Out There: Pops or the prime minister

A serious scheduling problem pitted job dedication against paternal fealty, profession against my dad, employment against family.

Timing is everything.
With a free plane ticket from mileage reward points in hand, my 80-year-old father made plans months ago to fly in from San Francisco and be with our family for Rosh Hashana.
The dates worked perfectly. He would arrive September 20 and spend two weeks with us, through the holiday.
We would all be together for the first time in years. Nobody in the army; nobody off travelling; nobody doing national service. The wife, the kids, the grandpa, myself – all of us together, just like The Waltons.
Then it happened: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to take his statehood bid to the UN General Assembly, which opened on September 21.
“Oy,” groaned I.
That primal Jewish “oy” had two components.
The first was “Oy, what does this mean for Israel and the Jewish people?” And the second – in fact, the larger component – was “Oy, what is this going to do to my father’s trip?”
I wasn’t concerned that Abbas’ bid would trigger a third intifada that would make my father’s stay here unsafe and unpleasant, because I thought those fears were way overblown. Rather, I was worried about what would happen if – as part of my reportorial responsibilities for this newspaper – I would be expected to go to the UN and cover that ”historic” event.
For weeks I had an inkling I might be a facing a serious scheduling problem that would pit job dedication against paternal fealty, profession against my dad, employment against family.
But I kept my concerns well in check – and to myself – because if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom I cover, did not in fact go to the UN, then I wouldn’t be expected to either. For weeks it looked as if President Shimon Peres, eight years my father’s senior, would represent Israel instead of Netanyahu.
But my prayers for Netanyahu to stay home – selfish considerations embarrassingly trumping concern for what might be best for the country – went unanswered.
A week before my dad’s planned trip, Netanyhau’s office informed journalists that – despite reports to the contrary – he was going after all, and that those who wanted to cover the trip needed to sign up fast.
My worst fears were realized: Netanyahu would be leaving about eight hours after my father was set to land. In other words, I would meet my dad at the airport, give him a hug, exchange some pleasantries, and then send him on his way in a taxi while I jetted off with the prime minister.
BY THIS time it was way too late for my father to change his flight plans, so I was thrust on the horns of a difficult dilemma: Bibi or dad.
“Bibi or Saba (granddad),” I said to my oldest son, holding my hands out like a scale. ”Saba or Bibi.”
And my dear son, reflecting where his head is at now – and what he would do at this juncture in his life if faced with a similar dilemma – said, “Are you nuts? Of course you go. This is history. You’ll only be gone five days, and Saba will be here another week when you get back. Besides, you’ll be here for Rosh Hashana. He’ll understand.”
But the lad’s words were countered by other thoughts going through my mind: about how time flies; about how you don’t know when another familial opportunity like this might present itself; about how disappointed my father would be; about how sometimes it’s important not to put things off because you never know what tomorrow might bring.
Besides, I thought, there would surely be countless other opportunities to cover diplomatic entanglements abroad with the prime minister. Once I was wracked by guilt for not spending enough time with my kids; now I’m wracked by guilt for not spending enough time with my dad. The guilt remains the same, only the object of that guilt changes with age.
But still, there was something alluring about going to New York with Netanyahu. The lights. The action. The adrenalin. The history. The Big Story.
All those anti-Semites at the UN.
Then I thought about the old saying every parent with small children has heard – albeit with slight variations – when called upon to work late at the office, thereby missing quality time with their kids.
“Thirty years from now,” the adage goes, “you won’t remember the nighttime meeting you had at the office, but your son will remember if you missed his basketball game.”
There’s only one problem with that saying: it’s not true. It sounds good, but it’s urban legend. You know what? Your kid – unless completely dysfunctional – won’t remember that you missed a game, and you probably won’t remember either five years down the line whether you were there or not.
But if you get fired from the job for not making that meeting, your kid is going to have to quit the basketball team because you won’t be able to pay the community center fees, and then both of you are going to remember that missed meeting forever.
But this was vastly different. This was my father, for whom making the trip to Israel is no longer as physically easy as it once was, and for whom the chance to spend time with all of us together doesn’t come every day. Netanyahu would surely understand. His father is 101, and he certainly wouldn’t ditch him for me. Besides, the prime minister wouldn’t know the difference if I was covering his trip for the Post or some other scribe was dutifully jotting down his every utterance.
My dad, however, would notice if it wasn’t me picking him up at the airport, and if it wasn’t me eating breakfasts with him in the morning. I’d know as well, and live to regret it.
Pa vs. the PM? Pa wins. That’s how he raised me, and that’s the way I’m raising my kids. Hopefully it’s a lesson they’ll internalize, and not skip out on me someday when I come calling on them.