Patriarchal Lessons


On the occasion of this year’s Father’s Day, the Skirball Cultural Center is looking to some very old dads for inspiration. The center is presenting a program, “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Me--Fathering Through the Ages.”

Joel Grishaver, a storyteller, author and cartoonist, will conduct an interactive--with lots of emphasis on the active--workshop for parents and children dramatizing the idea that Father’s Day is not just a one-day-a-year thing but a 365-day-a-year process.

“Fathering is a relationship. All relationships have to be worked at,” says Grishaver, who is also a member of the faculty at the School of Continuing Education at the University of Judaism. In ancient Jewish tradition, the role of fatherhood is complex, quite different from the popular culture notion of dad. Both the ancient forefathers and our current commercialization of Father’s Day, said Grisham, are dealt with in his upcoming workshop. “We’ve found a way to have Hallmark meet the Talmud. This may sound way too serious but it will actually be playful and lots of fun,” he said.


The two-hour event will be divided into three parts, each one presenting a different set of insights into having a parent or being a parent.

First will be a role-playing game for which Grishaver will ask participants to join into small groups of two or three families. They will then create a panel of judges (in Hebrew, a Bet Din, or religious court). The task will be to agree, in five to seven minutes, on the proper solution to a hypothetical family conflict--such as divorced parents facing a sticky child custody matter--and asking the child to get involved.

They’ll be asked to draw on Jewish history and tradition, each panel being coached in this vein by the energetic, witty and learned Grishaver. He’s the author, after all, of 40 books--four last year alone--one of which, he said, is about “the dysfunctional myth of the functional family.”

The result of all this could be something like play-acting in a condensed, ethnically flavored episode of “Court TV.”

The second part of the workshop will be more like a Jewish version of “Jeopardy.” Participants will have to guess the endings of a biblical story having been given only a beginning fragment to work with.

Grishaver calls this “bibliodrama” and gives an example: “When Moses is born, we know what his mother does [to save her baby]. But what did his father, Amram, feel or want to do?”


The final part of the program will be a “Paper Tear Midrash,” a novel combination of art project and psychodrama, “where feelings and not talent count,” Grishaver said. (It should also be noted that some very sophisticated artistic representations of fatherhood--in five biblical-themed sculptural tableaux by artist George Segal--are on display at the Skirball.)

Families participating in the final activity Sunday will have a chance, with paper and glue--but no scissors or knives--to produce and discuss their own visual representation of a biblical story of family problem-solving.

This part of the program sounds like a more economical--and more productive--version of that carnival game at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen where families throw hard wooden balls at displays of chinaware--to work out their tensions.


Speaking of other cultures’ family life, this Sunday morning, prior to the Skirball event, there will be a celebration of Native American family life sponsored by the William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom in Franklin Canyon. Beginning at 10 a.m., Native American foods, games, music and crafts will be offered at a celebration of the opening of a “kicha”--a traditional dwelling recently constructed at that site in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The celebration is at the Sooky Goldman Nature Center, 2600 Franklin Canyon Drive (near Mulholland). Admission is free. (310) 858-3090.


Interactive family workshop, “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Me--Fathering Through the Ages,” 2-4 p.m. Sun. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. For ages 7 and up. Free with museum admission: $7 per adult, seniors and students $5, museum members and children under 12, free. (310) 440-4500.