A Special Bar Mitzvah

Today is an interesting day. It started off by attending the Bar Mitzvah of a special child, and will end with Christmas dinner with the family.
mia1This morning I was privileged to escort a friend’s daughter to the Bar Mitzvah  of a schoolmate of hers. My friend had to work today so she asked me, as her closest Jewish friend, to take her daughter to the occasion, and maybe help her understand what was going on in temple. I was glad to help her out – as she has helped me over the years. It was the first Bar Mitzvah I have attended since losing Andrew, so I was not sure how I was going to react – especially considering that this one was for a special child – Zak.

To clear things up, and to cover my ass somewhat, I am not sure what this young man has, or what has made him special, or if that is even the correct politically acceptable term this month. But after meeting him and attending the affair, and observing him, it is obvious that he is a “special” child – not in any way derogatory or judgmental, just setting the stage for the story. And if I offend anyone by using this term, especially his parents, or anyone else, I apologize in advance. It’s not the first time I have inadvertently, unintentionally offended someone; and let’s face it, it won’t be the last.

Back to the story.
Andrew BMBeing Proud. I proudly recalled, while I sat there at the beginning of the service, Andrew’s Bar Mitzvah. How proud I was that my son reached this glorious date in his life. How he worked hard to learn the prayers, to learn the haftorah, and to write the obligatory speech thanking everyone. We pushed him to study and learn over those preparatory months, but he worked very hard on his own. He was on the ice four or five times a week, went to Hebrew school two or three times a week, went to regular school every day, and still managed to learn his Bar Mitzvah obligations. It made us both proud that he accomplished all this.

mia2And then I looked up at the bimah this morning. This young man had not prepared much, it was beyond what he could handle. He did not write a thank you speech or read from the Torah. But as I sat there, and he ascended to the bimah for the first time in his life with that gorgeous innocent smile upon his face, I was just as proud of him as I was of my son.  I looked over at Zak’s father, who was sitting next to his father, and the two generations were as proud as any parent I had ever seen at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. For them, this was the Bar Mitzvah of a lifetime. Zak stood up there smiling and holding his mother’s hand as the cantor and rabbi read from the Torah, as his mother said the prayers, and as his older brother stood next to him. That little bit made them just as proud of their son as I was on the day I got to stand next to Andrew when he was called to the Torah for his Bar Mitzvah; so different, and yet the same proud feelings.

Later that morning I was thinking of the proud moments that I had with Andrew in his short life, as well as so many of the proud moments that I will never get to experience with him. I both smiled and cried on the way home.

I was also thinking of Zak. Chances are his moments will be different from Andrews, or from many of the children whose parents read my journals. Many of my friends and colleagues were proud parents when their kids got their first job at an investment bank, or got into medical school, or joined their first start-up. The posted it on Facebook, called the family, and mentioned it when I was with them.

I don’t think that Zak’s parents will have these same moments as we have had. But, in their way, they will be just as proud, if not more proud, of special mile markers in his life. For Zak has to work harder, and be more focused, than our kids did to pass a test, or to graduate from school, or even to make friends. His parents get to share his joy and his innocent love just as we do, and they get to be just as proud of his accomplishments and his mile markers as we do of our children’s.

andrew senior gameMany of our children are near one end of the perceived spectrum – getting that job at an investment bank at 23, buying their new Audi at 24, and taking their parents out to Peter Lugers – just because they can afford it now. Many special children are at the other end of the spectrum, where their mile markers don’t include big financial accomplishments, but emotional accomplishments, physical accomplishments – moving out on their own one day, or getting a job at Target or Walmart where they fit in and love greeting people as they enter the store. For some, that greeter job is the chance of a lifetime that they can smile and welcome strangers, for hours at end, just saying hello and making people happy as they enter the store. It brings them great joy and happiness to have that job – probably more than the investment  banker or the lawyer. And for their parents – they are just as proud of their son’s accomplishment of being a greeter as any parents I know whose child works elsewhere. For Zak, I only met him for a brief couple of hours, so I have no way to knowing what the future holds for him. But on the proud parent’s spectrum, I think his parents have surpassed most of us with what their son has accomplished so far in his thirteen years.

The point? What’s the point of this journal? I am not sure exactly. Does there have to be a point or a lesson as there usually is? Maybe this is just an observation. Or maybe it is something that we can all reflect upon. I know I am proud of what Andrew did accomplish in his 21 years – and I know I told him that very often. I am also very proud, and continue to be so proud of what Nicole has accomplished, and what she continues to accomplish in her life – and I tell her this as well.

Maybe that is the point. Share your proudness (if that’s a word) not just with your friends, and not just with your family, but also with your children. That is what is important. Make sure they know how proud you are of them – every single day. Not just of the big events, but that you are proud of them in everything they do. This goes for not just our young children, but even if your “child” is 30 or 40 or 50.

I can sleep at night knowing that my son knew, up to his last night, that his mother and I were very proud of him – because someone once told me what I am saying here now.

 

8 thoughts on “A Special Bar Mitzvah

  1. Debbie

    Dear Perry,

    I’m glad you wrote about this subject. As a parent, we are grateful for our children’s first steps; for their first achievements in elementary school and as they grow up, their accomplishments through high school, college and beyond.

    A parent is proud of the small things that others may take for granted…and the big milestones. It’s all relative.

    I am grateful for each day. I’m grateful for being a parent. I’m grateful for life I’ve been given and how I try hard to make each day count. Your blogs often times talk about this, so I can relate.

    Happy Holidays! Btw, the photo of you and your wife with Andrew is so loving. And, although I’ve never met Dorothy or Andrew…I think he looks like her–or at least their smiles are similar.

    See you soon. :)

    Reply
  2. Debbie

    Dear Perry,

    I’m glad you wrote about this subject. As a parent, we are grateful for our children’s first steps; for their first achievements in elementary school and as they grow up, their accomplishments through high school, college and beyond.

    A parent is proud of the small things that others may take for granted…and the big milestones. It’s all relative.

    I am grateful for each day. I’m grateful for being a parent. I’m grateful for life I’ve been given and how I try hard to make each day count. Your blogs often times talk about this, so I can relate.

    Happy Holidays! Btw, the photo of you and your wife with Andrew is so loving. And, although I’ve never met Dorothy or Andrew…I think he looks like her–or at least their smiles are similar.

    See you soon. :)

    Reply
  3. Ned

    Perry, always good to hear your reflections, particularly on Christmas eve when your comments match, I believe, the message of Christmas, that wonder,hope and love are found in the most basic moments of life – birth, taking our first steps, trying and succeeding (or failing), regardless of the sophistication of the effort – and so we can celebrate Andrew and the parents and friends of Zac can celebrate Zac, knowing that there is something very precious, even eternal, about what they are
    and what they accomplish in their lives.

    Reply
  4. Jonell Restivo

    Perry,

    You made me laugh with your intro when you apologized if you offended anyone saying it wasn’t the first and wont be the last time either. Then you needed to get back to the story because you digressed, now you sound like me.

    You asked what was the point of telling this story. The point is that we are all on our own individual journey that takes us down uncharted paths, many without a clear destination as some other pathways are for someone else.

    Its not a life thats less important or easier either, but more challenging and difficult because its not as defined and needs to be directed and refined each step of the way. I, like Zak, can only create a future by taking one step at a time without the pig picture as a goal.

    But what Zak has is a powerful support system, his loving family and with their strength and guidance he will have the ability to cut his own path and make his own gratifying way.

    I know because I have been on a life journey without a predetermined destination. a wanderer who had no support system and managed to get this far. What tomorrow holds for me is still fluid and changes sometimes from one moment to the next.

    There are so many organizations and privately funded programs that help people like us who need to be faced in the direction that will provide productive results.

    Perry we had this discussion only the other day how overwhelmed I became Sunday at the hockey rink seeing so many children who were on successful paths from a young tender age, now reaping the rewards of well thought out and planned futures. The exact thinking you were trying to express earlier in your story.

    Its the journey that builds the character required to survive its twists and difficult turns life throws before us, that makes us who we finally become.

    You did a good and noble act being the mensch that you are with a heart of gold, with some rough edges that makes you unique and ever so special, at least to me. Bravo my dear friend.

    Reply
  5. mark schneider

    Dear Perry,
    This is Zakarai’s father. Thank you so much for your wonderful post and coming to Zakarai’s barmitzva! Zakarai cannot speak (let alone read Hebrew) and has profound disabilities so we were debating having a bar mitzva for him at all. We are so glad we did, and that you came with Mia, and some of his other friends/family. Zakarai has other classmates not present who were invited but have conditions that prevented them from coming (medical or behavioral). So, we are thankful those who could come. I can’t imagine the loss of child, Andrew seems so full of life in these pictures. Your post is a good reminder for me to focus on the positives of our children. If anyone reading this post wants to help/volunteer with special needs events for children in the community please email me at schneidm7@hotmail.com (Mark Schneider)

    Reply
  6. Rebecca Iannantuoni

    Dear Perry:
    Zakarai’s dad passed along a link to your site this morning. (My husband and I were sitting directly behind you at Zakarai’s bar mitvah.) Your site is particularly relevant to me – and I have been pouring over the entries – because today we buried our oldest son’s best friend. At just 18 years old, Bobby was struck and killed instantly by a drunk driver while walking to a neighbors house on Christmas day evening (just over 24 hours after we sat behind you). I am not sure how you survive tragedy. I know we do. Perhaps, after time, light begins to shine in on what feels like perpetual darkness ? In any event, I do believe that God gives us what we can handle and what we need — (even though my religion takes me into a New Testament…) — I think this may have been God’s hand sending me your site — to remind me that we do gain ground again — the wounds will close and scar… thank you for writing about Andrew. I am grateful that I sat behind you – to celebrate the life of a very special child which gave opportunity to learn about your special child. Blessings on you – Rebecca Iannantuoni (Mia’s friend Gannon’s mom)

    Reply

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