Family’s ‘in the army’ now with IDF-serving son

By Sagi Melamed

As I left synagogue Friday evening, my friend Itzik smiled at me. He has been giving me the same smile for the past 3½ months since my oldest son went into the Israel Defense Forces. The quizzical smile of a soldier’s father, a smile that said: “How are you doing, now that Guy’s in the army?”

Guy recently ended basic training and started the next stage of the long, grueling path he chose and was chosen for.  Some of the changes in Guy are external — broader shoulders, determined face, chronic exhaustion. Some he tells us, and some we can only guess. But what about the changes in us, his parents?

• All plans for weekends and holidays revolve around the question: Will Guy be coming home? When he does, we are all joyful (even hits three siblings!); when he cannot, a faint air of longing pervades the household. With the army, there are no guarantees. Will Guy sit at the Sabbath table this week? We will know for sure only once we see him walk through the door.

• Indulgences. Like most new parents, we were stricter with Guy than with his younger siblings regarding table manners, mealtimes, candy restrictions, chores and so on. Now, when he comes home on leave, all the rules of the family fall by the wayside. He is excused from washing dishes or cleaning up and, in general, is totally indulged. He works hard enough in the army; at home he is pampered.

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• Additional expenses. Sending a child to the army does not just rend the parental heart and cause insomnia. It also empties the parental pocket. During the first few months of Guy’s service, we found ourselves spending hundreds — nay, thousands — of shekels every month on our soldier. From chocolate, cakes and the like to sticky tape, creams, ointments, Band-Aids, flashlights, knives, notepads, insoles, thermal tops and other accessories to ease our minds a little with the thought that “at least we did the best we could” for the comfort of the boy who overnight became a soldier.

• Prayers. Whenever the Prayer for the Welfare of the IDF Soldiers was read on Shabbat and holidays, I would always focus my prayer on the welfare of “the soldiers” and “the IDF” of us all. Now that the prayer includes my own son, it has acquired a far more personal nature and additional kavanah (purpose).

• Whose boy is this? When Guy was in school, the youth movement and yeshiva, the last word was always ours.  Was he allowed to participate in the annual trip when he was a bit ill? Could he miss school? Is it OK for him to stay out late and drive home after midnight? But since his draft, the last word — and even the first word — has been the prerogative of the army. We parents are no longer the authority. That now rests with his commanders, soldiers older than him by maybe a year or two. “Commander X said …” “Commander Y punished me …” Now our boy belongs to his commanders.

A few weeks ago I heard Guy talking on the phone to a friend who had also just been drafted and who was facing a crisis.

“Do you remember how before the army we talked about Zionism, of the importance of contributing to the country and having a meaningful military service? Let’s not forget all that, even when it’s hard for us in basic training, when we don’t understand the reasons for all the infuriating commands, when there seems to be an unbridgeable chasm between the Zionism of our youth movement and our current daily life. Let’s remember why we’re here!”

Guy didn’t know that I was listening to this conversation, or how his motivational speech to his friend bolstered his father’s spirits, too.