Next weekend my family will be traveling to Washington D.C. for my son Dan’s college graduation. While everyone has been thrilled for Dan, as they should be, (and if you know anyone in the think-tank world, Dan’s specialty is international relations, with a focus on the Middle East), the instant reaction I’ve gotten from most people is a mazal tov for me on having paid the final college tuition bill.
Since, as we all know, every event of a child’s life is all about the parent, I’ve given some thought to this sacred moment in the life of a family, the graduation of the youngest child. As of a week from Monday, for the first time since my eldest Ethan skipped off to nursery school precisely twenty years ago at the age of two, not a single Hammerman will be matriculated at any school. Now I have heard of this animal known as graduate school, so we may not be completely out of the woods yet. But still, this is a real watershed moment for all of us. And since I’ve chronicled and assessed prior rites of passage for Dan, including his bris and bar mitzvah, why stop now?
So what would be an appropriate blessing with which to mark the college graduation of a youngest child? Should we break a plate, a custom sometimes done by parents at weddings or engagement ceremonies? Maybe burning a mortgage would be more appropriate.
Here’s a prayer I found on Beliefnet, written by a minister. I like it a lot and needed to make very few edits for it to be appropriate for Jewish families. It points out the anxiety all parents feel – or should feel – at a time like this, especially notorious helicopter parents like me.
“God, another rite of passage has come and gone. The child you have given has taken another step into the world. I am thankful, proud, delighted, relieved, and yet more than a little apprehensive. It’s a familiar mix of emotions, one I’ve known all the years I’ve shared this precious child with you. Today, I know you share many of these feelings, for you are a parent of great passion and joy. You share all perhaps except the apprehension. You never fear, because you are love, and perfect love drives out fear. You are a parent who knows no fear! I need that today. I need some of your parental boldness. As my child walks out now into a new season of responsibilities and challenges, in a world of struggle, I once again choose to release him/her to you. I have had to do this many times already: the first day of kindergarten, when the driver’s license came in the mail, on that first date, at high school graduation, when we drove off that first day of college, and now, when that journey is completed and they step out into the world as we know it, full of tough, dog-eat-dog battles. All we can do it pray for your hand, which reaches to protect when ours cannot. I say in faith, ‘God, bless and keep him, make your face shine upon him and be gracious to her, and look on her with favor and grant her peace.’”
As i was writing this, Peter Bradley Adams’ haunting song “Angeles” serendipitously popped up on my Pandora. This song of leave-taking, transition and acceptance perfectly captures the mood.
Oh Los Angeles we leave you now
At the setting of your skies
As we leave the comfort of your ground
With your angels we will fly
Maybe I should just listen to that song over and over, this week, along with Arik Einstein’s ever popular “Uf Gozal.”
Or maybe I should simply repeat the traditional blessing done by parents at a bar mitzvah: “Praised is God, who has relieved me of guilt for whatever becomes of this child.”
Historians trace this Baruch Shep’tarani blessing back to the biblical story of Jacob and Esau, brothers whose post-adolescent lives took dramatically different tracks. Although Rebecca and Isaac were hardly exemplary parents, the blessing validates their unavoidable helplessness in opposing Esau’s wayward ways. In instituting this prayer, the rabbis were implying that there comes a point where parents simply have to let go.
Like Esau and Jacob, my kids’ lives have also taken very different tracks, though, since of course it’s always about us parents, they’ve pursued some of their parents’ passions in different ways. I can see a little of me in each of them – but both of my boys are far greater than the sum of their ancestral parts. Dan, for instance, is taking his passion for Israel well beyond anything I’ve ever done – including contemplating aliyah.
Most of all, they have turned out to be menschen, who love and support each other and really care about others. No parent could ask for more and I am very proud of both of them.
And since their entire childhood took place within one congregation-village, an extreme rarity for P.K.s, especially rabbinic ones, but an advantage that this P.K. also was lucky enough to have as a child, I’ve got to share the credit with my entire congregation.
Which means we get to share the nachas as well. So, Mazal Tov to everyone on Dan’s graduation.
And while you are at it, let me know if you would like to see Dan’s resume…