The Meaning of Fatherhood: A Son’s Perspective
June 17, 2022
By Lorne Steinhart

The relationship between a father and a son is binding and covenantal.  A father’s guidance, support and advocacy are impactful and enduring, greatly influencing his son’s development, character and ability to navigate life’s complexities and challenges.

Last month, May 18, would have been my father’s 95th birthday.  Although Dad passed away more than five years ago, his manner, personality and values carry on as legacy underpinnings for my family.

In Hebrew gematria, the practice of assigning a numerical value to a word or phrase, the number 95 represents strength along with the actions to “collect, bind and shine.” Interestingly, the widely known and consequential verses in the Book of Genesis (22: 1-8), the “Akeidah,” is when G-d tests Abraham, calling upon him to sacrifice his son Isaac – literally testing Abraham’s devotion to G-d.

G-d said: “Abraham,” and Abraham replied “Here I am.” Abraham’s response demonstrates that he was mindfully present, clear and willing to be held accountable.

To complete the heart-wrenching task, Abraham collected and split wood for the burnt offering and placed the bound wood on his son Isaac to carry, while the two proceeded together.  Then Isaac spoke to Abraham, saying “My father!” And Abraham said, “Here I am, my son.” Notably, this quote is the first occasion in the Torah when a parent speaks to a child – a father to his son – adding to the moment’s significance.

The passage continues with Abraham preparing to sacrifice his only son Isaac to honor G-d’s command. Then, an angel of G-d called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And Abraham said, “Here I am.”

The angel stopped Abraham from sacrificing his beloved son Isaac, explaining that he knew Abraham was a G-d-fearing man who would not withhold his only son from Him.

On the three occasions that Abraham was called – by G-d, then Isaac, then the angel – Abraham’s response was identical, the inference being that Abraham held all three inquirers in the same high regard.

This deduction is fundamental and meaningful: A good father is mindfully present, clear and accountable for raising his son – his child or children – and accepts the responsibility with vigor.

Conversely, we are commanded to honor and revere our father and mother; therefore, the bond between a father and his child is on more equal footing in terms of deep respect and fulfillment of obligations to each other.

Fortunately, my siblings and I had an engaged and responsive father.  Also, family, friends and broader members of our community were fortunate to have been touched by our father’s genuine warmth and counseling skills. He was a good listener, a talented analyst, and an effective communicator.

Thank you and Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  I miss you.

Lorne Steinhart is Senior Manager, Client Relations at the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies.  His father, Nathan Steinhart, was active for decades in Jewish Buffalo; his passing inspired Lorne to become more active in the Buffalo Jewish community, in part motivating him to serve as a Jewish professional.

The Meaning of Fatherhood: A Son's Perspective - Jewish thought of the week graphic