My father had been a rabbi in our synagogue for as long as I could remember. Everyone looked up to him for spiritual or personal guidance. They were always courteous to our family, too, to the extent that people wanted to know how we lived our lives outside of the congregation.
In truth, life at home was pretty mundane. Mom and Dad always taught us how to be kind and respectful to people, regardless of their beliefs, and made sure that we were well-provided. Every morning, my father would cook our breakfast and drive us to school. Then, once he picked us up after work, we would all come home to smell my mother’s delicious dinner wafting in the air.
Dad’s role as a spiritual leader did not make him different from other fathers, too. He loved to joke around at home and act cute in front of Mom. He was never shy of expressing his undying love for her every day and making sure that she was happy.
Dad became more incessant in showing his love when we found out that my mother had breast cancer – stage three. Since the doctors ordered Mom to be on bed rest while getting chemotherapy treatment, my father took on the role of a personal nurse, caregiver, and even a chauffeur for her. Of course, he did not forget to look after us and ensure that there was almost no change in our daily routine. Not to mention, he still had rabbi duties to fulfill (which he managed to do well despite the odds).
Unfortunately, Mom’s time on earth was limited, and she passed away last year.
A Change In Dad’s Mental Health
When my mother died, we saw a shift in Dad’s behavior. The man who used to crack jokes or say “I love you” or offer a smile to everyone started to fade away. As the days went on, he got replaced by a man who could not possibly force himself to smile even if it would save his life. It genuinely felt like a part of Dad died with Mom.
Since I was the eldest child in the family, I knew it was my duty to take the initiative of helping my father. So, I often talked to him and asked what we could do for him. However, Dad always insisted that he was perfectly okay and that we should only worry about our studies. My siblings and I would have fallen for it if he didn’t say that so monotonously.
Well, I could not blame my father for wanting to hide his depression. Because he was – and still is – a rabbi, he probably didn’t want to admit even to himself that he was far from okay. People often came to him for advice – never the other way around. Dad was most likely embarrassed to think that a congregant would learn about his mental health, and then the news would spread throughout the congregation and cause them to lose their faith in him.
Coaxing Dad To Confront His Mental Health Issues
Although I understood where my father was coming from, I could not allow him to go on like that. I had enough reason to worry that it could get worse, considering I heard countless stories of people taking their own lives when their mental illness remains invisible to others.
Fortunately, not all the members of our Jewish community thought of mental health like Dad. During one of my meetings with the ladies, I found out that one of them had a son who was practicing as a psychologist in New Jersey. When she said that he was coming over for Hanukkah next week, I started hoping that he would be able to help my father. I got the mental health professional’s contact details with the alibi that it was for a friend who lived in the same state.
That night, I gave the psychologist a call and introduced myself as the rabbi’s daughter. I did not hesitate to tell him about my father’s well-being, considering the man had sworn to keep his patients’ cases confidential. He agreed to come over for dinner before Hanukkah to talk to Dad about it and make proper assessments.
When I told my father that a psychologist was coming over, he was almost adamant and said, “Why did you do that? There’s nothing wrong with me.” But his disposition changed when I said, “Let’s stop fooling ourselves, Dad. How do you think Mom would feel if she knew what’s happening to you?” Thus, when the dinner took place, he seemed more open to accepting mental help.
One of the proudest moments in my life was when my father opened up about his mental health journey at the synagogue after months of counseling. He did it for his peace of mind, although he was unsure how the congregants would react. To our surprise, everyone applauded Dad for being brave enough to confront his mental health issues and keep it from taking over his life.