Dear Debra: Advice To A Grieving Father
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On more than one occasion, when we mention where our adopted infant daughter was born, (we are now an interracial family; ours was an international adoption) we are asked, “But how will she understand you? You are going to have to teach her English.” I kid you not. How do I respond without calling these people out as idiots?
— No Language Barrier
Dear No Language,
Oh, go ahead. Call them out as idiots. Dan Akroyd’s comment to Jane Curtin from their SNL Weekend Update skit comes to mind. Just kidding. I’ll take your word for it that there are actually people who think like this. Hopefully, not too many. Here are a few ways to respond. All in English.
• “Why do you ask?”
• “Isn’t it marvelous that every baby is wired to speak whatever language is spoken to her?”
• “The first language a child learns is the language of love.”
• “Our daughter has picked thatup just fine, so I don’t think English will be any problem.”
My wife died last year, leaving me to raise our son and daughter (now 7 and 10). I converted to Judaism before we were married. We enjoyed celebrating Jewish holidays and Shabbat with our friends from temple. Our children attend religious school, and we were active in temple life. None of that has changed and, if anything, our temple connections have given us all stability during this difficult time.
In the months following my wife’s death, my in-laws have begun to talk about our son’s and daughter’s Jewish identities, even suggesting that I look into day school and Jewish summer camp. They were always welcoming to me, and I never got the feeling that they thought I was “less than” because of my conversion. We are all devastated by our loss but are having more better days as time passes. My in-laws are not helping by doubting my commitment to Judaism and to raising my children in a Jewish home. What can I do?
— Grieving but Keeping Going
Dear Keeping Going,
I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds like you are coping admirably under devastating circumstances. To whatever extent your in-laws were a part of your family’s Jewish life and practice, continue the traditions you and your wife established. Maybe create a new long-distance ritual with their grandparents if frequent visits are not part of your reality.
Even if you were born a Jew, it’s conceivable that your in-laws would still weigh in on your child-rearing, just in another way. Your children are their only physical link to their deceased daughter. This does not give them permission to tell you how to raise your kids. Nor do you owe them any justification of your commitment to Jewish life.
But for the sake of shalom bayit (family peace) you might have a gentle discussion with them. The next time their conversation takes a turn to day school, Jewish camp or anything else that sub rosa seems to be coming from their worry place, why not bring the issue into the light? Say something like, “Mom/Dad-in-Law, it seems that since [wife] died, you seem concerned about the kids’ Jewish identities. I want you to know that Judaism and the Jewish rituals that [wife] and I established as a family are every bit as important to me, if not more so, now that she is gone. I appreciate your ideas about day school/summer camp. I’ll take it from here.”
This way you have laid the boundaries and, if they persist, remind them that you’ve had this discussion. Then change the subject.
Debra Darvick shares her unique take on life, books and more at debradarvick.com.