Of Bar Mitzvahs and Independence

We received a letter this week that I have been expecting for a while. It was a letter from our synagogue regarding the need to select a date for my son’s Bar Mitzvah. If you click on that link it will take you to a site that provides a thorough explanation of what it means to become Bar Mitzvahed. Alternatively you can take my definition which is that it marks the date upon which you take on adult responsibilities in Judaism.

It happens at age 13. Of course if you are among the long time readers you know that my son  turned ten this past December so you might wonder why we need to pick the date three years in advance. Chalk it up to the synagogue anticipating that in 2013 and 2014 there are a lot of children who will have their Bar/Bat Mitzvot that year.

But setting that aside it throws me for a variety of reasons. My son is my oldest child and in some ways he is responsible for my becoming a blogger. The first good posts I wrote were about him and his questions. He is the kid who asked me not to die and who tried to save a dying goldfish by blowing into his bowl. He is the boy who when he learned about how babies were made ran around telling his grandparents that I had urinated on his mother. Point of information, I said no such thing. I just never told him that one day he would make something other than urine come out of the family friend.

He is in 4th grade now. His math homework includes algebra and word problems. In science we talk about circuits. He reads chapter books for fun and for school. He is not some toddler building blocks anymore and he hasn’t been for a long time. His time as a elementary school kid is limited. He is closer to the end of it than the beginning. I look at this boy and think that I can’t be old enough to be his father.

And I certainly can’t be old enough to worry about planning a Bar Mitzvah. I had my own at the same synagogue his will be at. It was in 1982 and I still have the same tie, though I haven’t worn it since around ’84.  I told him that instead of looking at it in terms of decades we could use presidential administrations:  Reagan. Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Dubya, Dubya, Obama and then whomever wins the next election.

I look at my son and I wonder what he’ll look like when he is 13. Will he grow as I did? If he does he won’t be that big but he certainly won’t be the smallest. His hair is far lighter than mine so he’ll be able to get away for a longer while without shaving. That is ok. It is hard to imagine him with a razor that he isn’t handing to me. Will his voice be as deep as mine?

So many questions and thoughts because once he hits 13 that starts the run and life will change again. It is so very surreal to me because life is changing now. By the time he turns 11 I expect a number of things to be different and 12 will probably mark a few more. Certainly 13 will be similar.


All of this makes me think of independence and maturity. When I turned 11 my parents started to allow me to stay home alone. I no longer had to accompany them on every errand they ran. I loved it, reveled in the freedom of not having to be dragged to the store. Now more than 30 years later I look back as a father and appreciate the decision they made just as I look upon others. It is a decision that isn’t so far off for me. The time is coming when my own son will be big enough to stay by himself. It won’t be overnight and it won’t be all day or anything close to that. But we’ll take it one step at a time.

That single step isn’t always easy for me. A writer has an active imagination and mine is as active as they come. I see all sorts of visions of the future and I hear the echoes of the past. As I was writing this post I was forced to answer a call of nature and took a moment to look at myself in the mirror. It sounds silly, but I needed to see that the college kid I used to be wasn’t the one standing there. I mean, I could see his reflection in my eyes but the face is different. These lines didn’t exist then and the hairline has taken a hit too. I haven’t been transported back in time, though I kind of wish that I was but for other reasons.

I can’t help but picture myself standing near railroad tracks in some mountainous region. I can hear the whistle of the train, but I can’t quite see it yet. So I suppose it remains to be seen whether I board that train, am struck by it or simply watch it pass me by.

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