As the Zohar teaches, we all pass from this world, but the light we bring to it never leaves. I’ve been reflecting on this idea a lot. Because while the two most influential father figures I’ve known–my father and my father-in-law–have passed on from this earthly life, their influence remains very much alive and well.
In this spirit, and to honor them both this Father’s Day week, I’d like to share just a few of the life lessons they’ve passed along to me. And now, onward to you, with love:
1) Being strong doesn’t mean you can’t be gentle, kind, and empathetic.
Rav Berg, my father-in-law and revered teacher, was one of the strongest people I have ever known. At the same time, few people in this world could connect with another’s pain or experience with such authentic compassion. For as wise and successful as he was in becoming a spiritual leader, developing the Kabbalah Centre, and meeting with other great giants of the world, the Rav was deeply empathetic and remarkably humble.
I remember so clearly, even today, how I felt just two days after Josh was born. I came home from the hospital. My wounds were still fresh, and I was in deep pain–both the physical kind, from the C-section, and the less-visible kind that came from knowing that our son had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. I remember feeling very broken. I was really emotionally distraught; I was scared, I was full of doubt about the future and confused as to how I would navigate a world which now felt foreign to me. That afternoon, sitting on my bed, the Rav walked in and pulled up a chair. He just sat next to me in silence. Twenty minutes had gone by when he looked at me and simply said, “Monica, It didn’t just happen to you.” And at that moment, 50% of my pain just melted away. This wasn’t just my pain and fear. I wasn’t alone. I had never felt more completely seen or understood.
My father-in-law once said that “loving others is how we access true reality and affect every atom in the universe.” He was right–because his presence still affects every atom in ours!
2) Be certain in your path, and persevere.
I often tell the story of another time when, after our daughter, Miriam was born, I experienced a terrifying health scare. But the Rav said (or rather, yelled) to me through the other end of the phone, when my panic was starting to take over, “Monica! Fear is Not an Option!” and his words resonated so deeply, they became the title of my first book. And he lived by those words himself. His determination and perseverance were, in every way, singular. And yet, through all this unwavering fearlessness, he still ranked love at the top of his list. He (half-jokingly) called himself “selfish,” remarking that he shared his light only because he had to in order to receive more light himself! But he–like the rest of us–could only share exactly what and who he was. He was strength. And certainty. And goodness. And light.
3) Love is acceptance beyond conditions.
My own father was not a public figure like the Rav, but to me, he was a giant. (Granted, his dementia changed this–but that version was not who he was for most of his life.) One of the greatest qualities my father modeled for me was that unconditional love that instilled a freedom of thought and heart in me that I only fully realized after he passed away. His version of love was accepting, regardless of circumstance. He would quietly hold my hand, literally and figuratively, even while I made choices that he knew would negatively affect me.
When, as a teen, I was struggling with an eating disorder, my father never questioned me. He simply accepted me. During this and other challenging times in my life, he refrained from trying to control me. He taught me that control runs counter to love. And, as I healed myself, I realized that my father’s quiet constancy was my lighthouse. I knew that no matter how far I might drift, even from myself, that safe harbor was always close by. And it still is.
4) Vulnerability invites (and grows) our ability to love and be loved.
My father also showed me that the internalized ability to be loved is just as powerful as is the external force of loving. With him, I didn’t feel the need to hide my foibles and darker angels because he created space for me to be my most authentic self. He was a deeply expressive and emotional man, the kind of man who said, “I love you” many times a day to those he loved. He wasn’t afraid to show his love, to cry in front of others, or to admit he was wrong. He valued his family deeply, and he gave and received love unapologetically.
Because of all this, I grew strong enough to love and value myself. I knew that no matter what I said or did, my father would always love me. It was freeing to know that I could be me–for better or worse–and still be wholly loved!
5) Learn to love and accept yourself first (idiosyncrasies and all!). After that, anything is possible!
Self-love doesn’t happen suddenly; it evolves over time and with practice and experience. On my first trip to Israel with my father (it was just the two of us), I began to understand this. Because for the first time, we finally saw each other for who we were–beyond our family roles. We laughed until we cried… and part of that laughter was due to the “odd” parts of ourselves we bared. By learning to accept and appreciate my father just as he was, I was learning to accept myself, too.
Both my father and the Rav helped me to cultivate my self-love. They encouraged me to lean into my authenticity and find my purpose and potential–which is exactly what the world needs each one of us to share!
This week, take a moment to reflect on, and be grateful for, the lessons you’ve learned from those fathers–or fatherly types–in your own life.
While not all lessons are necessarily positive, they all help us grow. Because no matter where we are today, we are always standing on the shoulders of those who came before. And from that place, we can see a little farther and fly a little higher.
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