My boy, my first born, turns thirteen on Monday.

We will have a coming of age ceremony for him this weekend.

 

He will have a coming of age ceremony like the I had one when I turned thirteen.

And like my father and my grandfather had.

But unlike.

 

My father’s and mine were each at a synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Although different synagogues and the UWS changed a lot in the years between. My father’s father’s bar mitzvah was in Hanover, Germany. I don’t know much of anything about it. Nor if there was a particularly Jewish celebration of my mother’s father’s thirteenth birthday. 

 

Unlike any generation of Mayer, Goldfarb, Kohn, or Bendeson, my son’s ceremony will be on a beach in the Seattle. 

You might remember I mentioned some of the planning of it in the article about him walking me into the telephone pole – How I Forgave My Son.

 

 

***

 

 

 

“Come on, guy,” I plead, “I have time to help you with your homework, but only if we do it now.”

 

“One secon….”

 

He is watching YouTube Minecraft videos.

 

He doesn’t even finish the word second.

 

I know that this “one second” of which he speaks is nothing that actually will happen. 

It’s his polite way of telling me to get lost, to mind my own business.

 

His brain is a mess. That’s how teenage brains are. CAT scans have shown that teenagers’ brains have more similarity to those of dementia patients than to his ten-year old sister’s or my own.

 

“I have time now. I’m not going to have time to help you later,” I say ten minutes later.

 

No response from him. 

 

His math homework isn’t going to get done.

But this is what becoming a bar mitzvah means – letting him make his own decisions, letting him face consequences. Not getting between him and his decisions.

 

Apparently, “first things first” is a lesson that must be experienced.

 

 

***

 

 

Jane and I have been working with a rabbi in Seattle to craft the bespoke ceremony.

 

He didn’t want to do the ceremony that I was envisioning for him. 

He told us he didn’t want to stand in front of a group and put on a “Jewish show.”

 

What he said:  “I want to stand with you and mom on the beach and cry about the fact that I’m growing up.”

 

 

***

 

 

 

On January 8, 1983, I stood in a grey suit and recited memorized phonics, pretending to read from the glyph-filled scroll.

 

I don’t know how involved my parents were in the planning of the ceremony. But they put on a helluva party. 13 food stations, a remote controlled robot, playing cards and plastic cups embossed with a custom logo.

 

Emmett doesn’t want a party. Instead, Jane and I will be taking him to Disneyland in February. Because where better to sanctify the transition from childhood to adulthood than the place where people of every age who can afford park admission get to act like kids?

 

For the ceremony, we have planned some very traditional Jewish rituals, though. Including one that we didn’t do at my coming of age. It’s one that I don’t think my dad did at his either. It’s not a particularly in vogue rite. 

Midrash Rabba (Parashat Toldot) states: 

“One must tend to one’s child for thirteen years. Then one must recite ‘Baruch She’Petarani Me’Onsho Shel Zeh.’” 

The words literally mean, “I thank you God for releasing me from this burden.”

While saying the words, parents symbolically wash their hands. 

We will do that.

 

I am no longer obligated for Emmett’s actions.

 

That’s what this is all about. 

 

When he becomes a bar mitzvah, what he does is between him and (the) God (of his understanding). 

 

If he doesn’t do well on his math, that’s on him.

 

God, help me.

Help me from trying to help. 

Help me come of age and learn to let him go.

 

***

 

 

Postscript:

He woke himself up at 6:30 the next morning to do the math homework he hadn’t done. The system seems to be working.

 

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Road Rage and the Rabbi

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