Keeping My Son Close

Keeping My Son Close

By Rachel Stein /

Cool it, fella, before your blood pressure spirals way out of control, Barry coaxed himself, casting an angry glare at Eileen as he bolted upright and headed for the door.

Rachel Stein
Rachel Stein

Without a word to Eileen, whose eyes he sensed boring into his retreating back, Barry stormed outside.

I’ve gotta run, he decided, breaking into a jog. That’s the best way for me to clear my thoughts and think constructively.

But are you running away, a teasing voice asked, or are you aiming to find a solution?

“Any time we’ve ever backed him against a wall, a wedge forms between us.”

Eileen’s words reverberated in his mind. Was that what he wanted, for Jeff to become estranged from them? But if he followed this insane trajectory, wouldn’t he become alienated anyway?

Barry didn’t notice the blocks he was crossing as he feet thumped a rhythm on the sidewalk. Who said he has to become a stranger? Just because your little brother went all religious and we have nothing to do with him and his dozen kids doesn’t mean it has to happen to Jeff. And even, in the worst-case scenario, let’s say he grows a thick beard and starts sporting a kippah and tzitzis; does that have to drive a divider between us? Won’t he still be our son?

Waiting for the light to turn, Barry’s feet jogged in place while his thoughts zoomed forward. And just when the light shone bright green, epiphany struck.

“I’ve got it!” he called out, eliciting a few curious stares from passers-by.

There’s that new column in the Jewish Times where people write in with dilemmas. And then they get free advice! What do I have to lose? I just hope they publish it so I’m not wasting my time.

Pumped with adrenaline, Barry high-tailed it back home and slid into his computer chair. Eileen raised her eyebrows but wisely kept silent.

There, Barry thought with satisfaction, after he poured out his heart and pushed send. I wonder how long it will be until someone gives me direction.

Just one day later he found several messages waiting in his inbox. Rachel Stein, the columnist, had kindly forwarded three people’s ideas. “After noting your distress,” she wrote, “I didn’t want you to wait two weeks for the next column. I hope this helps!”

Me, too, Jeff thought, settling down to read a note from Margalit Gross.

“Both Barry and his son have a right to feel as they do. For Barry and Eileen, it’s totally out of their upbringing to postpone college and spend a year in Israel. First, I think they should speak calmly to their son and let him know they’re going to look into this. Then they should make an appointment with the Orthodox rabbi and share their concerns. Maybe even have a second meeting with their son present. Perhaps a compromise could be made to enroll in the college for the following year with possible credits accepted from their son’s year in Israel.”

Esther Gendelman, M.S., L.P.C., C.P.C., who can be reached 248-915-9122, made the following suggestions:

“The parents need to take the time to calm down and own their upset. A consult with a therapist or coach to help them understand what is so frightening to them about this would be helpful, and I am available. After they recognize what is really happening for them, it is time to apologize to their son [Apologize — whoa! Isn’t that taking things too far? Barry felt his blood pressure rising again as he continued reading] and ask for Take 2, where they really sit down and just listen to his wants, dreams and vision without advising. I’m happy to advise them in preparation for this, too.

“They should thank him for sharing and ask for a bit of time to digest this as it is different from their original expectations, and they will get back to him. At that point, they can ask for permission to share their thoughts, feelings and concerns. Let me know how they are doing at the end of that process, and then we can advise further.”

His eyes raced across the note from Michael Abeles.

“Relationships are the most significant issue. He is not in a cult or doing drugs. Would Barry have been happier if he went to an ashram? Build the relationship around what they can do together, not what they can’t. Come from the point of view of wanting to understand. There will be challenges along the way — a sense of humor helps.

“It feels like a rejection of all values taught through the years. There is a fear of being rejected, and will Barry still have a relationship with Jeff? Talk to him about what is attracting him towards a different lifestyle. Last, agree to disagree — peacefully.”

Julian Yudelson, formerly from Atlanta, had this to say:

“Speaking as the grandfather of several present and past teens, my advice is: Act responsibly as a guiding parent. Talk to everyone you know who has taken a break year in Israel and ask for referrals to other families outside your own circle. THEN help Jeff find the best program for his interests, abilities and goals. There are so many programs; there is certainly one that would be right for him. Help him grow his Jewish roots into wings so that he can soar.”

Barry sighed and gazed into the distance, mulling over what he had read.

Getting up from the computer, he went off in search of Eileen to see whether she would be in agreement with any or all of the suggestions he had received. Above all, he wanted to keep Jeff close.

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