Dear Rabbi and Susan,
I have reached an impasse in my life. I come from a troubled family background and have had to step in and take charge of my parents’ life in a way that a child never should have to do. We are talking about dealing with mental illness and bankruptcy among other things.
I am grateful that I learned about the 5Fs from your podcasts, and I am proudly graduating from University and moving beyond the hardships. I would very much like to find a family-oriented woman from a bible-based household with whom to build a life. However, when I look for someone like that, they or their parents reject me because of my family background. Also – will I know how to have a healthy marriage and relationship with children or am I doomed to repeat my parents’ mistakes?
Please be as truthful and harsh as you can be. I, a happy warrior, will still stand.
Dear Happy Warrior Paul,
By telling us that you are a Happy Warrior, we know that instead of a massage with warm butter, you not only need but want the truth.
Your letter, in different variations, has been written to us by so many people. During our time of congregational service, we sat across the table from individuals who told us just what you write. And the happy news is that most of these people went on to marry and build successful families, overcoming their damaged backgrounds. We’d like to tell you how. But first, the other side of the coin.
We certainly understand parents wanting a psychologically healthy spouse for their child. You acknowledge not being sure if your upbringing will be a hindrance in knowing how to act as a husband and a father. If a “family-oriented woman from a Bible-based household” is God’s choice for you, you can trust God to pave the way. Meanwhile, could you be treating a woman out there whose background is similar to yours, in the same way that others are treating you? We do not know God’s plan, but perhaps two wounded people are meant to build a healthy life together? Our advice would be to keep working on yourself, as you have been doing, and leave your options open.
How does one overcome a damaged background? There are so many tragic variations of what negative influences and experiences people faced as children, but what we are about to impart to you works in virtually all of them. You see, we are humans created in the image of God and we, unlike animals, are capable of change and growth. A cat, a camel, a cow, or a kangaroo will still be exactly those creatures in 365 days’ time. But a man whose temper is out of control could be a responsible husband in a year’s time. A selfish woman could be a loving and caring mother in a year’s time. We can change. An acorn will produce an oak tree and an alpaca will produce another alpaca, but a drunkard can produce a dancer, a degenerate can produce a deacon, and a terrorist can produce a tender-hearted teacher.
It is the Divine inside each of us that gives us the power to transcend our backgrounds. Secular therapists will try to treat you based on the irreparable damage done to you by your parents. They are wrong.
The Fifth Commandment says honor your father and your mother. Honor your father and your mother because they brought you into this world. (We have discussed in many previous Ask the Rabbi answers what ‘honor’ specifically means. It is not a vague concept.) Regardless of what they may have done, you have certain obligations, and it sounds like you have more than observed those. They did not condemn you to an inevitable negative future. Grow beyond their wildest dreams.
Wisely, you recognize that you don’t have a role model to follow in how to be a husband or father. That puts you light-years ahead of many others who don’t recognize what they don’t know. Seek as many mentors as you can and prepare yourself with carefully chosen books and programs. Be part of a community where you see families modeling the life you would like to emulate. Starting now, before you are married, is a gift to yourself and to your future family.
Onwards and upwards,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
P.S. We’re so delighted to know that the 5F program helped you. You will be happy to know that you can already order the new 5F book, The Holistic You here.
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