Perfect Birthday

Wake up 5:30am.

Practice yoga and seated meditation (listen to my body speak to me in a chorus of creaking sounds).

Take out dogs (Spike, who knows the sound of my meditation timer jumps on me and licks my face when it rings its ending zen tone).

Make M-ito’s breakfast (challah bread with peanut butter, strawberries, glass of milk) while Mom-ita tries to wake him up and get him out of bed (I have the easier job by far – but then it is my birthday).

My son gives me a birthday hug. Ahhhhh…

Make my tea (English breakfast with honey and milk) and take first sip.

Drive M-ito to  school while talking about books for half the trip (Mom-ita told him he had to talk to me – sigh – for half of the trip before he started to read which is what he usually does on the car ride in).

Realize I forgot M-ito’s cleats at home. Plan return trip in my head and call Mom-ita to prepare her for early journey back.

Come home.

Drive back with Mom-ita to M-ito’s school to drop off cleats.

Go to Dolphin Bookstore and order the perfect latte.

Order Andrew Smith’s new book, Passenger (arrival in two days) for me.

Write two new pages of WIP (I am Nobody).

Pick up M-ito early at school so we can watch him practice lacrosse. He is awesome. The coach speaks and my son listens. It never works that way with me. Ahhhhhh.

Drive to Starbucks. M-ito does homework. I shop for new messenger bag… and order it from Timbuk2. Ahhhhh…

Take M-ito to Tae Kwon Do and write while he kicks and punches his way towards his black belt.

Drive home.

Feed and take out very appreciative dogs.

Order in from Louies Pizza (Margarita with chicken).

Read Andrew Smith’s King of Marbury (absolutely awesome).

Check Facebook birthday wishes. Overwhelmingly sweet.

Watch presidential debates and try not to scream or throw things at the TV (Go Obama!).


Hobbit Tales

I’m reading The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien, to M-ito. I’ve been waiting to read it to him forever. Well, since I read it when I was ten or so. My friend Joe showed it to me and I read it and fell in love with it’s total sense of adventure immediately. I’m a sucker for a fantasy story. Dwarves, dragons, elves, hobbits, hero’s wizards – you can’t beat it. Since then I’ve read it twice but it’s been over ten years since the last time. I’ve told myself it would be great to read it to my son or daughter one day. Now that I have a son, I’ve been eyeing it each year, and looking at M-ito to wonder if it was time yet. This year since starting school he read How to Train Your Dragon by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (traslated from the Norse by Cressida Cowel) and a number of other books on his own that speak of adventure and new worlds, swordplay and dragons. With Hiccup under his belt I thought it was time for The Hobbit. It’s dark and there’s lots of danger and the tone is menacing, but so far he’s loved it.

Reading it has been hard, though, bitter-sweet to be exact. My friend Joe, who told me about the book after he’d read it, had been my best friend since we were both in 4th grade together. We met the first day of school – a new school for me – I left my lunch box behind and Joe took it home with him. He lived down the block from me. I went to his house to retrieve it and so a friendship was born on a sunny September day. We saw each other every day until, when we were both in seventh grade, maybe a month away from the end of school, he was killed. It was a freakish accident. He walked home from school early without letting anyone know. There were torrential rains. Crossing the rail road tracks he was hit. I can still picture the black sky, still hear the downpour against the school roof while I sat in math class. They announced his death over the loud speaker just before school ended.

So many things I do as a father remind me of my own childhood. I watch my son and watch myself as a child, or I watch my son and think of what was and what could have been. I have to remind myself, like so many other parents, that he is not me. Now that’s a challenge they never told me about in the school for parents.

The Hobbit is a wonderful book and I love the way my son pulls the covers up closer around him while I read to him about the three Trolls arguing about how to kill and eat good old Bilbo and his dwarven companions. He peers over my shoulder, snuggling in close. At the scary parts he covers his ears with his hands and closes his eyes. “Don’t read anymore!” He says, then takes his hands off his ears and asks me to read on. “Which do you want?” I ask. “Read on!” he says. I love being able to comfort him, being able to be his warmth when the story makes him shiver.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, “Hold the sadness and pain of smasara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea.” I try to remind myself of this, when my heart aches. I try to see the beauty of my son’s smile.

Today M-ito told me he wanted to write a new book of his own. In school they’re writing stories now – fiction. They’ve moved on from non-ficiton memoir and he’s thrilled because he loves to tell stories. “I’m going to write a story,” he says, “about a character I’ve had an idea about for a long time. His name is the Sizzler.”

All I can think of is the restaurant chain called The Sizzler, but I tell him to go on – to tell me about him.

“It’s about a Sizzler that has never had any adventures but he gets dragged into a bunch of them and all kinds of things happen.”

Now I can see the Great Eastern Sun.

In-school Bardo

BardoBuddhist term – an intermediate state. The term usually refers to the term between death and rebirth. The Wisdon of No Escape, Pema Chodron.

My son is in bardo – the place between comfort in his old school and his end destination of fitting in at his new one. I’ve heard a little through M-ito but mostly late at night or via phone calls while I was away in New Orleans and then Lansing Michigan – working. But the picture is pretty clear to me. My son is in bardo. It’s a hard place to be, but it’s a place of growth. My son doesn’t want to hear that, though. He just wants to be out of bardo and on the shore of fitting in.

M-ito made his first friend during his first week at school. He called them aquaintences up until then. He named his first friend, Jacito, a boy from the other 2nd grade class. They played tag together with some other boys. Tag is one of M-ito’s favorite games. He laughs when he plays and his laughter is a sound that makes you and anyone around you smile. I thought, from my hotel room, listening to Mom-ita tell me of his adventures, that things seemed to be moving along. The process of forming with a new group had begun. I had expected it to be rocky but so far so good.

After he made his first friend, he told Mom-ita that he waited for the other class to come out for recess the next day. He waited by the door. I have this picture of him waiting for the other class to come out. “Will they come out today?” he told me later  he wondered. “Are they out sick?” Two days a week the two classes did not have recess together. He learned this while waiting for them to come out. Then on Friday, M-ito’s friend changed the game of tag to bullfight tag. A different game – out of my son’s comfort zone. He was still in bardo. He didn’t want to play. I know some things about my son and one thing is he likes to have mastery over games he plays. He doesn’t like games that he thinks he’s not good at – especially games that he’ll look bad playing. Embarrasment is a big factor even for 7-year olds. I understand this.

He sat on the fence watching the kids for two days. Mom-ita didn’t know what to do but she waited it out. She bounced her ideas off of me but she knew in her heart what was right for her son. I listened and agreed with her. M-ito’s teacher came to Mom-ita at the end of the second day and said, “I’ve been watching and waiting too. Other kids have asked him to play games bu he’s saying no. I’m not going to let it go on much longer.” The next day she asked M-ito to sit by her so he wasn’t by himself again. Some kids asked him to play bull fight tag then and he said yes. This time he got the rules down and played better. Perhaps the choice of sitting next to the teacher, whom he seems to like, or playing tag pushed him to play. In any case it worked.

He’s played other types of tag since then and played soccer yesterday. He played goalie. He says it’s easy and he likes it – with a shrug. No one else wants to play goalie so he steps up. He found a place from which to participate. I give him a lot of credit. Bardo is not an easy place to be. It’s so much easier to stay in your comfort zone, so much harder to step off into a strange land.

As a father I have found the whole process to have a hint of the unreal about it. I’m experiencing much of it second hand – through Mom-ita. M-ito is close to her because she drives him in and picks him up. She is his lifeline to see at the end of the day. I am the guy he sees most evenings at 6pm – regular time, usually coming home while he’s in the middle of his homework. He doens’t ask me for help, that is Mom-ita’s domain. Even trying to make one day a week driving in with the two of them – it’s still hard to stay part of things. Drop-off happens so quick. Mostly, like so many Dad-ditos these days, I try to catch up on the weekend. You see, I’m in my own bardo too. I’m adjusting to change and allowing this new aspect of our relationship to grow also. It sounds good on paper but it sure is hard to do.

Buddha Sutra

The Buddha, in talking about our own true nature, gives a talk on the four kinds of horses: the excellent horse, the good horse, the poor horse, and the very bad horse. I’m reading Pema Chodron’s The Wisdon of No Excape and the Path of Loving Kindness (only she could group those two statements together and get away with it) and she talks about this teaching with regard to our approach to meditation. The moral of the story is it doesn’t matter whether you are the excellent horse or the very bad horse because in any case it simply is your nature and you will learn from and through it.

When it comes to meditation I konw I’m the very bad horse. My innate “badness” at the task is probably what makes me teach it well. I have to really work at meditation and I make lots of mistakes from which I learn what to do and what not to do next time. This insight would have been lost on me if I’d simply started meditating and found samadhi. I’d be telling everybody, gee all you have to do is sit down, stop the chattering of your mind and find the peace that resides within. No big deal, see? Watch and I’ll show you. You can cross your legs into lotus, can’t you?

I was wondering how this would translate into fatherhood. First, what kind of father am I and then how does that then relate to my own true father nature? But perhaps here I have to also add in, How does it effect my son and my family? Not as simple as in the meditative analogy – my mind is chattering away like a monkey (monkey mind supreme) but I’ll learn how to manage it in a year or two and then, oh boy, then I’ll have such insight on it. When it comes to being a Dad-dito, any mistakes I make, well… my son feels them in the here and now. I lose my temper over him taking too long to get out of the house on a school day and my son hears me yell. He cries. I cry. We both suffer. Him for getting scared at my yelling and me because of the my own terrible guilt over yelling at him and seeing him get upset. And the lesson? Don’t yell. Get up earlier. Simple really but the drive to get more sleep is deep and insistent. It’s an interesting paralell.

I hear my own father and many other parents of his generation say, “I hope I was a good father to you,” and looking back now I can say he was (and still is), though at different times I’ve gone up and down on the rating scale depending on how our relationship is going- none of which makes me love him any less. I don’t think any of us wants to think of ouselves as the very poor horse when it comes to being a father – even though I know there are times I clearly am – perhaps more than I care to admit. At those times, I take it to heart that though my son has suffered through my inability to get on track, if I at least learn something from the experience and do better next time, he may not have to suffer in quite the same way again. I may be a very bad horse out of the starting gate but I’m an excellent horse on the turns. It’s good to know there are turns up ahead. The straight-aways make me humble. The turns make me smile. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Another Zen Koan

Same subway ride. I give M-ito another Zen Koan.

A Zen Master has a student who leaves the dormitory at night to carouse in the town. He places a tall chair beneath his room window and climbs out. One night the Zen Master goes to the young man’s room and sees the chair. He takes it away and stands beneath the window where the chair had been, his head coming up to about the same height as the chair had. When the young man comes back through the window it’s dark so he doesn’t see the Master beneath him and places his feet on the Master’s head. When he gets down the Master says, “It’s a cold night out tonight.” The young man responds, “It is,” and gets in to bed. The young man never goes to the town at night again.

I asked M-ito what he thought of the story.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. I thought for a moment and then had an idea. I retold the exact same story but with a friend of his, Aus-ito, and the boy’s father, Big Aus-ito, in the place of the master and the young man. I thought he’d understand it better if it was about someone he knew. Aus-ito is a very adventurous boy who loves to climb and explore and who I knew M-ito could see doing something like the zen student – ie: escaping his room via the window. I figured he’d understand the story better this way – that it would be more relevant.

I asked M-ito what he thought of this version of the story.

“I don’t understand,” he said again.

“What do mean? I thought you’d understand it better if I used Aus-ito in the story.”

“That’s just it,” M-ito said. “That’s not possible because Aus-ito would use some kind of crazy zip-line and never have to touch his father’s head. Then he’d make some kind of bomb and blow up the zip-line so no one would ever know he’d used it. That way he’d never get caught by his parents and no one would know that he’d ever left his room.”

I’m still laughing about that one.

One Hand Clapping

I took M-ito to work with me today. Mom-ita was working, teaching a consulting gig, and out all day. I had work that had to be done so I couldn’t take the day off. We walked to the express station – what is normally a fifteen minute walk – in half an hour. The trains were fast though, and instead of 11am I made it in by 10:15.

He sat in my office for almost three hours, reading a Pokemon Manga and playing games on my iPhone. He’s so good. He even waved, his small, shy, bent-elbow wave, to everyone I introduced him too. They smiled back at him.

We had lunch and walked about twenty blocks downtown to the comics store, Forbidden Planet. I had him avoid all the “adult” sections and the “monster” sections. He bought two ugly dolls with his allowed funds, eyeballing the USS Enterprise model and a Godzilla action figure.

On the R train home, both of us exhausted, nodding a little, I took out a book of Zen Koans I’d been reading (Zen Flesh, Zen Bones) and asked M-ito if he wanted me to read him some stories that were like puzzles.

He said, “Sure.”

I told him the story of the Zen Master who had a young student who wanted to the master to give him a koan to help him to study and learn. The master asked him if he knew the sound of two hands clapping and the student said, “Yes.” Then he asked him, “What’s the sound of one hand?” The student went back and forth over a year coming up with answers like, the wind, an owl hooting, the breath and each time the master said, “No. Come back when you have figured it out.”

Well… I only got to the first time the master asked, “What’s the sound of one hand clapping,” when M-ito interrupted me and said, “there is no sound.” My mouth hung open for a moment. Then I shut it and continued the story, ending at the same place my son had already been to, camped out at, and completed. It took the student a year. It took my son about three seconds.