As a father of three I look forward to Father’s Day, mostly because my kids look forward to Father’s Day. Truth be told, I also find the day frustrating as it reminds me that our pop culture doesn’t always treat fathers very well. One need only look at sitcoms and kids shows on the Disney Channel. The fathers are usually portrayed as an affable buffoon who by shear dumb luck doesn’t drive into a lake on his way home from work. These fathers never understand what their kids are talking about nor do they have any desire to interact with their children on an emotional level. The example they set is that one should always agree with their spouse as to avoid any sort of conflict or discussion. I take offense at this portrayal as it does not accurately depict the way that I parent, nor does it give credit to the person who taught me – my father.
My father is fourth of five children growing up in Philadelphia. His father was a butcher who immigrated from Ukraine and his mother was a first generation American whose family was from Lithuania. He attended Overbrook High School at the same time as Wilt Chamberlain and then joined the Army where he served two of his four years in a tank on the border of post-war Germany and Czechoslovakia. He left the Army to return home to help his mother after his father passed away. My father met my mother at a party and asked for her hand in marriage after only two weeks — they will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary this weekend.
My father was a swing shift (Google it) steel worker who worked at the top of a 168 foot blast furnace and had the same life insurance risk as a dynamite truck driver. When the steel mills of Eastern Pennsylvania went under, he worked in a beer bottling plant and then as a meat packer. There was no job too tough, hours too long, or environment too dangerous for my father, because it was all for his family. He also taught me the definition of a hard day at work when I once complained about a tough day at the office. Upon lodging this complaint I was peppered with questions like, “Were you standing at the top of a cauldron of molten iron?” “Did your work gloves melt on your hands?” “Was it air conditioned in the office where you had a tough day?” Needless to say, I never complained again.
Despite the transient nature of his blue-collar work history, my father never lost sight of his most rewarding job, preparing me and my brothers for the future. My father did not wear suits to work or carry a briefcase, but he taught me to tie a tie and made sure that I had a my “Gig line” in order. He worked with some rather unsavory characters, but never permitted vulgarities and demanded that we treat others with respect, and to always be humble. He did not go to college, but his sermons about schoolwork and staying in school were epic. He didn’t go to Jewish day school and has never been to Israel, but constantly reinforced the notion that we, as Jews, are a link in a chain that must be honored, cherished, and protected. My father was a far cry from those depicted on TV and taught me to be the same.
The lessons I received from my father can also be adopted by the Jewish community. The work of growing and strengthening our community is not easy, it takes hard work that we may not always enjoy. We must look and act like the community that we want to be and not only make the best possible first impression, but continue to work from a place of respect. We should not give credence to gossip or ugly language, we should discourage infighting between community members, and we should never be as pompous as to think that we have completed our work of caring for those in need. Lastly, we must continue to strive for a more educated community and must always remember that we, as Jews, are responsible for one another.
So, as Father’s Day approaches next weekend, I want to give a very public shout out to my dad, Jack Polikoff. He is not only a tremendous role model for me, my children, and my brothers, but for the Jewish community. Thanks Dad, Happy Father Day, Love you Man!