What is my son’s father’s role?

May 30th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 21 comments

I trust you are well, I am a South African single mother.

My son is 10 years old and is starting to get difficult to deal with. The other day he lied for two weeks about his ear phones that he lost and said they were at school in his locker.  I called his dad to assist in disciplining him and he was very dismissive and said he must just go look for the earphones. For me it was not about the earphones but about the fact that he lied.  How do you think I should have handled this? Should have I done the disciplining just by myself or was I right by including his dad? I grew up in a household that had both parents present and when disciplining happened it was done by both my parents.

I am actually so confused and afraid I will not raise a good boy without involving his dad therefore I always see the need to include his dad even though he is not that useful. It may be because he was raised by his grandmother and mother.

I hope you can assist me and point me to scriptures I can get encouragement, guidance and strength from.

Kind regards

Bulelwa M.

Dear Bulelwa,

Our hearts go out to you.  You are bravely facing the reality that raising a son to be a good man is vitally important but not an easy task. Doing so in a home without a father is certainly more difficult.

One of our hardest life lessons is learning to deal with our reality. It is so tempting to say, “If only” and think that if we were richer, prettier, wealthier, smarter, healthier, had different parents or were born in a different place our lives would be so much better. Yet, we all have to deal with what is truly in front of us.

It sounds like you had parents who acted as a devoted team. “If only” you could provide your son with the same. You cannot. Once you accept this truth, you will be better able to face the normal challenges that come with an adolescent boy. You will have to shoulder that responsibility yourself.

While you can be grateful if the father helps, you have to look to yourself rather than to him. We don’t know the situation and maybe you can have a talk with the father and encourage him to step up to the plate, but until that happens, you will have to fill the role yourself. You are not a couple and that is the reality with which you have to work.

We agree with you that the issue with the earphones is the lying. We would encourage you to talk to your son and let him tell you why he lied. Was he afraid of punishment? Is he aware of tight finances and felt miserable about losing something that cost money? In a calm way you can let him know how important it is that he be an honest person. Don’t let your imagination run away with itself so that you magnify this one incident into defining his character. It is only one of many opportunities you will have for conversations that gradually sculpt your son’s moral code.  Of course, you need to model all the virtues you wish for him in your own behavior.

We do think that a teenage boy needs a man or two in his life. This is tricky when the father isn’t available. You need to be careful to shield your son from men who are potentially abusive and keep a sharp eye on any developing problem areas. Are there reputable male youth groups or sports teams whose leaders and coaches make a point of building men? Do you have brothers, neighbors, church friends or relatives who can step in?

We would like to leave you with a Scriptural reference to a fine man whose father did not accept proper responsibility for him – King David. In Psalms, King David refers to himself (Psalms 86:16 and 116:16) as “son of your maidservant.” His mother, rather than his father, was the mainstay of his upbringing. Yet he became king of Israel and author of Psalms.  Not bad for a boy whose dad didn’t think much of him.

Raising children today in the best of circumstances is challenging. Your situation is even harder. We have faith that with hard work and prayer, your son will become a man who brings honor to you and to his Creator.

Prayerfully,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 *   *   *  *  

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The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah

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“I’ve listened to “Gathering Storm” many times…
It is vastly entertaining on top of being essentially important
in understanding how subtly corruption erodes our souls,
and how heroically “simple” it is to stand your moral ground.”
Luda R. 

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21 comments

David Altschuler says:

My wife and I had an Hispanic housekeeper in L.A. some 15 years ago. One day she brought her 10 (?) year old boy with her while she worked. That night she called and said she wanted to come back to talk to us, which meant her long bus ride of the day. She got there with her son (I forget if her husband was with her) and started to cry… her son had stolen something (financially inconsequential) from our house. She brought it back and asked us to forgive her and her son, weeping all the while.
I don’t see how that boy will ever steal again. Not because of a conversation, but because his mother lived and felt her moral convictions rather than “merely” knew them and was crushed by her son’s error.
I offer this story not because it is squarely on the point of the question at hand, but to add to imparting moral convictions with one parental hand tied behind this well-intentioned mother’s back.

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks for sharing your story, David. I’m sure her reaction did make an impression on her son. Kids do see what is important to us by our actions more than our words.

Gidon Ariel says:

Her reaction made an impression on her son, on David, on you, on me, and on everyone else who ever heard this story from David.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Right, Gidon,
David happens to be someone who knows how to transform an event into a teaching anecdote. Unforgettable story.
I hope all is blessed by you
Cordially
RDL

Bulelwa Maki says:

Hi
Thank you Rabbi Lapin and Susan. I am so grateful for you and the clarity I have gotten from your response. And I love the scripture you have mentioned, I did not know David had an absent father wow if God can do it for David he will do it for my son and I will also have to put in the hard work.

Kind regards
Bulelwa M

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks for recounting this inspiring story, David,
I’m sure you’re right. What a powerful message for a little boy to receive. Reminds me of my friend, the Jamaican economist who was inspired by his mom collecting the candle stumps from Kingston restaurants so he’d have light for homework.
Cordially
RDL
PS: Here’s a pedantic proposition: Drop the ‘an’ in front of Hispanic. That only applies with cockney pronunciation as in “…had an ‘Ispanic housekeeper” But putting ‘an’ in front of herb, house, or homunculus is incorrect. In speech one can say ‘a Hispanic’ or ‘a housekeeper’ pronouncing the ‘a’ as if it were ‘aigh’ or if you were cockney, ‘hey’. It makes two consecutive exhalations a little easier.

Diana says:

Bulelwa, being a single parent is not for the faint of heart, my heart goes out to you. I’ve been a single parent since April 29, 2003 when I packed my two little ones & went to the domestic violence shelter for help & support. My youngest has finally graduated, this month when so many obstacles got in the way. One of them being my ex, his dad whom he idolizes for doing what he wants when he wants no matter who it hurts until or unless an authority powerful enough to force him to stop arises. Sadly, that has been very few and very far between.

Leading our sons, happens more by example, than by directive from my experience; however, remember you can only do and say so much before you will find the need to let go enough for him to learn he must receive & accept consequences for his various actions, if not from you then from others. Some dads will undermine their ex-spouse’s parenting (custodial home interference), to the detriment of their kids so as to get back at their ex-wife. If you see that that becomes the case over time, keep praying, keep living out what you know is good parenting, and keep praying even more. Even in the short term if an outcome of your years of parenting appears to have the opposite from what you’ve worked towards & prayed for –don’t give up. G-d is on His throne no matter what happens, and has everything under control & timing. In Christian circles we have a saying about Him being on the throne no matter what happens, it’s true, and truer still in those times when we don’t have the answers or can’t see the other end of a situatio or matter. And in case you haven’t been told this recently, you are amazing, and you are stronger than you feel!!

Susan Lapin says:

Diana, what a lovely message for Bulelwa. It sounds like you have traveled a long and challenging road and kept your faith and optimism intact. You, too, sound like an amazing, brave and strong woman and a thoughtful, caring and humble mother.

Bulelwa Maki says:

Thank you for you encouragement and I feel the love. Thank you again.

James says:

Thanks for your portrayal of King David the Psalmist as the product of an absent, disapproving father. Some six years ago I lost my Dad at age 90. Speaking at his memorial, I told the crowd how, as close as women are to their mothers or to their fathers, no woman could ever quite fathom how important a father is to a young boy. A mother can of course instruct her son in honesty, uprightness, discipline, and in the setting of worthy goals, however not quite like a father can. It really takes two. And a little boy needs a special role model, a father to look up to. Now I fear I must try to fill the father’s role for my grandson, for his natural father perished prematurely due to disastrous personal choices. And as you (pl.) indicate, it is quite clear that the female element embodied in his fine mother and his precious sisters is still not enough to guide the little fellow. He needs that male influence and cries out for it. God be with me and with my little grandson.

Susan Lapin says:

Indeed, James, may God be with you and your grandson. He is fortunate to have you in his life.

Carmine Pescatore says:

It is difficult for a child to tell a parent of a problem. The result is usually yelling and punishment. Parents have to create a “safe space” for the conversation. An example would be “let’s to to the (xxx) and talk”. The parent(s) just listen to the whole story with out a comment. When the child is done, then the parents can talk.

Susan Lapin says:

Carmine, making children feel safe in talking to you while still providing guidance and consequences is a challenge, Carmine.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear James,
Well, one thing is clear and that is that God needs you doing His work with your g’son. Being vitally needed is the very best life-insurance available.
Cordially
RDL

Joyce R. says:

Dear Bulelwa, I cannot speak to you from personal experience as I have no children. But I would like to tell you about a wonderful man in my country. His name is Ben Carson. He and his brother were raised from a young age by their mother after their father abandoned them.

Ben’s mom worked three jobs to support her family. She had almost no education. But she was a woman of prayer. When her sons started coming home with poor grades, she turned off the TV. She required her sons to read books instead and write book reports on them. She couldn’t read the reports, of course, so she would also have them tell her about the books orally. Gradually, her sons’ grades began to improve. Soon her sons were at the top of the class.

The boys went through some difficult times. Ben had a terrible temper. One day, he got so angry at a friend that he nearly killed him. That experience frightened Ben so much he got down on his knees and prayed to G-d to help him. G-d answered his prayer. When Ben finished high school, he got a scholarship to college and then went on to medical school. He eventually became a world famous pediatric neurosurgeon. Today, he is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in our government. He is a wonderful gentle man who loves G-d and his fellow man. I think his brother became a very successful lawyer. All because a single mom was a strong woman and a prayer warrior. BTW, Ben wrote about his mom and his early years in a book called “Gifted Hands.” May you and your son be blessed. Remember, even if your son’s earthly father isn’t around, his Heavenly Father is there for you both 24/7.

Susan Lapin says:

Joyce, what a wonderful suggestion. I loved Gifted Hands and it is a great reading recommendation for Bulelwa.

ROBIN D RUSH says:

There are many situations in which a woman may find herself a single parent. I adopted two siblings and raised them as a single mom, so there was no father. It was VERY difficult as these were special needs children. Parenting is never easy, and single parenting is especially hard, because there is no one there to help shoulder the responsibility or aid in decision making. It can be done. I relied on church groups, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, relatives, friends, Boy and Girls Club, summer camps, and most of all prayer and G-d. If nothing else, my adult children know ‘a good name is better than riches’, and ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’. If you provide a solid foundation, they will have a great start–their ending depends of their own choices.

Susan Lapin says:

It is very helpful to hear from the trenches, Robin. “Their ending depends on their own choices,” is true for two-parent families as well, and one of the hardest lessons for loving parents to accept.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks Robin
for saving the lives of two little people and putting them on the road to goodness. In so doing, you’ve certainly earned your place in Heaven.
Cordially
RDL

Lisa says:

Reminds me of a single, educated, middle class woman raising her son in Los Angeles several years ago. This 10 year old boy had been stealing money from his mother’s wallet. The mother eventually found out one day while the boy was in school. She pulled the boy from class, took him home, confronted him there, and then punish him with a belt strap to his behind. The boy cried and hollered loudly enough for the neighbors to alert the police. This was in a condo unit by the way where neighbors can hear each other easily. Police came and the mother explained to them what happened. This mother told the police she had the right to punish her son with a belt, that she worked very hard to give her child a very good life. And she finally stated to the police: If he was a grown black man stealing instead of a little black boy, you would have shot him dead first and ask questions later. Well the police left the condo without further incident. As far as I know of, that young boy grew up to become a very decent successful man,
married and with children of his own.

Susan Lapin says:

What a story, Lisa.

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