For many years I struggled with my relationship to my father. We disagreed on some important issues, which created a lot of tension. Every phone call (and we had them weekly) would end with a heated argument. The separation between us got worse as the years went by.
But once I became more aware of my judgmental ways, something changed. One Sunday afternoon I received my weekly call from my dad. We were civil for about fifteen minutes before we began arguing about the same old stuff. We raised our voices and fell right back into our pattern of attack and separation. As I practically yelled into my phone, I suddenly witnessed myself reverting back to childish behavior. So I did something different: I got silent and let him speak. In the silence, he was able to calm down and tell me how he was feeling. "You know, Gabby," he said, "I feel very judged by you." I let his words settle in and I felt a moment of compassion. "Dad, you’re right," I said. "I have been judging you. I’m sorry for that. It’s something I’m working on."
We apologized to each other and civilly ended the call. That conversation gave me a valuable opportunity to see that while I felt justified in my anger, judgment wasn’t the right response. By stepping outside the pattern of disagreement, I could see my part in the situation. I felt guilty for my judgment. At the time, I was in the midst of writing a spiritual book about love, compassion, and oneness, and all the while I was deeply judging my own father. Witnessing this behavior was uncomfortable and brought up lots of complicated feelings, but I knew there was a spiritual solution—so I prayed to release my judgment toward my father.
I didn’t know how the judgment would be released, but I trusted that spirit had a plan to show me the way. The following week my father asked my brother and me to accompany him to temple for my grandfather’s yahrzeit, which in the Jewish faith marks the anniversary of a death. I hadn’t set foot in my childhood temple in nearly a decade. While the interior had been redesigned, nothing about it really seemed to have changed.
As was standard for us when I was growing up, we walked in late and had to shuffle through the last row to find seats. I enjoyed being back in my temple that night, and I felt a sense of calm come over me. As the Universe would have it, the rabbi delivered a sermon on the value of letting go of judgment and the need for compassion toward others. His words resonated with me deeply, and I paid close attention to the spiritual guidance I was receiving.
At the end of the service, the rabbi looked toward the back of the room and said, "There’s a lovely family here tonight who have been members of this congregation for decades. I want to acknowledge the Bernsteins. Edgar Bernstein is here with his two children, Gabby and Max. I honor Edgar for his commitment to his parents, as he never misses either of their yahrzeits. This morning, in preparation for Edgar’s father’s yahrzeit, I went into the temple membership records from decades ago and pulled something special."
The rabbi stood on the pulpit holding in his hand what he revealed to be my grandfather’s temple membership card from more than sixty years ago. My grandfather had filled it out by hand, and in the column for additional members, he had inscribed the names of his two children, my father and aunt. The rabbi looked at my father and invited him up to the pulpit to give him the card. Deeply moved by the rabbi’s gesture, my father burst into tears. I looked at him crying at the end of the aisle and I gently scooted past my brother to give my dad a hug.
This was a miraculous shift. In that moment my past resentment dissolved. I saw him as a devoted son, a proud father, and an honored member of his congregation. My judgment was transformed into love. I saw his innocence, his truth, and his light. I saw him for the first time.
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