Father’s Day has passed and would have done so without my knowledge had it not been for mid-day talks with my kids calling to check in. I took some time late in the day to reflect on the task of bringing them up, particularly through their challenging teenage years.
My kids are all grown now, Rachel, 33yrs, Mudra, 31yrs, and Kai, 23, and even as I type these words it is hard to believe they are no longer “my babies.” I weeded out my memories to find an underlying takeaway from years of parenting to see what “I” had learned. If it was anything, it would be the remarkable ability of my kids to pick up my bad habits and become experts in short order, while at the same time being slow-learners to pick up those basic human values we all, who are parents, wish our kids to have, self-discipline, unselfishness, respect for others, gratitude, and so forth.
I always tried to teach by example. Before becoming a parent, I was a monk for ten years, so naturally, I took much of my monastic habits into householder life. Although I had the resources to live otherwise, I remained as frugal as a monk when it came to possessions, I maintained a meditation practice, morning and evening for several hours, and avoided “entertainment.” If I had a vice, it was my daily two hours exercising at the beach, the pristine Muscle Beach in Santa Monica.
I certainly wasn’t Mr. Perfect, nor did I wish to be. No longer a monk, I had a sprinkling of diversions mixed into the Mr. Purity image. These were an occasional cognac before sleep, a night of Hollywood socializing if invited, and a girlfriend, in the middle of years of an otherwise loyal marriage.
I learned that when it comes to teaching by example, it is not the quantity that counts but the quality, with even the smallest quantity of “low-life’ examples easily trumping all noble ones. My lapses translated into two party-animal daughters who were impossible to keep track of, and many other sources of amazement.
I always wondered at Rachel’s incredible ability to color coordinate her dress and even cut up clothes and make beautiful outfits. It wasn’t until her sister Mudra “confessed” that Rachel had been eating magic mushrooms since she was nine.
Of course, Mudra was no princess; indeed, in every vice, she outdid her sister. I had a home-by-ten rule and would wait to make sure they came home before sleeping myself. Thanks to Rachel’s “confession” on Mudra’s behalf I found out that Mudra had devised a rope from her second-story bedroom window to sneak out of the house right after she did her evening “check-in.”
I waited one evening for Mudra’s inevitable departure and entered Mudra’s room and took every bit of clothing out of it, piling it all into my Volvo wagon, and parking it blocks away. Mudra returned about 3 am and was shocked. I didn’t say a word, nor did I have to. She cried the next day, wondering how she would go to school, and I just said, “well, what about the clothes you wore out to party,” “But, Dad, no clean underwear,” and so forth, la, dee, da, da, da.
My son, Kai, didn’t cause me years of stress and anxiety like my daughters did. But, instead of lost himself in computer games and music which he did at home. Eventually, this too wore on me.
Reflecting on my growing up, I certainly didn’t see anything about it that could give me the virtuous character entitling me to fault anyone. I didn’t acquire the nickname, “Captain Trips,” without reason. Some of my friends didn’t make it through their twenties, and it is a wonder that I did.
Master Hsuan Hua, my ordination master, and teacher throughout my monastic career sometimes would remark during his lectures that human beings are extremely intelligent and quick to pick up bad habits and vices. He would say you barely have to teach people to gamble, indulge in licentious behavior, cheat others, deceive, swindle, takes drugs and so forth, they adapt right away, but if you try to teach them something like meditation or morality, it is too complicated and “unnatural.”
It would be funny if it weren’t true. I guess we are all that way. If I call a friend and invite him or her over for meditation, they have an “appointment,” or have to “workout”, or “no time,” but if I call with an invitation to lunch, or to my place to watch a “game,” it’s a different story.
All my kids are doing great now, free of vices, so maybe it takes some playing with fire before one is ready to see the unsatisfactory nature of it all. After all, what drink, didn’t lead to another one, or what “one-night-stand” didn’t leave one craving another, or what night-on-the-town that was a ‘blast,” didn’t leave one looking forward to the next. Perhaps we must spin on the wheel awhile before we grow up.