Growing up in Israel in the late 1950s I hardly have any childhood memories of my father. He was always away at work. My mother and my older brother were in charge of my upbringing. I got to know my father only as an adult. Children books and magazines, from that time, tell a similar story to mine. The father was always absent, either physically at work, or emotionally. Pictures of the father show him quite withdrawn, sitting behind a newspaper which separates him from the rest of his family.
It seems that fathers in the 1950s were spoilt by their family, which demanded nothing of them but gave them a lot of respect. But already in the 1980s things were different, my husband was an involved father, as the following Father’s Day story indicates.
It all started with a project: a dollhouse made out of wooden bookcase, which my daughters built together with their father. They had labored on it for weeks, and then when the dollhouse was finally done it was time to furnish it.
My husband asked the girls to make a list of the essential items they needed in order to furnish the different rooms of the house. Their wish list was very long: there were so many things that they just couldn’t do without.
Then he said: “This is an excellent list, and we will be happy to split the cost of the furniture that you have chosen.” He announced it as though he was handing out a big award, which in a way he was. It was just that they were caught off guard, our daughters were certain that we would be paying for everything.
I was as surprised as the girls: my husband had not revealed his plan, he was probably worried that I would object. Indeed, although I said nothing and went along, I secretly felt that at the age of 7 and 8 they were too young to have their wings clipped in such a way. They were thrilled about the finished dollhouse and were looking forward to the endless possibilities of interior design.
It is not that he wasn’t willing to spend the money, quite the contrary, like the rest of us he was anxious to see the dollhouse come to life. In retrospect I understand that this was a brilliant fiscal move. He seized an opportune moment to teach our daughters the meaning of money — value, making choices, taking responsibility, accountability and even patience.
The girls were not even resentful, as rational creatures they just went ahead, made the calculation of how much money they were willing to spend, and came up with a much shorter list of the most important items.
As a business professor, and a father, he wanted to demonstrate to his daughters the concept of an “interested party.” In our case it meant that if they wanted something, they had to take action. It was also an enabling lesson, the girls saved money to buy new furniture, and made some decorations themselves. The dollhouse became more meaningful and valuable because we, the parents, refrained from buying all the furniture for them at once.
My husband believed that children should learn early about money so that they could grow up to be responsible adults. But he was able to teach them such a lesson only because he was close to his daughters, and worked together with them. It is true that my own father had a much easier life at home, but I feel that since he was absent, he missed out a lot.
Happy Father’s Day!