Fathers and hearts

We travel to California every two years, mostly to see family. However, when we had been there a few days, I realized that my parents were not doing as well as I had thought. They had kept elements of their health problems secret from me and my siblings, and it was only because I was living under their roof that I sorted a few things out.

It was a bizarre situation, asking them questions about their situation and then trying to figure out how much they weren’t telling me, or how much they were understating the truth. The irony was not lost on me: my parents had done the same thing with me as a teenager, listening to my explanations of what I was doing and why, trying to sort out what I was trying not to tell them. The most ironic moment came as I sat up waiting for my mother to return from the hospital after my father had had surgery, expecting her by 10 pm and waiting until midnight, anticipating the worst the whole time as I know my parents had done whenever I was late coming home.

Before my father went into the hospital for some routine surgery, he asked me for a blessing. We pulled a chair to the same spot where my father had given all of the kids blessings at the beginning of each school year, and I put my hands on my head, strangely terrified, trying to keep my mind blank. I don’t remember much of what I said, but I said a lot, and as we stood and we hugged, I realized he has become an inch or two shorter in the eight years I have been away. I felt an intense love and respect for him, but at the same time I had an unexpected desire to protect him.

Part of this is about me growing older, of my acquiescence that I am an adult and not just in my later youth. But I also felt in that moment what I hope an eternal family really is — an association of individuals with the hierarchies intact but redefined. I’m not sure if this is the kind of thing Malachi was talking about, but I certainly felt my heart and my father’s heart turn to each other.

To see the post I wrote on my last visit to California, it’s here. 90% of it is still true now.


  1. So poignant, Norbert. I wonder if you and I are in the same phase of life. I’m probably a bit ahead of you–teenagers on one hand, and aging parents on the other. When my dad was a mission president, there were some very difficult days, and his assistants asked if he’d like a blessing. He gratefully accepted, and then recalled that when he had been a missionary in Finland in the 1950s, he too had given a blessing to his mission president. The circle expands, one ripple following another.

  2. Antonio Parr says:

    Thank you for sharing your very profound and moving observations.

  3. This is a interesting topic. Norbert are you in your 30’s now? My father retired the day I turned 35 last month. He is now 58 and medical problems forced him into retirement. He has also shrunk a bit. One thing is for sure. We are eventually going to meet our maker. I have memories of my dad dunking a basketball and smacking a softball in church leagues as a child. Now he seems much older and his various illnesses have really taken their toll on him.

  4. Yes, life can be very “ironic”. I think it is meant to be. I have come to understand, at a very deep level, that parents are actually the students. I am humbled by this truth, almost daily.

    I have learned more from my children, I am certain – than I ever have taught, or will teach them…

    Beautiful insight.


  5. John Mansfield says:

    I experienced something of this in my father’s last years. Toward the end, his physical and mental capability were at the level of a three-year-old child, so I was in the role of caring for him and aiding him, and sometimes requiring him to do necessary things that he didn’t want to do (eat, shower, dress). Yet the roles weren’t reversed; he was still the father and I was still the son.

  6. Wow. I thank you who are ahead of me on the path of life, and who share so willingly. I will reach similar points in the future, and I am grateful for the opportunity to consider them before I get there.

  7. Thanks for this Norbert; you have communicated well the poignancy of this all.

  8. I am 64 and am starting to feel the roles reverse. It’s a very odd feeling. My kids are starting to ‘look after me’. No more my getting on the roof, no more being called on to help them move something heavy. I go into my garage and see tools I will never use again. If the son or son-in-law borrows one, I tell them don’t bother bringing it back. At best, I can play the role of the sage for them, but I know that too will pass.
    ***Who started this post anyway!?

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Norbert, you’re the best. Thanks.

  10. Beautiful, Norbert. Thank you.

  11. Elouise says:

    Thank you, Norbert, for opening YOUR heart to us.

    If the following is a threadjack, my apologies. But it is very definitely about fathers and hearts. It is a recommendation for a film, available through netflix.com, through probably not at your local video store. Called MY FATHER, MY LORD, it is a 2008 film from Israel, a contemporary film about a very Orthodox Jewish father and his only child, a young son. (It’s in Hebrew with subtitles, but that matters not at all.) A quiet, intense and intimate film, this is not one for young children (under 12, I’d say) to see simply because it has a hugely sad ending (though not a single gory detail or anything of that sort. In fact, the ending has no dialogue nor any melodramatic overlay.)) It is so very tender, full of love, both within the little family and in the father’s great and consuming love for God and the Torah . Every review I have read sings its praises, as do I. It’s one that could be easily missed, and shouldn’t be.

  12. Thanks for the kind words.

    bbell, I am about to exit my 30s. Gulp.

  13. Thanks for sharing Norbert. I wish you and your family well on this journey.

  14. My parents and I have a long history of denying the severity of health problems to each other. My wife comes from a family with similar practices. It may be what drew us together.

  15. Thanks for this moving and thoughtful post.
    I’m in a really similar situation as you are and I understand many of the dynamics you write about now and wrote about in your previous post. My husband & I have been teaching internationally for many years and we (as do all the ex-pat teachers I know) always have our parents on our minds. What aren’t they telling us? For my husband, his dad concealed many very serious health issues from him because he didn’t want him to “worry.”

    I just arrived in California a few days ago, getting to know my family again, trying to make up for lost time as I do every year. Thanks again for the post.

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