undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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Get Out of My Way, I’m Trying to Get to Diagon Alley!

20141229_073410After months of saving and anticipation, our family was lucky enough to visit Orlando this holiday for a trip to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade! This was a trip that dad was looking forward to perhaps more than anyone.

Last winter, I had been searching for new jobs options and had some interviews. I told myself and my wife prior to one very pivotal second interview that if I didn’t get this (dream) job and found myself in the same crap job in the summer, then we were all taking a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios as my consolation prize. As the title of this post suggests, I did not get the job and, unfortunately, my current job ramped up to a flurry over this past summer, so much so that I couldn’t even take a vacation as planned in June. So we postponed everything until December.

Needless to say, I had a lot invested emotionally in this trip. First, it felt like something I was owed. If I had to languish in my demanding and thankless job, then I was damn well going to get a fun vacation out of it. And “fun” was the key word. Although we could have saved up for the Caribbean or an overseas locale, I needed somewhere that would serve up simple, unadulterated fun, and only Harry Potter would do the trick. Secondly, if I was driving my family out (yes, driving, 20+ long hours from New England), then it had better be good. I felt like it wasn’t only me who was “owed” a good vacation, it was my entire family, and I had been the guiding force for devising this trip: scheduling the vacation package, booking the hotels, even coming up with an itinerary. And so felt that the responsibility of providing a fun time rested upon my shoulders.

I was smart enough to get a package that included early admission to the park, which felt a little crazy at first, arriving at the park in the pitch-black of 6:30am, but was well worth it. Early admissions folks got herded forward to the Wizarding World locations before the gates opened, giving us full access to the best parts of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade before the throngs. It was upon our very first entry through that brick wall that I realized we had done it, and damn was it worth it. As completed Potter nerds, my wife, son, and I reveled in every nook and cranny of Potterdom. Seeing it for the first time, and getting into the attraction without hassle caused me to drop my shoulders and relax into the experience.

20141229_153751And then the craziness happened. Surprisingly the Sunday after Christmas, the crowds were not that bad. We were reasonably well prepared for the amount of people we’d be seeing, but the next two days were shoulder-to-shoulder crowded. I particularly remember our second day of early admission (heading to Hogsmeade this time), and feeling the stress as folks rushed past one another, causing me to instinctively move faster and usher my family along. It was almost as though my body reacted uncontrollably to the pace of others. On one of our return visits to Diagon Alley, the crowd was so bustling, it was difficult to move anywhere without knocking into others. I recall how someone would cut me off or bump into me (“Asshole”), but the next minute I’d be cutting someone off or accidentally bumping into them (“Who’s the asshole now?”). I wasn’t intending on being opportunistic, is was just that the shear number of people made it difficult to navigate the crowd and time my movements.

What helped were these little “a-ha” moments when I could see my body and mind responding to the throng of people, whether speeding up to match the pace of the crowd or nearly crashing into some unsuspecting park attendee because I was simply trying to move forward. I wanted a good experience for my family. I wanted to make the trip worth all the trouble and “get mine.” When, in fact, everyone there held the same desire for their families. Folks had come from all over the world, investing hundreds if not thousands of dollars to give their children and families this experience, and we were all working off that same adrenaline and need to take care of our own.

20141229_154936 (2)When I realized this, I was able to take things in stride. This realization made it much more tolerable when someone bumped into me or seemingly cut me off. In the chaos of excitement, anticipation, and humanity, everyone wanted a good experience. They wanted to show their families a good time. This was the motivation that bonded me with them in some way, and I realized (in that very Buddhist-y way) that working solely for the betterment of our own rather than for the good of everyone truly is the root of much of the strife in the world. Sure, I still wanted a good experience for my family, but getting caught up in the competitive spirit would have only caused my trip to suffer. When I was able to see that we all wanted the same thing and reminded myself that we’d get our turn, everything fell into place, and we had a great time. Or, perhaps it wasn’t some great realization. Perhaps Harry Potter simply cast his spell on me.

I wholeheartedly recommend the experience to all my fellow Harry Potter fans. Universal has done an amazing job. And I fully recommend visiting Orlando Informer, which is an invaluable on-line resource of planning your trip to the Wizarding World!

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Struggles of a Buddhist Dad

894-Buddha-and-MangaWhen I was shopping around for a local Buddhist community, I sat down with the abbot and monk of a local Zen center for an interview.

“I’m a father, with a wife and son, and I don’t have much time that isn’t already dedicated to my work or family,” I explained to him. “What do I do about my practice and making time to come to the Zen center?”

“Your family is your priority and your practice,” he responded immediately, with great confidence. He went on to explain that being a father is the situation I am in, and that dictates how I use my time. I should dedicate myself to my family, he explained, and by fully engaging in every action with them, I am practicing Zen.

That did it for me. Up until that time, I had been half-halfheartedly searching for a Buddhist community, but had little faith in the process. I had been biased against American Buddhists for most of my life. I had met too many old White male Buddhists who were more interested in wearing beads and touting their belief system than being engaged and compassionate with those around them. But I’d come to a point in my life where I had to admit to Buddhism’s hold on me, and I wanted to give up my trepidation and stereotypes, and find what might be out there for me. The abbot’s response caught my attention, and I’ve been part of the community ever since.

But this has been the problem: even after I found a faith to embrace, the integration of my family life was a challenge. Most American Buddhist communities are very individualistic in their practice traditions. Most communities offer meditation, retreats, and interviews for the individual practitioner. They may also hold talks, community meals, or discussion groups but, for the most part, these events cater to the individual practitioners in the community. And who are these individual practitioners?  Typically, they are the people who have time to go, by themselves, to a center or temple for meditation. In my journeys, this typically translates to young adults (folks in their early 20’s) or retirees, who have the time to dedicate to individualized practice.

So what about people my age? What about folks with kids? Where are the families?

From my experience, parents can’t make the time to go. Who will watch there kids? Plus it feels rather self-indulgent to go sit in meditation, when there’s a family dinner you’re missing or a soccer practice that the kids need to get to.

But is this what a faith community is supposed to be about? Faith communities are composed of two essential elements: faith and community. Ever religion has its believe system, comprised of world-view, ethics, story tradition, practices, etc. But in order for it to be a religion, it must have a community: that group of people who come together around a particular belief system. Most of these communities culminate naturally around a church, synagogue, or mosque, where there’s an expectation that the family commune regularly with other families of that faith. In some cases everyone in the family comes together for a service or practice, or kids head out for religious education or activity while the parents worship or practice. Regardless, most faith communities are inclusive and embrace families and family life. But few American Buddhist communities feel this way.

As for me, I’d much rather say, “Let’s get in the car and all go to church!” than “Have fun at dinner while dad goes off to sit quietly for an hour.” This was the impetus for me to start a kids group at my local Zen center. I knew that if I wanted a community of Buddhist families, I might just have to help create one. So my wife and I were instrumental in getting a children’s group off the ground. It’s had its ups and downs, but for a while it was quite special, and gave the kids and families an opportunity to come together to learn about mindfulness, meditation, and Buddhism.

But four years later, the two elements never connected up: faith and community. Here’s what I mean. We overlaid our kids group onto a functioning Zen community, comprised mostly of the practitioners I mentioned above, young adults and retirees. In some ways, they enjoyed having kids around, but they didn’t know what to do with us. Although our group grew, it grew on the periphery. The second issue was that the parents coming for the kids programming weren’t really part of the Zen center community. They were interested in mindfulness classes for their kids, but they weren’t necessarily Buddhist or practitioners. Plus, most didn’t have the time or interest in connecting with the rest of the community because, although it’s fun to come to a kids class, they don’t have additional time to practice with the broader community. Therefore, we grew this community of kids and families, but it was segmented from the rest of the faith tradition.

At this point, the family community is transient. If you’re coming for a mindfulness “class” it’s much different from, say, going to church. The “class” mentality doesn’t keep parents dedicated to the group. Therefore, folks come and go, and there isn’t a consistent group attending. There isn’t much connection to the rest of the center. Everything feels disjointed.

My wife has more recently been going to a Unitarian Universalist church for services, and I’ve been coming along. UU’s are experts at children’s religious education. It’s a hallmark of the faith community, and I find it to be inclusive, respectful of difference, and amazingly varied across the lifespan. When I see this, I feel an emptiness in my heart. This emptiness comes from my strong desire to force something that isn’t easy. It comes from this a desire to be a part of a Zen faith community that also honors, engages, and loves families and kids. But this isn’t the case within most Zen centers. Even if there is a recognition of the importance of family, there is no outlet to foster and care for parents and kids.

I’m trying to come to peace with where things are for me now. I realize that forcing a community based on my own desire isn’t very Buddhist, isn’t very “Zen”. All my disappointment and grief are a product of that desire, and of seeing what I “can’t have” from the UU community in my own Zen center. I find that I need to remind myself of the teaching I received was from my initial interview with that abbot. My family is my priority and my practice. As an Zen practitioner, I engage fully with the situation I am faced with, whether it’s sitting down for a meal with my family, going to a kids group at the Zen center, or listening to a sermon at the Unitarian church. It will be a process letting go of my grief for the community that never was, but that grief is what holds me back from fully engaging, fully seeing the glory or the community I have right in front of me: my own family.

 


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My Son, The Lonely Buddhist

8131655646_c300b23a8d_zThe other day in the car, my son lamented to my wife,

“I’m a lonely Buddhist.”

She asked him more about it. He told her that most all of the kids at school are Christian or Jewish.  He pointed out that we don’t live around any other Buddhists, and that there are no Buddhist kids in his school, which makes him sad.

It was like the other day, when we were driving his friend home from an archery lesson, and the kid was describing the seder meal at Passover to my son.  The kid said something to the effect of, “If we lived in ancient Egypt, the Egyptians would have given kids like you and me a hard time, because they didn’t like Christians and Jews.”  The kid rambled on for a while, and my son shot me a look in the rear view mirror as if to say, “Can you believe this guy? Help me out here.”

“It sounds like your friend thinks you’re a Christian, buddy,” I said to my son during a lull in the conversation.  “Do you want to talk to him about that?”

“I’m Buddhist,” he told his friend.

“”Is that a type of Christian?” his friend asked.  My son went on to describe the Buddha, and explained to his friend that he goes to a Zen center.  The friend listened, dumbstruck, absorbing the notion that there were more than just Jews and Christians in the world.  By the time my son was done with his short explanation, we were at the kids house.

After the kid got out of the car, I told my son what a good job he’d done.  I was really proud of him, and happy about the way everything played out.  If people make assumptions about my son, many times I’ll step in and answer for him.  This time, I thought it was important for him to correct the assumption.  He just seemed to need permission or help starting that conversation.  I was so proud that he was able to say something.

My son has come home from school in the past, proclaiming that he voiced his difference.  He’s asserted in class that in addition to Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa,  Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated in December.  For show and tell even brought in the cedar stick used to start meditation time.  The teacher eats it up.  Kids haven’t been so helpful.  One of his shittier classmates leaned over to him once and said, “God doesn’t like people who don’t believe in him.”  We had many discussions at home about that kid and his remark.

I grew up a Catholic White kid in a mostly Catholic, nearly all Christian, suburb of Chicago.  My Irish and Eastern European heritage seemed no different than that of anyone else in my nearly all-White suburb.  Let me put it this way: my mind was blown when I was 10 years-old, and my friend disclosed that he was Lutheran. Lutheran?  What the hell was that?  I was so sheltered, I didn’t quite comprehend that not everyone affirmed the Pope or believed in transubstantiation.

I had it so easy blending in with everyone else, to the point that my belief systems were a match with those around me.  We were seemingly the same, inside and out, spirit to pigmentation.  But my son faces a very different life.  He’s one of the only non-White kids in an 98% White community, and he’s Buddhist to boot.  Not only do people not look like him, but he even has to explain his spiritual practice to a friend who has zero concept of what he’s talking about.

But at least he does it.  For all the timidity that he shows on a daily basis, there’s still something inside that incites him to speak up about his Buddhism.  He’s told friends, explained things to his teacher, and even woven it into his artwork at school.  It’s obviously very important to him, and he makes his voice heard, even if in small ways.  When I was a kid, if people made presumptions about me, I would just swallow it.  I’d shut up and go about my day. There was something in me that was too afraid of confusing or offending others.  This fear persisted, even though I didn’t even have much to speak up about.  I looked the same as everyone else, had the same religion as everyone else.

And yet here he is, my son, looking different and believing different things, and he’s found his voice.  I couldn’t be prouder of my Lonely Buddhist.


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Triumphs and Traumas of a Buddhist Egg Hunt

BuddhasEasterEggI did a terrible thing: In my quest for fairness, I overlooked my own son.  And I feel just terrible about it.

Here’s the scenario: My son belongs to a Buddhist children’s group, for which I volunteer from time to time.  Just recently, the entire sangha (or community) celebrated Buddha’s Birthday. The ceremony occurs in the Spring, so it incorporates themes similar to Easter, such as new life, hope, and joy.  The kids take part in the first part of ceremony before heading outside for some fun activities.

This year, running with the theme of Spring, we held an egg hunt on the grounds of the Zen center.  However, we try avoiding the competitive aspects of tradition egg hunts.  I bet many of us (with Christian backgrounds) have been there before as kids: our bodies quaking with anticipation at the start line, baskets in hand, waiting for the signal to rush forth and scavenge as many eggs as we can (or at least more eggs than that damn kid next to you).  And in some cases, there’s a coveted “golden egg” that’s used to declare the “winner” of the egg hunt.  The entire scenario elicits a competitive, cut-throat spirit, leading to elbows in the gut, head-on collisions, and tears.  All in the name of (re)birth and celebration.

The way we’ve done these hunts for the past two years is to hide eggs and then put a group basket in the middle of the field.  When the parents call “Go,” the kids rush for the eggs, but are only allowed to pick up one at a time.  They then rush back to the group basket where they deposit their egg before heading out for another one.  In the end, we divvy up all the eggs, so that everyone gets an equal share.  We’ve found that this has helped emphasize cooperation and has tempered kids’ competitive streaks.

Our egg hunt was going splendidly.  The only controversy stemmed from those damned golden eggs. The packages I’d bought contained golden eggs, which I should have tossed aside, but added to the mix nonetheless.  Hunting for the golden eggs brought out the competitive spirit, regardless of their eventual destination in the group basket.  When the oldest girls saw them, they barreled past one another, leaving some very disappointed.

After the flurry of excitement, we went back inside to divvy up the eggs.  But what to do with those damned golden eggs?  There were only 4 and we had about 12 kids.  My wife had an epiphany: we’d allow kids to offer them to the Buddha.  It was a great lesson on giving away something precious.  I asked volunteers to come up to make offerings.  Unavoidably, more than 4 kids presented themselves.  Luckily, I had set aside a few bigger eggs, so we had about 7 eggs to offer.  And yet, there were 9 kids opting to make offerings.  In the midst of my handing out the offering eggs, many eager hands delved into the basket without permission.  Kids had eggs in hand, waiting for me to send them up to the altar.  I looked around and two kids were without eggs, one of them being my own son.  In that moment, I didn’t think I could ripped an egg from another child’s hands to give it to my own son.  In the rush of confusion, I allowed the kids to keep the eggs they’d nabbed from my basket and started looking for two extra eggs to give to the egg-less kids.  Just then another very kind girl holding a golden egg asked my son if he’d like to offer it with her.  He agreed, and I found another empty egg for the last child.  We seemed fine. Whew!  I’d avoided a mess.  Not so.

After the class, when the kids went downstairs with the adults, my son was nearly in tears.  I held him close, because I thought I knew what it was about.  He felt badly that he didn’t get a golden egg for the offering.  I told him it was okay, because we were secretly going to bring the golden eggs home to use for next year, and he could keep some of them in his room.  I thought it was about the eggs.  I thought I’d solved the problem.  It wasn’t and I hadn’t.

My wife pulled me aside later and told me my son was a sobbing mess because dad had overlooked him.  It wasn’t about the eggs.  It wasn’t about the competition.  It was about dad not keeping him in mind when orchestrating the class.  And it was true, I hadn’t, and I felt deeply saddened.

When I help run this group, I’m acutely aware that my son is in the mix.  In running the class (just like the egg hunt), I try to be fair to all.  I never want my son to feel as though I’m singling him out because I have higher expectations for him than the others, and on the flip side, I never want him to feel as though he gets special privileges just because he’s the teacher’s son.  And yet, in my quest for equanimity, I actually treat him differently from the rest.  In that moment when I was presented with the conundrum of 9 kids holding 7 offering eggs, the first thought that came to mind was that I couldn’t just take away other kids’ eggs to appease my son.  When in fact, I should have taken his feelings into account.  I should have seen that my son’s potential disappointment was valid and needed to be addressed by me, not only as his father, but as the teacher.  If it hadn’t been my son who was egg-less, perhaps I wouldn’t have been as clouded by the potential of perceived favoritism.  I might have asked all the kids to put down their eggs, so that we could find enough eggs to go around, and then divvy up the offerings.  But no, I didn’t.  I prioritized the other kids first, and then figured I’d patch things up with my son and the other egg-less kid.

In my attempt at treating everyone the same, I was actually treating my son differently.  It really took me aback, and I had to reflect long and hard on the subject to avoid becoming defensive or self-righteous.  When I came home, I offered a big apology.  I said I was sorry that I overlooked him and his feelings, and that I would do my best to keep him in mind, just like I keep all the other kids in mind.

Sometimes in our quest for fairness, we can overlook those right under our noses, even our own kids.


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Weeding Out

2011-08-21-13.38.03I love weeding.  And yet I’ve met many people who despise it.  In fact, I meet very few people who weed their lawns or gardens by hand, presumably because they have gardeners or a fondness for Round-Up.  I found myself doing a lot of weeding and other yard work this past weekend.

But I discovered I was weeding a lot more than just the flowerbeds.

Personally, I’ve had a terrible couple of weeks.  There has been an ever-widening gap between me and my own parents, and a recent communication from my father drove one more nail into that coffin. It’s one of those things that I’m either not ready or not willing to blog about at this point.  Maybe because I don’t have the strength, or maybe because it feels too vulnerable.  Suffice it say that these events left me feeling completely untethered.  I wasn’t sure what grounded me anymore, and felt as though I was wasting my time in a multitude of endeavors.

One such endeavor was blogging.  This is the first post I’ve written in over a week, which is unlike me, as I’ve typically posted twice a week for the past half a year.  But this past week, I couldn’t find it in me to do it.  Blogging had become one of those things that I did for me; one of those things that I felt could be an expression of my struggles.  However, feeling as though I’d been kicked down by your own flesh-and-blood, I questioned whether I was worth anything; whether my blogging even mattered.  There was a lot of thinking and self-doubt and questioning.  Lots going on in my head: thinking, thinking, thinking.

I had to clear things out.  I had to get out and weed the garden.

I’ve been dying to get outside for quite a while, but these damn snow/sleet/rain storms in the Northeast have become increasingly maddening. Finally some halfway decent weather this past weekend gave me that rare opportunity to get outside.   At first it wasn’t weeding.  It was just yard work, hauling big-ass rocks from a pit in my backyard to the front of the house to line my driveway.  It became a sequence of throwing 20 pound rocks out of hole, running them up a steep incline in a backpack, and then putting them on a sled (I’m currently wheelbarrow-less) and sliding them over the lawn to their final destination.  Just throwing, hauling and dumping.  Throwing, hauling and dumping.  I did that for hours and hours.  I attempted reigning my son into it too, saying that I needed his “artistic eye” to line up the rocks just right.  He got very distracted and disappeared in spite of my flattery.  Even at 6-years-old, I got the “nice try old man” look as he walked to the backyard to play with sticks.

So I continued, as content as could be with my rocks.  Then Sunday came and I woke up much earlier than anyone else in the family. That’s the time of day when I’d usually write.  But I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to look at the computer.  I suited up and went out to the front yard for about two and a half hours.  I wanted to be outside in the bitter 30-something degree March cold, digging in the dirt.

Weeding is just about the most meditative action I can think of.  I get down on my knees, look for weeds, then twist, pull, toss.  Over and over again.  Twist, pull, toss.  Engaged in that action, I find that I don’t or can’t think of anything else.  I’ve even TRIED thinking about things as I weed, but I just can’t do it.  My mind always goes back to the weeding.  After all, that’s the heart of meditation, noticing a thought, releasing it, and returning to what’s right in front of you.  I weed time and again, and always feel calm and complete during my weeding practice.

I’m sure that I’m also attracted to the metaphor of weeding.  Post winter my lawn looks like a wreck.  Decorative grasses have shed their husks, which drift across the semi-green grass.  Weeds and grass intrude on the mulch.  Fallen sticks from hurricane winds and blizzard snow are cast like war zone obstacles on my grass.  Entangled masses of dead perennials choke the flowerbeds.  Spring weeding is a chance to get rid of it all.  It’s a chance to slog through all the death and decay and make room for new life awaiting in the fertile soil. There’s nothing quite like clearing dead leaves with your hands to uncover a crocus popping through the soil.  Or standing up from hours of crawling around on your hands and knees to admire order emerging from the chaos (or at least the illusion of order).

I finished this weekend with a little more clarity.  Of course, there is a time for thinking.  There are many issues that I need to make sense of, feelings that I need to work out.  But in the flurry of thoughts and feelings around issues with my own parents, I lost sight of some of the important things in my life, and lost hope that these things were worth anything at all.  This past weekend was one of those times when thinking wasn’t going to do me any good.  I just had to weed, weed, weed, uncovering some of the new growth under the decay.


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The Reality Blog Award

reality-blog-award1-e1357511854615I was floored when one of the bloggers I thoroughly enjoy, hillbillyzen, nominated me for The Reality Blog Award.  I’m relatively new to this whole blogging thing, so I didn’t quite understand at first.  But, according to hillbillyzen, it’s an award that authors can bestow upon the blogs they follow and admire.  I’m very honored that hillbillyzen found my writing to be award-worthy, and would encourage many others to check out her thoughtful posts!

So here are the logistics of this award thing.  When you’re nominated, you:

1.) Visit the blog of the person who nominated you, thank them, and acknowledge them on *your* blog.

2.) Answer the five questions listed below and nominate up to 20 bloggers whom you feel deserve recognition.  Visit their blog to let them know.

3.) Cut and paste the award to your wall.  Easy peasy.

And so, here are the questions and my responses:

If you could change one thing, what would you change?

As Steve Martin says in his 5 Christmas Wishes, “First it would be the crap about the kids…”  No, seriously, I’d want folks to be able to see past themselves a bit more and realize the repercussions of the actions they take in the world. 

If you could repeat an age, what would it be?

Oh Shit.  I’m pretty pleased to be done with many of the developmental milestones I’ve suffered through over the past (nearly four) decades, but if I had to pick an age, I would choose 31.  It was a year in which I could have done a whole lot better.  It was the year my son was born, and if I could experience that joy again with the knowledge I have now, I’d be a better person and a better husband. 

What one thing really scares you?

The thought of losing my wife or son.  Simply terrifies me. 

What is one dream that you have not completed, and do you think you’ll be able to complete it?

To see one of my books in print.  I think I’ll see that happen, even if by “print” I mean churning out of the printer in my basement. 

If you could be someone else for one day, who would it be?

I would like to be my wife.  I’d like to see the world through her eyes and feel what she feels. 

And now, I get to nominate other bloggers whom I find worthy of an award.  I have agonized over this for days, as I can only pick a few.  Although the blogs I follow vary in theme, I have chosen to honor blogs about fatherhood.  My blog is about the struggles of fatherhood, and I find that I’ve gained the most personally by reading about other fathers’ experiences.  There are very few men speaking up about parenting, and so I think these blogs deserve some accolades.  These writers can be thoughtful, heart-felt, humorous, and irreverent.  They are:

dorkdaddy

The Evolving Dad

Thought Pop

FosterDad101

Ay yo, Be a Father

Adventures of a Father in Training

Daddy @ Through the Grapevine

Many thanks to all these authors for sharing their wit and wisdom.  I hope that many others will check them out.


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Sick for the Holidays

kleenexFirst it was my wife in the week leading up to the winter break with a cough and fatigue, fever and an aching body.  Then it was my son over the weekend prior to the holiday, his flu spilling over into Christmas Eve with lingering symptoms for Christmas.  Now it’s me in the days after Christmas leading up to the New Year.  I find that as I get older, illness impairs my mind even moreso than my body.  It throws me into an existential free-fall, and here’s why.

I work for a school, so am lucky enough to have every school break off: a couple of weeks off in the summer, winter break, February break, April break, and all the holidays in between.  The rest of the year I work long hours, often out of the house by 6am and back by 5pm, with very stressful days, considering the type of intensive work I do.  I sink into a routine of very exhausting work weeks, with recuperation time on the weekends.  Because of this pattern, I tend to live each weekday with the motto, “There’s always the weekend.”  I may be a wreck on weeknights, silently consuming my dinner or falling asleep at storytime, but I convince myself that I can make up for it on the weekends.  I’ll be clear-headed and Saturday and Sunday will only be about family.

Then the weekend comes.  There’s typically grass to be cut, or weeds to be pulled, or mice to be chased out of the basement.  There’s a garage to be cleaned, or a fence to be mended, or a Home Depot run to be made.  I know these things have to be done and, in a way, doing them is part of how I take care of the family.  So they tend to take priority on weekend mornings.  “If I can just get this done, then I can relax with my wife and son.”  I start the task and it either runs late or my son is invited to the neighbor’s house in the intervening hours and is out of the house by the time I’m done.

“There’s always the vacation break,” becomes my new motto.  If I can just make it to the break, then we’ll really have a good time.  We’ll have several days of uninterrupted family fun time.  Then something else happens to screw it all up.  This time, it happened to be family illness.

Colds and flus as a kid, even as a young adult, were a welcomed break from my routine.  As a kid, there was always someone to take care of me.  I’d get to stay home, watch TV, pop in a movie, eat popsicles and drink ginger ale.  Honestly, in my 20’s, it wasn’t much different.  Colds and flus were a nice wake up call.  They caused me to put down the books, the papers, and the work for a few days and just take care of myself.

Then my 30’s came, and wife and child.  Colds and flus aren’t so much fun anymore.  With my tendency to constantly push back quality time to weekends and then to vacation breaks, every second of down-time now feels precious.  So when I find myself sick for a holiday break, I go into full-blow existential-crisis-mode.  Lying shivering under the covers in sweat-soaked pjs, the following sequence of thoughts/questions arise in my mind:

“If I can’t spend quality time with my family now, then when will I ever spend time with them?”

“If I were more conscious of moment-to-moment existence, then I wouldn’t wait for these breaks.”

“If I push quality time off, it’s only because I’m lazy.”

“If I’m lazy, the years are going to speed by, and before I know it, my son will be off to college.”

“My son’s going to leave for college thinking his father is lazy and distracted.”

“I am going to die with a lot of regret about my son, my wife, and my life.”

“I’m going to die.”

Plus there’s the fever-induced dreams of dead parents, lost items, and flesh-eating zombies.  It’s a pretty shitty sequence of events, but now they hit me each time I’m sick.  No more fun and lounging like when I was younger, only physical/mental/existential crisis.

But thank goodness for sickness.  It’s no wonder Siddhartha encountered a sick man on his jouney outside the palace walls.  I’m encountering a sick man outside my palace of procrastination, and that man is me.  Luckily I can step back and realize that my illness is just another lesson for me to absorb.  In my early 30’s, I’d get sick like this and become despondent.  I’d think to myself, “Well, that break was blown to shit.  I hope the next one is better.”  This time, I’m trying to use every ounce of my energy to wake up.  I can still play a wicked game of Bey Blades while hanging off the side of the couch. I can still look over at my son’s giggling face as he chuckles and snorts as the sloth from Ice Age gets slapped upside the head.  I can be here for my son and wife, even when I’m sick.  If I can do it now, then I can do it when I’m healthy.  I’m thankful for being sick, and hope to stop taking for granted the precious time I still have with my family.