As Leib plays with his sons, he realizes that his absence in their lives has caused them to develop strange ideas about fathers. He sets to work on rectifying that.
* * *
After supper, Leib sat down with Shimmy and began to show him pictures of himself when he was about the boy’s own age. He was surprised that, as his mother said, he did look strikingly like Mordechai, so much so that Shimmy commented on it immediately.
“Why is Mordechai in your photo album and not me?” he said. “And why does Bubby Weinbach look so different?”
“Wow, you are one observant little fellow, aren’t you?” said Leib, impressed. “First of all, it’s not Mordechai!”
“Yes it is! It looks just like him!”
Leib was about to point out that the background was different, but the picture was taken on the same couch where they were seated tonight.
“I can tell you for 100 percent certain that it’s not Mordechai — because it’s me! And the lady is Bubby Weinbach, only she was almost 30 years younger than she is now. That’s why she looks so different.”
Shimmy stared down at the picture, working to process all the new information he had just been handed. Seeing Mordechai wander in, he called him over.
“Hey, Mordechai,” he said, with a gleam in his eye. “Look! It’s pictures of you!”
With his thumb stuck firmly in his mouth, Mordechai bent over to look at the picture Shimmy was pointing to. Unlike Shimmy, he was too little to process all the unusual aspects to it, so he focused on the one that was the most obvious.
“That’s not Mommy,” he said, “So it can’t be me.”
“Why not?” said Shimmy.
“Because, I would only take a picture with Mommy. Nobody else.”
“No, you’re wrong,” said Shimmy. Leib watched the exchange between his two sons carefully. He had no siblings of his own, and wasn’t familiar with the possibility of older brothers teasing younger ones. “It is you.”
“It is not.”
“It is not!” said Mordechai angrily, and with one swipe, he dislodged the album from Shimmy’s lap. “I would never take a picture with anyone but Mommy!” Unable to contain his confusion and frustration, the small boy threw the album across the coffee table sending a glass of iced tea splattering to the floor.
“Hey, hey,” called Leib, standing up to grab Mordechai before he did any more damage. But the boy wriggled out of his grasp and threw himself down on the floor, crying and kicking his feet. “No, no, no, no, no, no!”
Leib looked over at Shimmy as if trying to confer with him about what to do, but realized within a moment that he was on his own.
“Hey, Mordechai,” he said softly, sitting down on the floor next to his son. “Hey. Shh, shh.” He ran his fingers over the boy’s long hair, still uncut even though he was already three and wearing tzitzis. He assumed Suri was waiting until Lag BaOmer to cut it and he wondered why, as it wasn’t their minhag.
Suri’s propensity to try customs that differed from their minhag, simply because she liked the way they sounded, was one of the things that had frustrated him greatly when they were married. Apparently, she was still doing this. Without him there for balance, who knew what sort of ideas she had introduced?
Leib was also troubled by a nagging concern. And who knew, he asked himself, who could have anticipated the long-term effects walking out on Suri would have on them?
He hadn’t carefully considered the boys’ future when he had left. All he could think about was unmooring himself from his wife.
As he continued to calm Mordechai, he wondered how she had gotten him to wear the tzitzis. He had noticed that both boys were meticulous about it, checking the strings each morning and presenting them to him for inspection. It had brought a lump to his throat as each of the boys had held up the strings, wrapped them around their tiny little fingers, and kissed them. How had she done that? Was there more to her than he had given her credit for? There must be, if she was able to raise this pair of fine, ehrliche, Yiddishe boys.
As Mordechai had begun to calm down, Leib kept up the soothing motion, and within a few more minutes, the boy was fast asleep. Shimmy still sat on the couch, nearly motionless. After Leib was sure that Mordechai was sleeping, he jumped up to join Shimmy, and as he did, his knees cracked and popped. Shimmy laughed.
“What’s so funny?” said Leib, smiling.
“You sound like an old man. Zeidy’s knees popped like that sometimes.”
“Do I look like a zeidy to you?” asked Leib.
Shimmy scrutinized him in that serious way he had. “Kind of,” he replied.
“Oh, great. First I look like Mordechai, then I look like Zeidy. Which is it, Shimmy?”
“You know what?” the wise-beyond-his-years little boy replied, placing his hand on his father’s cheek. “You look just like you. Perfect.”
To be continued …