As a child, I thought my dad could do anything. This was less based in fantasy and instead rooted in years of watching my dad. I have memories of him pouring a sidewalk, taking a ladder into our attic, building a jungle gym and finishing our entire basement.
My dad just seemed to know how to make things, and I loved watching him. At the end of the day, observing my dad provided more bonding and than it did expertise–I’m not exceptionally handy myself. Maybe that’s because I can call my dad and he will come over, tool bucket in hand, and I know our project will be done right.
The decision to install a sukkah in our backyard was a three-year process. I was overwhelmed by the supplies I needed and how to choose among the many kit options online. I used a tape measure, plotting out the various possibilities: square, rectangle? Big enough for us, or a whole crowd? Wood, steel pipe?
After several calls to my dad to consult, I placed the order. I was in, I was all in, ordering a size that would allow us to grow our celebrations and use our sukkah for years together. I was thrilled.
I went out to our deck to map out the exact outline of our new sukkah. I used a metal-cased Stanley tape measure to plot out the footprint, sliding the lock into place when I reached each dimension. At one point, I must have tried to retract the tape before the lock was completely disengaged. There was a weird sound and I gently pulled, then pushed. Suddenly I realized that part of the tape edge had torn, nearly in two.
I stared down at my dad’s measuring tape. It was the “good” one, and I had ruined it. Though I knew it couldn’t be used any longer, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I set it on the garage floor, still extended, as a reminder to pick up a new one.
A few weeks later, I found myself at Home Depot headed for the measuring tape aisle. I was surprised by how many options existed, but was pleased to see the trusty yellow Stanley label affixed. But even that brand had many options to offer. I decided this was worth a call to Dad. I explained the options, and he suggested that one called the “Fat Max” was a reasonable investment. I questioned the plastic casing, which didn’t feel like his, but suddenly realized the traditional metal case that felt so familiar sitting on the shelf was actually a plastic silver impostor. I had no choice: Fat Max it was.
I arrived home and looked at the old one, still extended in the garage. I had a moment when I questioned if I could have it “restrung,” but when I picked it up and realized it was plastic too, a silver replica just like those in the store.
This whole time I had believed what I had was more than it really was, and suddenly I knew why: It was my Dad’s.
I had put a tape measure on a pedestal.
No matter what skills I acquire, no matter what I can do as an adult, as a parent, nothing rivals my own parents. Nothing is of their quality in my life. My new tool is fantastic. I’m even a little proud of it. But that traditional silver one? It stands for something. When I see it, I see dependability, confidence in what is tried and true, and as odd as it may sound, a link to my roots. It’s always been in that tool bucket, and is the tool I most associate with Dad.
As I’ve grown into parenting, I’ve developed confidence in my skills. I’ve weathered challenges and triumphs, and have come to realize that despite all my mistakes, no one knows my children like I do. This realization has brought me solace when I recognize my shortcomings. I’ll never measure up to my parents—but the measuring tape reminded me that I will always bring my parents’ wisdom to challenges and new opportunities in my life. I may ultimately make a different choice than they did, but at heart, it’s informed by their values.
Becoming a parent of elementary aged children has raised the stakes for me. My children are being formed into themselves in ways that involve choice and memory and reasoning, in a way far more permanent than in their toddler years. They will remember things that happen now–moments, conversations, values, traditions. If we keep kosher now, they will always remember a kosher home.
If we build a sukkah now, they will never remember a time we didn’t. So, a certain urgency has developed for me. I cannot just retrace my parents’ steps reflexively: I must carefully write on my children’s hearts the Jewish life I want them to live.
I cherish deeply my time spent watching my Dad: how he included me, how I felt important, how I trusted him and he trusted me. I felt–and feel–deeply loved. And if I am lucky, my girls will always remember their mom, the sukkah builder. They’ll think I was really handy maybe (only to someday discover I just picked a great kit!), and with any luck, I will have built more than a sukkah over the years.
In the future, they may need assistance. And hopefully, I will have built a relationship of love and trust, a solid foundation, and they will call and I will come over to help, rugged Fat Max in hand.