When I tell people, “My dad was a pastor,” I get a variety of responses. But let me tell you the kind of pastor my dad was. He seldom preached. That wasn’t his deal. He did things like visit sick people in the hospital. He listened to people’s problems. He took shit from mean people. Sometimes he taught a group of adults, but his teaching mostly consisted of interactive discussions.
He wrote. A lot. He still does. And my mom, the pastor’s wife, would cook meals for families that needed help—a sick parent, people who were grieving. My dad was a guy who most people in our very large church actually knew, and felt comfortable talking with.
My dad was not the kind of pastor that liberals (like me) make fun of or hate. He was the kind of pastor that liberals don’t know what to make of: compassionate, humble, intelligent, honest about his flaws, creative. He didn’t fit any stereotype. He still doesn’t. That’s the kind of pastor my dad was, and the kind of person he still is.
For the past several years, whenever I log onto my computer, before doing all my creative shenanigans, before writing every blog post, I type this password: chaimpotok. Chaim Potok was a Jewish novelist who wrote, mostly, about fathers and sons and religion. His novel, The Chosen, is one that both my dad and I have read, and like. The Promise is good too. My Name is Asher Lev made me want to be an artist.
These are books about deeply religious fathers and sons who have profound disagreements about religion and its role in modern life. For a long time, I thought I chose “chaimpotok” as a password because no one would guess it. But now, after typing it literally thousands of times, day after day, I think I also chose it because he is an author whose books capture something of the way I feel about my father—love, respect, and occasional profound disagreement.
But like Reuven and his father the Zionist (from The Chosen), Danny and his father the Hasidic orthodox rabbi (from The Promise), Asher and his father (from My Name is Asher Lev), like all Chaim Potok’s fathers and sons, I am deeply connected to my father, and though we travel our different paths in life, we are much more alike than we often admit.