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Blending families

Whether we kids were his, hers, or theirs, it didn't matter, Abba treated us all like his own flesh and blood – but he never tried to replace our father
(iStock)
(iStock)

Nearly sixty years ago, our mother’s life was turned upside down with the sudden passing of our father one spring evening in 1963. Suddenly she was transformed from a happily-married young woman to the single parent of three children under the age of five. With the active support of both extended families, our amazing mother made it through those difficult years with incredible dignity and grace.

In the summer of 1965, she married Abba, as we called him, and for the next 46 years, built a beautiful home together in an environment of mutual respect, tranquility and joy. Abba had a son from a previous marriage, and in 1966 they were blessed with a daughter together – so our blended family had the proverbial “yours, mine and ours.”

To their enormous and eternal credit, they raised three sets of children as one seamless family – so much so that people often could not tell which children “belonged” to whom. Over the years, they were a source of strength to us during our challenging times and celebrated the lifecycle events of our children and grandchildren.

When Abba and our mother passed away, ten and six years ago respectively, the five of us honored them for their dedication to and involvement in our lives by observing shiva the way we were raised: together.

Word of our decision spread and we each got positive feedback from friends and family – especially from members of blended families. With that backdrop, we thought it appropriate to record and share with the public our recollections of how our parents made their blended family a seamless nuclear unit, in the hope that it will help others in similar circumstances. While some of these qualities are critical in any marriage, the fact that our parents achieved them despite the challenges of raising three sets of children is all the more remarkable and noteworthy.

As we collected and distilled our thoughts, the bedrock principles of their marriage, and indeed their lives, emerged clearly through our minds’ eyes – respect, tolerance, selflessness, faith, integrity, and an overall sense of reflection and strategic planning in their decision making.

Abba and our mother were so different in nature that one might have wondered how they ever met, let alone married and raised their families together. Abba was cerebral, reserved, and proper; while our mother was upbeat, funny, and spunky. Nonetheless, they navigated life’s ups and downs together in the most harmonious way. They genuinely respected each other and never disagreed in front of us. They modeled respect in their reverential treatment of their parents during their golden years and in their interactions with all three extended families where we all attended each other’s lifecycle events, biologically connected or otherwise. They kept the Horowitz surname for the three of us, which was not common practice at that time, and always encouraged us to maintain close relationships with our father’s siblings and their families.

The term “step” child/parent/sibling was never used in our home and they both did their utmost to be evenhanded, never distinguishing among their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren based upon which part of the family they came from. In fact, when Abba’s first biological grandchild was born, our mother remarked how happy she was for him now that he too reached this wonderful milestone in life, he remarked in all sincerity, “Dovid (our mother’s first biological grandchild, born twelve years earlier) is my oldest grandchild!”

As we all reflect back with adult eyes, it is clear that everything our parents did was selfless and well thought out. Abba realized that kids never forget their birth parents and he very wisely never tried to “replace” our father. In fact, he encouraged us to respect and nurture the place our father held in our hearts and lives. Abba attended every one of the yahrtzeit gatherings held in memory of our father, while our mother did not – out of respect for Abba. Until we got our driver’s licenses, he drove us to our father’s grave on his yahrtzeit and even occasionally took us to the shul where our father davened to say kaddish so we would benefit from the affection our father’s friends showered on us.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the many bumps they each had in their lives, they were grateful, optimistic, and full of thanks to the Almighty who brought them together and gave them the fortitude to rebuild their lives. Abba’s material success later in life only magnified his humility and sense of responsibility to help others achieve self-sufficiency, which he valued so deeply. Abba was like the cars he drove; simple, rock-solid and reliable. In his low-key manner, he was extraordinarily generous to his children, extended family members and people in need. Though they very much appreciated their creature comforts, they lived far below their means, and nothing was ever done to impress others.

Our parents were not exempt from the shortcomings all humans experience, and of course, there are things we all wish we had done differently during our formative years. Nonetheless, our parents had the wisdom and love to raise us as the unique individuals we are, and to provide us with the stable and nurturing upbringing upon which we were able to build our own lives and families. Children could ask for no more.

Abba; Dvora, Reb Yehuda and I are forever grateful to you for providing our mother with the bedrock of support she so badly needed in her most vulnerable hour, for treating her with such extraordinary respect over the years, and for raising us as your own children.

I have no knowledge of the workings in Heaven and am always deeply suspicious of people who claim to, but I am quite confident that our father was the first to greet you in Heaven to thank you for taking such wonderful care of his three prized possessions.

May both your memories forever be blessed.

(Posted in honor of the sixth yahrtzeit of our mother, Beile Horowitz Nutovic, Beila bas Reb Moshe Dovid a’h)

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, founding dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and director of Bright Beginnings, is an innovative educator, author, and child safety advocate. He is the publisher of two child safety books that are in over 120,000 homes in three languages, as well as the groundbreaking Bright Beginnings Gemara and Chumash workbooks that are in over 100 schools. He received the prestigious 2008 Covenant Award in recognition of his contribution to Jewish education. His most recent project is the Bright Beginnings Under-a-Minute Parenting Clips posting daily videos by Rabbi Horowitz on a wide range of topics on Instagram @brightbeginningsforum, and via WhatsApp by messaging “Sign-Up” to 845-540-2414. Rabbi Horowitz conducts child abuse prevention and parenting workshops in Jewish communities around the world.
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