“I am Ben’s representative,” Les remarked.
An otherwise simple declaration, but one which sent me into an emotional Kamikaze-like tailspin. Determined to pull up before it was too late, I cannot deny that the memory of my late son Ben was haunting me.
I did, still, however, manage to compliment Les on his new haircut. “Something about those dreadlocks, Les, I don’t know, just never did fit quite right.” He nodded in agreement.
It is never too late to put childish things away.
What was so very important about Les’ four words and change of hairstyle was the special occasion for which he and one hundred and forty-nine other friends and family had gathered in the beis tefila, the sanctuary, of Congregation Kesser Maariv Beis Medrash Hagadol Anshe Luknik in Skokie, Illinois.
“Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu, Melech ha olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu al Milah.”*
My eight-day old son, within minutes to be named before the Congregation, was about to enter the same Covenant (Brit) into which, as the Torah records, G-d first commanded Abraham.
And then arrived the announcement for which everyone had patiently waited …
“And He shall be called in The House of Israel Guriel Shemtov Ben Avraham.”
Together with identical twin sisters Zmira Shoshana and Hallel Jocheved, “Guri”, born December 18th, 2012, was that morning the undisputed center of attention.
Maybe it’s my mauldin approach to the world, but I was determined that the blessed memory of my late son Ben who died twelve years before not cast a giant shadow over Guri’s big day as I feared it might.
Perhaps you’re thinking ‘All well and good but nothing you’ve said explains why so much focus on Les?’
At last, who is Les?
I was dumbfounded.
Standing alongside me fifteen years later dressed in a button down shirt, necktie, pants with a crease and crowned by a clean-cut haircut was a young man, early thirties, whom I had once disliked when he was a high school student.
Despite an impassioned character defense by his friend, my son Ben, who tried repeatedly to dissuade me from my stubbornly held opinion that Les and others like him were leading my son down the wrong path.
Truth was that my “perfect son” was making some very poor choices all by himself.
“Dad, what you say about Les is a reflection of what you see. You have no idea of the sort of person he is.”
And do you know what? Ben was absolutely correct.
I was doing everything I had taught my children not to do.
Psychologists call it transference-an emotional response that places the onus of blame onto anyone else but the responsible party, usually one’s self.
Forever shadowed by the lurking presence of juvenile diabetes from which he had suffered since ten and a half years of age, Ben’s proclivity for choosing the wrong people for his friends, or so I thought, turned his high school years into a four-year long head banging nightmare.
What lay behind the contradiction between what I had taught my children and my contrary implementation-during Ben’s eleven years of daily battle with diabetes-was my fear he had given up on school, his future, on life itself. Fear that nothing I did could change the fact that his every step from then on would be upon thin ice.
Understandably, he chose as friends those whom he perceived were like himself, on the outside looking in. Remember the adage … ”Birds, something … feather … Yea! That’s it. “Birds of a feather fly together.” Why couldn’t I remember that?’
Ben’s grades declined, he declared a moratorium on homework, and he eventually dropped out of high school although he later received his GED at about the same time he became epileptic. That’s right. Juvenile diabetes and epilepsy. Think you could handle that?
Upon whose head did I lay the blame for Ben’s bad choices?
Les’ of course. He was close and convenient. What I did not know nor could have due to my fear-based blindness was that Les and Ben had become very close friends, of the sort that words do not describe adequately. Actions alone demonstrate the depth of their bond.
I have become Ben’s replacement of sorts, but as with any second stringer, I’ll probably never attain the level of excellence for which the first string is just that, the first string.
I am at my very best Ben’s understudy or, as Les put it simply elegantly, “his representative”.
*Blessed are You, Hashem, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us regarding circumcision.”
Representing my son, the author wishes to thank our friend Les for his devotion.