An officer and a husband
My youngest son, who goes by the moniker The Youngest, got married last night. Though these words, because of deadlines, were written before the event, it was surely a joyous affair. The bride wore white and looked absolutely resplendent. The groom wore a blue vest and looked like a blackjack dealer in a white kippa. The parents on both sides were bubbling over with joy. Just bubbling.
The Youngest is the second of our four children to get married, following his brother Skippy by 18 months. And, like Skippy, he is getting married while still in the IDF.
But while Skippy got married with a little over a year left in his service in a special IDF unit, The Youngest is getting married in the middle of an officers training course, meaning he has at least another 20 months to serve in his elite unit.
OK boys, you can stop competing now!
IT’S ALL wonderful but not exactly how I figured it would turn out. Like all parents, I had certain time-line expectations for my children. They were, of course, different from the timelife expectations I had for myself growing up in the US: high school, college, job, marriage, kids.
But when aliyah turned that all upside down, I knew the timeline would be different for my offspring – and adjusted my thinking accordingly: high school, yeshiva/mechina, IDF/National Service, India, college, marriage, job, kids.
It all seemed so logical.
But life intervenes, and the kids come at you with their own desires, hopes, dreams and ideas. And faced with all of those, as a parent you have a few options: fight tooth and nail, and lose ’cause the kid’s gonna do what the kid’s gonna do; use gentle persuasion, and lose ’cause the kid’s gonna do what the kid’s gonna do; or – if you trust the kid’s instincts – say “I trust your instincts.” I trust The Youngest’s instincts.
On paper getting married while in the army does not look like the smartest way to begin married life. All things being equal, married life is no small adjustment. You have to change your lifestyle, get used to each other and take someone else into account in your basic, everyday decision-making process. That takes time and hard work.
But I look at things from the point of view of someone who grew up in the US with the idea that you do things in segments. First college – focus on college. Then job – focus on job. Then marriage and kids – focus on that. Don’t mix everything up.
But what has impressed me so much about Israelis over the years is their ability to do exactly that – mix things up, combine and juggle adroitly more than one significant ball at a time.
They can go to university and hold down a demanding job. They can go to university and have kids. They can go to university, hold down a demanding job and have kids.
And they can serve in serious and grueling army units and get married.
It can work; I saw it with Skippy.
Is it easy? No. Is it ideal? No. Is the IDF accommodating? Yes. Does it help if the young couple lives near the bride’s parents? Yes, very much so.
THAT LAST bit, about thinking it a good idea for the newlyweds to live near the bride’s parents, is something I never thought I’d say, another example of life here flipping some of my preconceived notions on their head.
I always believed – and had it hammered into me by my own parents – that this is not a good idea: a young couple needs space, and should not be so close to either side’s parents that at the first sign of trouble one side has the ability to run back home. Space is good, my parents told me.
I took that to heart and put 12,000 kilometers of space between us.
“Not that much space,” my dad said.
But it’s different in the army.
If the new groom is home only on weekends, it’s good that the bride is close to her parents’ home, and – when her husband is not around – has the company and support of her parents and siblings, if needed. The newlyweds can move away from the bride’s parents when The Youngest finishes his tour of duty – just not, of course, 12,000 kilometers away.
NOT ONLY do I trust The Youngest’s instincts, I am also very proud of his decisions. He could have gotten married, finished his regular army duty and in another 10 months been done with the IDF. But he wanted to be an officer, he wanted to give his most to the army.
My mind is wired differently. My reflexes would have told me to do one thing or the other. Marriage or army.
But The Youngest grew up here, not in Denver. He grew up in an environment that inculcated him with the idea that both things are extremely important – family and army – and that they need not be mutually exclusive. Not everything has to be so compartmentalized.
He also grew up seeing examples of people able to handle both.
“Nizrom” (we’ll go with the flow), this particular son always used to tell me as a teenager. It was his life’s motto, and one that used to drive me nuts. Not everything has to be done by the book, he would say, critical of the way I operate, calling me “too Ashkenazi.” Not everything has to be perfectly planned out, overthought.
Luckily – but obviously not by coincidence – he found a wife who shares both his ideals and his way of thinking.
His decision to get married – something he very much wanted to do – and become an officer, something else he very much wanted to do, is a testament to this go-with-the-flow ability. It is also a testament to his bride’s ability to do the same. I now find this less an irksome characteristic and actually an admirable one.
Anyway, they assure me, it’s only another 20 months. Nizrom.
What has impressed me so much about Israelis over the years is their ability to... mix things up, combine, and juggle adroitly more than one significant ball at a time