My father grew up in a small town, so perhaps that’s how he came to really enjoy Halloween.
In a place where kids didn’t have a lot of excitement, a night where they could dress up, get candy, and be freed from their parents, was a pretty big deal.
But that’s just a guess. No one I’ve asked can answer why Dad took such delight in putting on crazy wigs or masks for not just his childhood, but his entire adult life. Truth is – for reasons no one can explain either – he loved doing that for many occasions, not just on October 31.
On Halloween, he’d wear a purple clown wig to work and, later, a Dracula mask for the trick-or-treaters, cuing up a “scary sounds” tape when they rang the door. It wasn’t all play. He’d use our candy haul to teach us about tax and charity – we could keep half, some was “taxed,” and the rest was to be donated.
The rituals stuck and, for Dad and me, Halloween evolved into being an oddly meaningful day. I even came back the first Halloween I lived away, just so I could mark the occasion with him.
My father died seven years ago this October. I have his purple wig now, and this column will appear in the October 31 edition, so picture me wearing it for a few minutes on that day. Maybe, this year, my daughter will ask about it. If she does, I’ll tell her a story about Dad. And, maybe, the same thing will happen next year and, over time, it will become an annual ritual for us to share a story of my father on that day.
OK, so it’s not exactly what the sages had in mind when they embedded into Judaism’s daily prayers a phrase that’s come to be a central tenet of Jewish culture: the importance of sharing our community’s customs, laws, traditions, lessons and stories l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation).
But, I still think my proudly Jewish father would approve.
L’dor v’dor has taken on new meaning to me as a parent. What am I doing if not taking the lessons of the generation that raised me, adding to those my own experiences, and then transmitting it all to my child?
Yet, there’s a common refrain among parents – I’m not going to be like my mother or father was. We say that about discipline tactics, or approaches to mealtimes. We research the latest and best trends in parenting, convinced there is a different, or better, way to raise our kids than the way our parents raised us.
How often do we take the same conscious approach to what our values will be and how we’ll share them? And, in turn, how often do we do that by thoughtfully examining the values our parents instilled in us, how they did so, and to what extent we want to pass them along?
I don’t know why Dad loved Halloween. Does it matter? Not really. A lesson to be taken from that is it doesn’t matter how you come to have moments of pure silliness with your kids – but that it’s important you have them.
I did hate that Dad “taxed” my candy. In retrospect, it was a clever parenting tool, using a good that mattered to me in order to explain the important concepts of tax and charity.
I reflected on this recently when I tried to explain the concept of charity to our three-year-old, using her beloved PJ Library tzedakah box. It’s full, and I explained to her we were now going to donate the money to someone or something that could use it. Telling a toddler you’re going to take something away, something they love, to give to someone they’ve never met, whatever the reason, equals meltdown, an epic parenting fail.
Parenting, I think, is finding the sweet spot in the Jewish concept of l’dor v’dor – taking that which works for us from what our parents taught us, but also adding our own perspectives and situations to the mix.
Meaning maybe I’ll save the candy tax for another year.