Swimming with your children: Father's Day 2012

Perhaps the most known piece of Rabbinic literuature that speaks about the responsibilities of a father to his children can be found in the Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin).

"The father is required to Circumcise his son; to redeem him [referring to the first-born son, as per the Biblical passages in Numbers 18: 15-16]; to teach him Torah; to assure that he marries; and to teach him a trade. Some say he must also teach him to swim. Rabbi Judah says, whoever does not teach his son a trade teaches him robbery 

In the mishnah, the rabbis agree that a father should teach his son a trade.  This is probably in order for his son to be self sufficient.  Perhaps this is more about self preservation, I mean, you love your children, but by the time he is 40, one would hope that he is not still living on your couch if he can actually work!  

Why did only some say that a father should teach his child how to swim?  Perhaps it was because it was redundant.  The text already said that you should teach your child Torah and a trade, and swimming encompasses both of those things, the physical and the spiritual.

Teaching a child how to swim in Florida is a life or death matter considering how many pools and bodies of water we have all around us, so there is a definite physical aspect to the obligation, but if we look deeper, perhaps it is yet another way for us to look at the Jewish education that we give our children.  As parents, we often outsource Jewish education because we do not feel adequate enough to teach our kids Bible, Hebrew, Rabbinic literature, and so much more.  This trend is not anything new, in fact, Jewish schools for our children are thousands of  years old.  I would add though that these schools are just one part of the equation; they only work if we reinforce the values at home.  Teaching is not just about saying the alef/bet, but about feeling the alf/bet.  The stories that you can share with your children about your own experiences with our tradition can help frame their own jewish experiences.  When you take the lessons of the school and bring them to your home, you convey a powerful message - Judaism does not live in books and class rooms, but in our homes, our lives, our souls.

We have to teach our kids how to swim, but then, we have to swim with them.  It is a message not just about Judaism, but for life.

I am taking some vacation time over the next two weeks.  Over these two weeks, I'll be spending some quality time with my boys.  In fact, I'll be taking my oldest son to swimming lessons.  Fortunately, the teacher told me that I can be with him in the pool so I can reinforce the lessons when we swim on our own without the teacher.

Our faith teaches us that we must make our children self suffiencient, but it does not mean that we cannot work with them, that we cannot swim with them.

On this father's day, may you take the opportunity to swim with your sons and daughters, or swim with your fathers and grandfathers.  May the waters of your life be gentle and calm, and may you spread your arms out and explore the entirety of our world with your child at your side, and God above you.  


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