For some unknown reason, fathers are left out of the picture. It is the mothers who are most remembered for offering advice. And they are inheritors of the old adage, “listen to your mother; mother knows best”.
Is it the maternal instinct to offer protective advice to their children? When I was a child my mother constantly reminded me to “look carefully before crossing the street and never talk to strangers”.
In my household, it was my wife who daily greeted our children upon waking up and preparing to leave for a new day in school and years later, at work.” You cannot leave the house until you have eaten a healthy breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal. It is like the oil which keeps the motor running”.
And as they were leaving for school as children and more than forty years later as they left for work as professionals, the familiar daily refrain was given without ever a change over the years. “God bless you and protect you. May He guide you to do the right thing the right way. And may all your good wishes be fulfilled”. And an added reminder before closing the door “do not hold grudges, be respectful to people even if you disagree with them, be courteous, and when in doubt, look into the Torah for guidance”.
Without any doubt, mothers know best. I often quoted something I had heard many years ago when addressing members of my congregation and even to my students in university. “God could not be in all places at one time so He created mothers to assist him”. If there were heavenly angels above, mothers were the angels on earth.
While fathers frequently offered practical advice to their children, it was the spiritual and ethical remarks that were the province of our mothers.
I have always wondered why the fifth commandment instructs us to “kabed et avicha v’et imecha”, honor your father and your mother. It would seem more logical to place the “Imecha” before the “avicha” since it was from her womb that we came forth into the world. It was from mothers’ milk that we were fed the ideals of humanism and Jewish behavior. It is our mothers who were our first teachers.
The “gersa d’yankuta”, the influences from earliest childhood, were taught and exemplified by our mothers.
My daughter has asked me to help her to compile a book of phrases which her mother frequently used. Each one was in Hebrew and each one came out of the pages of Jewish religious and secular writings.
My wife and I disagreed upon the role of a parent in the life of his adult children. She frequently reminded me to let them live their lives without interference from me. If I saw or heard something from one of them that displeased me, my wife would be quick to tell me to hold my tongue and to mind my own business.
I was not always able to follow her sage advice. In spite of the fact that our three children are now in their fifties, I reminded their mother of the passage in the Shema which we recite daily. “V’shinantem l’vanecha v’dibarta bam, b’shivtecha b’vaietcha u’v’lectecha ba derech , u’v’shochbecha u’v’kumecha”….
We are commanded to teach our children and to speak when they live in our home and when they have left our home, by night and by day.
Simply because a child is 55 years old and says or does something which displeases a parent, I firmly believe that the parent has the right to correct the child and to offer a different advice and opinion. No matter that they may have families of their own and live remote from us, as a parent we have the obligation to teach and to speak. Their age should not be a preventive barrier for our parental “interference”. The commandment specifies that we must teach our children even “b’lechetcha”…when they have gone away from the parental home.
It is therefore little wonder that no adage refers to fathers. That must be because it is our mothers who know best. And we fathers can learn from them. The old adage holds truth… mother does know best.