Judy Giuliani would make an outstanding president of the United States.
He cleaned up New York and restored its luster as America’s foremost city. He showed inspired leadership in America’s darkest hour, after 9/11. And he is also that rare politician who has the courage of his convictions whatever others might think.
But in addition to his substantial previous achievements, there is an opportunity right now for Rudy to inspire America and win over critics, by reaching out to his son.
By now everyone knows that Andrew Giuliani told The New York Times that he will not be involved in his father’s campaign because the two are estranged and have not spoken "for a decent amount of time." Andrew attributed the strained relationship to his father’s wife Judith Nathan, saying, "There’s obviously a little problem that exists between me and his wife."
To be sure, blending families presents obstacles that cannot always be surmounted. On "Shalom in the Home?" we have dealt with many challenges with blended families, including the case of an 11-year-old girl from Queens who treated her stepfather — a good man who made repeated overtures to her — like an intruder and constantly told him she wanted him to leave and have her "Daddy" remarry her Mommy. Children are understandably resistant to welcoming a stranger as a substitute for their parent, and they are especially protective of their mothers, whom they often perceive as being more vulnerable than their fathers.
After my parents divorced, neither remarried until I was in my mid-‘0s with a family of my own. I received a call from my father telling me that he was going to marry the woman he was dating. I hated my parents being alone, so the news should have been comforting. But as I sat with my siblings at the wedding ceremony, I felt a pit in my stomach and, without uttering a word, we all slowly wandered together to a corner of the room. We felt like outsiders at our own father’s wedding. Who was this stranger who was taking away our Dad?
We underestimate how difficult it is for children to accept a parent’s new partner, even when they are grown children. Remarriage to a stranger brings home to the child the full tragedy of the family’s breakup as few other things can. This is especially true when one parent marries and the other remains unwed. My father was getting married in Los Angeles. My mother was alone in Miami while we danced at his wedding. And my heart went out to her.
Now, with the national spotlight focused on him as the Republican frontrunner for president, Giuliani can inspire America by healing the rift with his son. True, only one American president, Ronald Reagan, has ever been divorced. But half of all American households have. It’s not pleasant, but it’s real. And it would be wonderful if a presidential candidate can inspire parents around the country to reconcile with a disillusioned child after a messy divorce and remarriage.
Presidents are great heroes to the public. But they must especially be heroes to their children as well.
To be sure, achieving a reconciliation with an estranged child involves concessions by both parent and child.
It is one of the ironies of being a parent that the people we most love are those we most scar. There is no parent who hasn’t hurt his or her children. But we are capable of healing the wounds we cause our children by showing humility and accepting responsibility for the mistakes we inevitably make.
I have a practice of at least twice a year — including once on Yom Kippur — asking my children for forgiveness. It’s no easy task. I am the father and they’re supposed to respect my authority. But I love my children too much to be alienated from them because of scar tissue that has built up through my shortcomings. Once, I apologized to my daughter for yelling at her for losing a valuable possession. She had tears in her eyes and did not immediately relent. But I persisted and asked her forgiveness again and a third time. Finally, she hugged me and we could both move forward unencumbered by the residue of a painful incident.
But children must also learn not to judge their parents. Andrew Giuliani may be looking at the circumstances of his parents’ divorce — public and painful — and blame his father for moving on to another woman who is not his mother. But we children have no right to judge our parents. We cannot ever know the circumstances that led them to make choices. We can judge their actions, but never their persons. Indeed, I believe that the principal requirement of the commandment to honor our parents is to accord them the respect of not judging them. Sometimes looking at our parents as heroes actually works against them. In our eyes they are stalwart giants who never hurt and never get lonely, which is simply not true. God expects us to show gratitude to our parents. They gave us life and gave us love, even if it wasn’t always perfect.
Still, the principal responsibility of reconciling with a child rests with the parent because parents are wiser and more mature than their children. And let’s face it: It’s tough being the child of a public figure. You feel like it’s the rest of the world your father cares for more than you. Which is why it is specifically now, when he is pursuing the leadership of the free world, that, if Rudy took the time to show his son love and affection, it would make an unforgettable impression that would achieve its desired result.
And in the final analysis, as I always tell myself and the parents on "Shalom in the Home," are any of us really a success in life if the people who mean the most to us think the least of us?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of TLC’s "Shalom in the Home?" which airs every Sunday night at 7 p.m. His newest book by the same title has just been released by Meredith. He lives in Englewood.