In the photo albums stashed in the back of the attic closet of my childhood home, there were a few pictures of my father as a serious, slim little boy – including one photo that had a rip down the middle. The piece in the album showed my father, at about eight or nine, sitting on the grass in a pair of shorts and a big black yarmulke, squinting into the sun.
I don’t think we ever asked why the picture was ripped. My parents, who invested a great deal in maintaining their image of distant, holy perfection, were not the type to be easily plied with questions.
The ripped photo was one significant piece of a gigantic campaign of things my parents kept from their children about their personal lives.
The other half of the photo contained a picture of a curly-headed girl who could have been my older sister’s identical twin. My aunt. When I was sixteen, I found out about this sister that my father had, who he pretended never existed. I think most of my siblings still don’t know about this woman, who lives with her non-Jewish husband in a small East Coast town. She was erased from the family because she married a non-Jew.
The NYTimes has a “Room for Debate” on this subject of how much parents should share with their kids and how much they should keep private about their personal, pre-kid, lives. In some religious homes, where parents are distant authority figures, the balance of what is kept secret and private is staggering.
For some of us, who are forced to live double lives, the same is true. I know of Chasidish kids that are unaware that their father has another life in another city, with another woman, and other kids who have no idea that their bald headed, thick-stockinged mother has more faith in Dawkins than the God she mentions a dozen times a day.
Personally, I have my share of dramatic life circumstances in the years of chaos after I left the religious community, that I am careful about sharing freely. Still, I (as you might have predicted), am a pretty big advocate of being open and honest with one’s children, as age-appropriate.
Where do you stand on the issue?Printable Version