A Father’s Responsibility to the Son

We love to glean wisdom, ancient wisdom, about family from wherever we can get it. There’s all kinds of great places. We spend most of our time looking at the scriptures when it comes to gleaning this ancient wisdom. But I also like to just pull quotes, look at other old books, because, back 100-plus years ago, or even in most parts of the world that’s outside of the Western World, people just thought about family differently, a lot more in that classical context, a lot more multi-generationally. So I’m always curious about the way that this was set up.

One of the places that I wanted us to look at today is the Talmud. The Talmud is this ancient voluminous Jewish writing that really interprets the Torah. Orthodox Jews believe it’s the oral law. They call the Torah the written law. Rabbis have talked and there’s different elements of the Torah that talk about what are the responsibility of a father to a son. There are these lists. When I read this lists, I’m always fascinated and just want to get Jeff’s feedback. 

The list in the Talmud of the responsibility that a father has to his son is to teach him the Torah, to find him a wife, to teach him a trade, and to teach him to swim. That last one always got me. But those are the four things: the Torah, find him a wife, teach him a trade, teach him to swim. That’s the checklist. That’s the way that a lot of… And I’ve talked to, and I’ve heard, Jewish fathers actually think very intentionally about this particular checklist. They think about it. How we doing this? How am I doing to do this as a dad? I like the idea of having these little lists of things that we’re responsible for, and this is a really interesting one. 

I curious, Jeff, when I read that, what jumps out at you with that list?

Yeah. Well, I feel like the swim one makes total sense, since I live in Maui and that is integral.

That’s right. 

You see people tossing four month old babies in the ocean and trying to teach them to swim here, as locals, so it’s very funny to watch that or it makes sense to us, out here in Maui, where ocean is integral to a way of life. I would say, “Yeah.” I think the one that I think is actually, I don’t think in the Christian culture, we have that hard of a time of relating to marriage. If you’re listening to this, you’re probably married. Finding a wife and teaching him a trade, that’s something our culture does. But I think teach him Torah, or teach the scriptures, I don’t think that’s one we do well. So I think I actually love that, and I always like to say, “Jewish people just crush us at how well they know their scriptures. How well they incubate a space that puts the scriptures at the forefront.”

Obviously, the midrash structure and some other things, with how they go about their way of life. I think we have a lot to learn. So I think we need to make sure that’s at our forefront of our checklist of not just the little verses, not just this is the command, but actually understanding the narrative, the story, the scriptures, God’s heartbeat being able to navigate them, study, be well approved, well seasoned, and that come through a lot of discipleship and mentorship in families. And I think that’s just one thing that stands out to me. I want that to be as high of a value to us in the Western Evangelical Church as it is in the Jewish faith.

I don’t know. Jeremy, what would you add to that?

I’ve been pondering this one find him a wife. I think this might come from Genesis. I think 24, 23 and 24, where Abraham took personal responsibility to find a wife for Isaac. It is an interesting story. I’ve thought a lot about that story. It’s the longest story in the entire Bible, with regards to actually locating a spouse, which is a question that we’re interacting all the time with singles that are in our lives. And, also, my girls have been acting this question, “Dad, is it your job to find us a husband?” It’s a good question.

Again, I don’t assume that the way the Western, or even Western Christian World, is doing things. Which the way we do things is 50, 70 years old, is necessarily any better than the way ancient cultures did these things, or the way that might have been described in scripture, or in books, like the Talmud. Anyway, I don’t have a great answer to that. I have been growing I would say, at least, in maybe a percentage sense. Feeling like, maybe, I’m more responsible for that, than I thought. Not in the sense of arranging a marriage, but in the sense of really participating in the process. I have a much larger network than my kids do, and so, maybe, that’s something that I should consider or think about, and not just let them think that that’s something they have to worry about all on their own.

Also, this idea of helping your son, or daughter, with a trade, or really thinking through, “Okay, what’s our responsibility, as parents, to make sure our kids are set up for the future?” I love the quote, “That a father doesn’t meet every need, but a father sees that every need is met.” 

That’s good.

I think about this a lot when it comes to education, or particularly, with trade. Again, I have a large network. My daughter, Kelsey, she’s right now interning at a startup with one of my close friends, and it’s great. I have this amazing network of friends, and I can bring my children into apprenticeships with my friends. Again, if I just assume that’s their responsibility, personally, or there’s some other system, like a college system, and that I can abdicate that, I’m not sure I’m doing everything I could to set up my kids. 

Anyway, this list has really burrowed its way into my thoughts, and I haven’t taught my kids how to swim, so it hasn’t gone that far. But I don’t live in Maui, and it’s, literally, six degrees in Cincinnati, so we don’t worry that much. You don’t want to swim in the Ohio River, by the way, so maybe I can get a pass. I don’t know where they were living, maybe, when they wrote this, but I can understand in your culture, Jeff, that might make a lot of sense. 

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