What I vividly remember Mama proclaiming at every opportunity
throughout my childhood was, "You'll be a man someday, my
son. A real mensch..."
The image of her solemn brown eyes peering at me from below
the kerchief worn so low down her forehead that it nearly
skimmed her eyebrows is one that has accompanied me
Perhaps this is because it was a scene repeated so often, I'd
come to believe this to be Mama's ultimate expectation of me.
It was a criterion I strove to achieve, yet also one I
believed came naturally to me.
Time and again, I had protested as a teenager, "But Mama, I
already am a man. You know that. I'm tough and enduring and
ready to face real life. Everyone says I'm mature." I had
good reason to be, having been an orphan since childhood, and
helped with the finances ever since I could remember, first
by delivering newspapers, then with other part-time jobs my
rabbi and my rosh yeshiva had approved of for my
But Mama would just shake her head and sometimes, I would
catch her struggling to restrain a smile as she'd say with
the forever wise look in her eyes, "You'll understand what I
mean someday, Dovid." Mama was the only one who referred to
me by my full Hebrew name. "Yes, with the extra womanly touch
of a wife, you'll grow up to become the real man I always
prayed to have for a son." And then she'd open up her worn
siddur and continue praying.
I would walk off and ponder Mama's words on a philosophical
level. Try as I might, I could never make any sense out of
them. Perhaps it had to do with my lacking a father-role
model. "So Mama wants me to grow into a real man. So far so
good," I would think to myself. "But she doesn't trust me to
become one on my own. She thinks I need the help... of a
woman! I need a woman to help me be a man. How confusing!" I
would then avert my thoughts to other issues of interest. I
simply could not bear thinking thoughts so far above my head.
I am a man of logic and have an innate need for everything to
I grew older and got myself through a night course where I
obtained a degree in accountancy, a field in which I was
extremely competent. I had soon secured myself a part-time
job in a firm where my consistency, clear logic and
punctuality earned me my name. I was still helping support
Mama, and my rabbi had, again, approved me taking this
excellent job, so long as I kept my afternoon-evening study
sessions. Life was just fine.
But Mama would give me no rest. Her persistent nagging and
nudging urged me to pursue, with accelerated celerity, the
woman with whom I was destined to share my life. She was not
long in coming.
Ahuva's mild, easygoing and somewhat humorous nature was a
deep contrast to Mama's tenacious, earnest and all serious
personality. Yet despite their obvious differences, there was
chemistry between the two, right from the start.
About a week before the wedding, Mama called me aside for a
private conference and I was shocked to discover that her
eyes were moist. Mama was a strong woman; she never
cried. "Dovid," she said, with a weakness in her voice I had
never before known, "you have brought your old mother much
joy. At last I can die in peace, knowing that my son is taken
care of. Ahuva is just the one you need." It was but one year
later that Mama passed on to a better world.
Throughout the funeral and the week of shiva
thereafter, I fought back salty tears. Mama had been a pillar
of strength, always there to lean back on. I missed her
motherly wisdom, her straightforward manner and the solemn
way in which she viewed life, but I refused to expose my
weakness. This was no time to let Mama down. I would have to
be a man.
Ahuva disagreed. After eyeing my inner battle in silence a
couple of days, she could restrain herself no longer.
"There's nothing wrong with crying, Davie. It's a human
phenomenon and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone cries
during mourning." I couldn't help noting how different
Ahuva's manner of speech was from Mama's. The casual brown of
my wife's eyes lacked the passion and intensity that my
mother's had always possessed. Then again, it was precisely
that mildness of manner I had been seeking in a wife. Mama
had been overwhelming at times.
"I don't know who everyone is," I retorted, "but I am
not looking to emulate those people. I strive to be a man --
that's what Mama always wanted for me, too."
Ahuva sighed. "She didn't mean it the way you think. You
I was barely listening. "Besides, crying is so insensible. I
mean, will crying improve a situation? Can tears revive the
dead? Weeping is pointless. It's baseless. Illogical."
"Sometimes emotions don't have to be logical." I looked
questioningly at my wife but no explanation was
I sighed. "I guess you do have something in common with Mama,
"Yeah? What's that?"
"She also had this irritating habit of making abstruse
Ahuva smiled in amusement. "Words from the wise," she warned
with a twinkle, "are not to be overlooked."
"Hi, there!" Ahuva called out as she burst into the house,
laden with shopping bags. "How's everything? Did the baby
"Nope. She slept through. I got a lot of learning done."
"Good. I'm glad. I found her some really adorable clothes. I
guess she earned them. And Davie, I can't believe what a
perfect baby present I found for Shifra's newborn. It's so
her style... You have no idea..."
"It is. Were there any calls?"
"Of course." Need she have asked? Ahuva's pleasant, easygoing
manner was very enticing. While in high school, she had
accumulated scores of friends, with most of whom she had
stayed in close contact throughout our year and a half of
marriage. The phone was constantly ringing with old
classmates of hers, eager to ask her opinion, chat, or update
her on the latest.
I looked at the note where I'd scribbled down the names of
the callers. "You got a call from Shifra. She wants your
challa recipe, then Chevy Stern nee Rosenbaum called,
plus a a call from Miriam Katz."
"Miriam Katz! I don't think I can bear talking to her. She
graduated two years before me and she's still not married. I
think she's the only single girl left from her whole class.
I... I actually feel guilty when I talk to her."
"That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Come on, it's
not like it's your fault, or anything."
"I know, but still..." She perked up as an idea struck her.
"I think I'll invite her over for lunch one day, just to show
"Have her over all you want while I'm away. Just don't expect
it to improve her situation."
"I don't know. It would make her feel better."
"Ahuva, you're not making any sense. It's not going to
"Thank you, Davie, for your highly valued opinion. But this
is just one particular area in which I prefer to use my own
I was about to give her a strange look, but decided it would
be best to just leave her alone. "Whatever you say, Ma'am," I
"Thanks," she said, picking up the cordless phone. "I
appreciate that." And from the look on her face, I could see
she truly did.
It was five to eight when I parked my car in the spacious
parking lot buried beneath the tall silvery skyscraper in
which I worked. With the rare luxury of an extra five minutes
all for my own, I decided that instead of hopping into the
elevator that would land me on the twenty-first floor in no
time, I would take the longer route that involved ascending
out of the parking area by foot and walking an extra few feet
to the building's main entrance.
It was while I was confidently striding those few extra feet
that were to take no longer than three brief moments that a
man with a blue T shirt approached me. He was tall and
broadly built, a mop of auburn hair combed neatly atop his
head. There were only two features that distinguished him
from all the other pedestrians walking the streets of
downtown Chicago. The man had donned large, dark spectacles
that made it impossible to glimpse his eyes, and a long,
senior's cane hung limply from his hand, despite its apparent
premature use. The man was blind.
"Excuse me, how do I get to 23rd Street?" he asked, sensing
"That's quite a few blocks away. At the end of this street
you turn right, then go straight and make a left to turn on
to 20th Boulevard. From there you turn right on to 22nd St.
and make a left at the second intersection."
I couldn't see his eyes, but I could sense his confusion. For
a fleeting moment, I wondered how my instructions could be of
use to a blind man, but then I glanced at my watch and all
such thoughts dissipated into the wind. I had exactly one
minute left to reach my office on time.
"My good man," the stranger hesitantly appealed to me once
more, "would it be too much if I were to ask you to show me
the way? I... I didn't realize I got off my bus too early and
I don't think I can find my way on my own. Or are you in a
I was in a rush.
[Final part next week: The Making of a Man.]