Sunday, June 20, 2010

Daddy Dharma

Today is Father's Day, and it's a good time to reflect on the choice I, and my son's mother, made to have a child nearly twenty-two years ago. We had been discussing it for some time before hand, and it seemed that we always deferred it ahead "a couple more years." Finally, with the two of us in our mid-thirties, a couple more years was no longer as viable an option. 

Also, at the time we had decided to attempt a pregnancy, my mother was diagnosed with metastatic cancer, adding, for me at least, new urgency to the issue. My thinking was something along the lines of, "Maybe it will give her something to live for." Unfortunately, this was magical thinking on my part, since she died about halfway through the pregnancy.

I don't know if every parent questions at some point exactly why they decided to have children, but I certainly have. In his early years I was too busy and involved with Zach to ponder the reasoning behind it. When he got to his mid-teen years, however, it became an ongoing point of reflection and contemplation. The stresses of finances, school, college admission, dating relationship turmoil, and other day-to-day life challenges were taking their toll. Then came the Big Schism where he decided to break away from me and live exclusively with his mother. There were even a couple of months when we did not speak to each other. I never regretted becoming a dad, but I began to ask myself, "Now, why exactly did I think it would be a good idea to have kids?"

Then, one day, while doing the dishes and mulling this question over yet another time, it came to me: I had a child so that I could evolve. I looked back at my life as I remembered it B.C. (Before Child), and I shuttered to think that I might still be that kind of person if I had not had the growth-inducing experiences that parenthood provides. I considered my childless friends, all of them in their early fifties and beyond, and saw that they did not have the same quality of growth with which I had been blessed. So the answer was, I did it for me.

In short, becoming a father helped me to become a man. The responsibilities of parenthood, while sometimes daunting, are the catalysts for growth. Nobody can push my hot buttons the way my son can, and this has offered me the opportunity to seek ways of making more effective and skillful choices in my words and actions, rather than always following the habitual tendencies of my reactive mind. Being a dad has given me something that I have been forced to rub up against so that my sharp edges have grown softer.

I think it was Jon Kabat-Zinn who said that children are like little Zen masters who are dropped into our lives as our toughest teachers. I would have to agree. So to all of you fathers out there, take heart, we all have the capacity to awaken at any moment and become enlightened. And when these moments of enlightenment come, thank your children.


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