more Jewish Mother joke, because let’s face it, there’s something indulgently delightful—like eating chocolate cheesecake—about writing and reading those Jewish Mother jokes…

But instead, I’ll close with a Father’s Day haiku:

Oh, Jewish Father
who are you, what are you; please
tell us your story.

[And daughters, we invite you to do the same!]

Please share your stories with us. For women: Submit short blurbs, 150 words max, by Monday, June 11th. For men: Submit blog posts, between 500-700 words, by Wednesday, June 13th (although the earlier, the better). Send your submissions to us here.

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it appears someone found some stereotypes.... http://www.6nobacon.com/2012/0...

The Jewish counting hymn that is chanted or sung on Seder night has 4 Jewish Mothers but only 3 fathers! Looks like one got lost here too.

It is funny to me that on a blog for an organization that breaks down stereotypes there is an open invitation to create a new one. We should be applauding the lack of a universal stereotype for Jewish fathers and be trying to undo that which seems to define Jewish mothers. While stereotypes are often rooted in a reality, it is a hyper-expression of it to the point of silliness. It is like the bumper sticker that reduces a complex political issue to a punch line. I think we should be going in the opposite direction. Jewish fathers are as diverse and any other selective group in our culture and I would argue in other cultures. (The same is true for Jewish mothers despite the conventional wisdom). We are a dynamic people. We should continue to elevate that. Gender freedom is the answer to gender equity. Freedom for both women and men to be individuals. I donÌ¢‰â‰ã¢t think Wikipedia is comfortable with that kind of complexity.

I think there's a negative stereotype of Jewish men in general, as well as father in particular, being henpecked and ball-busted by these strong Jewish women. It's a funny contrast, that the religion is so intensely patriarchal - indeed, we practically invented it! - but the informal social organization is matriarchal. When I think of Jewish fathers I think of sensitivity, passing on intellectual and scholarly traditions, and a much greater interest in their daughter's interior life than would be typical in other cultures.

In reply to by Tova

Tova's idea of intellectual and scholarly sensitivity was my experience. Mine was stuck in the chronic persecution that he suffered in Europe, sexual ambivalence and grief he was not one of the persecutors. He was buried under an avalanche of ill will, not only from society at large, but from his own children, yet he persisted in a lovely, wrapt interest in what made the world tick, what made it beautiful. and learned until the last day of his life. (I was with him.)

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How to cite this page

Orcha, Gabrielle. "Where have all the Jewish fathers gone?." 8 June 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 19, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/where-have-all-jewish-fathers-gone>.