OUT THERE: My son, the drill sergeant

Few will say, “This kid, well, he’s got the temperament of a drill sergeant.”

Illustration by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Illustration by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Every parent wants, or is supposed to want, what is best for their children.
This works well, of course, when what you think is best for your children also aligns perfectly with what your children think is best for themselves.
That is a recipe for domestic harmony.
Every parent takes pride, or is supposed to take pride, when their child succeeds, even assumes positions of responsibility and authority.
This works best, of course, if you feel that your child is well suited for that position of responsibility and authority.
If not, then this is a sure recipe for constant quarrels, “Are you sure you are ready for this?” the parent may ask.
To which the annoyed child will inevitably reply, “What, you don’t think I’m ready for this? You don’t have faith in me?” It was with great pride, therefore, that I heard from my youngest son – the last son I have in the regular army – that he would be spending the next number of months as a sergeant for new recruits in basic training.
He wanted this for his own various reasons, and I wanted this, because I figured it would keep him safely ensconced on a base and out of harm’s way for the next few months. A perfect fit. I also thought he was definitely ready.
What naches! My son the drill sergeant.
Ah, the beauties of Jewish independence and sovereignty.
I grew up in America, where the stereotypical dream of Jewish parents – a stereotype perpetuated through numerous movie and television-show characterizations – was “my son, the doctor,” or “my son, the lawyer,”or “my son the accountant.”
You never saw a television sitcom or Hollywood movie portraying a Jewish parent taking pride in their son the drill sergeant – it was simply not in the equation.
Growing up in the US, the words “drill sergeant” conjured up images of a tough, muscle-ripped, squarejawed man with a blond buzz-cut shouting in the ears of new, scared recruits that they were lower than pond scum at the bottom of the ocean and ordering them to do one-handed push-ups.
That was a drill sergeant in my mind, and they generally had names like Butch, Chip or Scooter, not Yona, Rafael or Yair.
Then I moved to Israel and all those preconceived notions of what fields of endeavor Jews did – and did not – pursue went out the window, because in a Jewish state, the Jews had to partake in all (or most) endeavors, including being the drill sergeants. No one else was going to do it for us.
It’s funny how every parent has a certain image of their child. Most parents, I have found, describe their child as sweet and sensitive, even tender, because they have seen them in those sweet, sensitive and tender moments. Even if others might see the child as a terror, parents – generally – have selective vision, and see in their offspring what they want to see. Most will say of their sons, “he is a sweet boy.”
Few will say, “This kid, well, he’s got the temperament of a drill sergeant.”
I was no different. Yet here we are.
At the word of my son, a platoon of new recruits stands at rapt attention. At his word, they stand at ease. If he says they have seven minutes to eat, they have seven minutes to eat. If he orders them to do 50 sit-ups, they do 50 situps.
If he tells them to run, they run; to walk, they walk; to do pirouettes, they do pirouettes. They look up to him, by virtue of his position, with a degree of fear and trembling.
THEN HE comes home for Shabbat.
And when he comes home, “my son the drill sergeant” becomes simply, “my son.” Not only “my son,” but “my youngest.” Or, as he puts it, “the bottom of the Keinon pecking order.”
For me, that transition is easy. My boy was my boy before he became a drill sergeant, remains my boy in that capacity, and will be my boy when this particular stint ends.
He is also the third son I have had in the army. As such, I have a degree of experience on how to treat these soldiers when they come home.
I know what to expect, how much to let them sleep (as much as they want), what to ask, what not to ask, what chores it is reasonable to expect them to do and which ones I should just take on myself. I’ve mastered this drill.
For The Youngest, however, the transition is more difficult.
He goes from a position where he is telling people what to do, to being told what to do – what time to come home, and whether he can use the car.
We all fall into regular patterns with our children – regardless of age or station in life. They always remain our children.
To this day, whenever I see my father, he admonishes me not to snack close to dinnertime and to go to bed early.
Never mind that I’m a grandfather myself and reserve the right to nosh between meals and go to sleep when I desire, I’m still his son, and what he told me when I was a youth, he tells me now that I am an adult.
And I do the same with my kids.
My son is a drill sergeant? No matter. I’m still going to tell him not to stay out too late, to be careful on the road, to message me when he gets to where he is going and to clean the floor before Shabbat.
The only thing that has really changed, is that when I do tell him what to do, I do so with a bit more reverence.
No more, “Mop the floor, son.” Now it’s, “Mop the floor, sergeant, sir.”