Browsing the blog archives for June, 2013
This first appeared in TheAdvocate.com June 14, 2013
I was shocked when my Dad reached over to cradle my head and kiss me. It was a rare moment of emotional intimacy from a man who was not raised to express his emotions. His tender action followed by the words “I love you” was a gift that I still treasure three decades later. Even though he is not alive, I listen to the stories I tell of my father and the new appreciation those stories reveal with the passage of time.
My Dad would be 84 if he was alive today, yet he continues to live in my heart and consciousness. He grew up in an era in which being a man meant that expressions of emotion were a “girl thing.” That was the work of tender, nurturing and gentle women. Or so the theory went.
His mother, whom I adored, was a model of emotional frigidity married to a man who was more adept at expression emotions. It was an odd paradigm handed down to my dad on how to be a man. Adding to these murky waters was the rigid and oppressive climate of South Africa. Growing up in that country I assumed that manhood came with those proscribing conditions even though I yearned for something more.
After moving to New York in 1980 as a young adult I was stunned on my first Christmas to see my host kissing his sons and them responding with kisses in return. I’d never seen such a display before and felt at once uncomfortable and curious. This state of unsettlement kept occurring as I watched fathers and sons acting as if such displays of affection were normal. I wanted to be that kind of a man. I assumed that I could be, but not with my dad. At least not until the day of the kiss.
Two years after arriving in New York my parents came to visit me knowing that I could not return home because of my refusal to serve in the South African military. On the day of his return home my Dad stood awkwardly at the gate at JFK waiting to board his flight. In a surprising move he leaned in very close to me and said, “I don’t know when we’ll be together again.” There were tears in our eyes. And then he kissed me and cradled my head as he said, “I love you.” I assured him of the same.
It was a defining moment. Perhaps the “girl thing” assumption about how my dad had been raised was not entirely true? Or was it an oppressive façade he had learned to live with for so many decades? And then the repeated boarding calls meant it was time for him to go. In my state of stunned shock and delight I felt the tears rolling down my face as he turned to wave.
Perhaps my Dad and I could forge some of that intimacy that I had discovered among American sons and fathers? But there was the physical barrier of being on two different continents. In the decade that followed, we only saw each other on two other visits he made to America. In the era before email, texting or social media my Dad was not much of a letter-writer preferring to leave that to my mother.
I was in a time of my life discovering that our individual stories are more than just a series of funny, embarrassing, cute or unexpected events. I was learning that our individual stories reveal truth and wisdom in their familiarity. Well, perhaps not as much wisdom in my twenties or thirties as I thought! Beneath the familiar plot line of a particular story, the story points to the arc about our place in life that is larger than our own self.
So I turned to the stories of my life with my Dad in South Africa. I found willing listeners in some of my new American friends who like me were physically separated from their fathers because of their job or studies. I was beginning to discover that I can tell the same story line in different decades of my life but by paying attention to the story it presents new insights in each new season of my life.
When I was a young kid my Dad and I would take the train to the end of the line in Cape Town to a place called Simon’s Town. We’d carry our packed lunches and fishing gear and go clambering over rocks to find just the right spot to fish. At the end of these outings I’d express my exuberance about the day spent fishing with Dad. I was bragging about it!
In my teenager years I’d still go fishing with my Dad, although less often. I’d tell the same basic story line albeit with a much “cooler” adolescent level of enthusiasm. In those telling’s of the story I was much more aware of my refusal to ever kill a fish. And so my Dad would help me return the fish to the ocean or he would kill it while I looked away.
In telling the same story in my twenties, I would be aware that more than just being with my dad, the story revealed a kindness and non-judgmental love. He never demeaned or ridiculed me about my aversion to the kill. There was no name calling me as the dreaded “sissy” I thought I must have been.
In my late thirties and forties the story line offered new insight into my dad and our relationship. I understood that our fishing excursions were his way of expressing that he wanted to be present to and with me. He was doing what we all do, working with the tools he had available to him. And he did a great job at it.
In my fifties I tell that story and wonder what it must have felt like for my Dad to live with the assumed normalcy that expressing emotion and affection were not the way to be. I wonder what conversation we would have about that if he were alive to do so. I suspect he’d engage willingly.
The year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 was the year I was able to go back to visit South Africa and my family. They quickly became yearly visits in which I noticed a new tenderness about him reminding me of that unexpected kiss at JFK.
On each visit each he enveloped me with a bear hug and kiss. This was not the way the Dad of my childhood had behaved! He was not to be pigeon-holed. As my partner and I visited we did what we often do – we held hands in the living room at my parents’ home. On one visit my Mom pulled me aside and in a very hushed tone announced, “It really upsets your Dad to see the two of you holding hands.” Funny, but I had not noticed any lack of comfort on my Dad’s part.
A few days later Dad and I were on a walk to feed the ducks at a nearby pond and I said, “Dad, I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable with us holding hands.” Without missing a beat he said, “I’m not uncomfortable. I’m just happy for you and your love.” There it was again, this generous, heartfelt and kind spirit.
In succeeding years I noticed a new level of emotional intimacy in my Dad’s close bond with a male friend that I could not have imagined in the previous decades of his life. It was wonderful to watch. I felt glad and proud for him.
My parents were friendly with the couple who lived next door to them in their retirement community. Frank and my Dad began by looking out for another and performing simply niceties by delivering the mail or newspaper to one another. As time progressed they would be found sitting on a porch together drinking beer and reminiscing about their lives or sharing their excitement for an upcoming rugby or cricket game on television.
On one visit my Dad expressed how glad he was for the choice he and my mother had made, albeit with obstinate resistance from him, to move into their retirement community. When I asked what made him happiest about the decision he said, “I wouldn’t have Frank as my friend if we weren’t here.”
Years later I sat in Frank’s living room with him and his wife drinking tea and discussing my Dad’s then recent death. Frank beamed as he said, “I miss your Dad every day. He was a true friend.” I was unprepared for the tenderness of what followed as Frank choked up with tears in his eyes and said, “You know Robert, I loved your Dad.” I received it as an elegant eulogy to my father and a blessing of the intimacy between Frank and Dad.
The quest for a more fulsome emotional relationship with Dad has come full circle. My yearning for a more authentic relationship with my father had led us to new ground. But it wasn’t just about me. Dad had been a willing participant in his own story and search for what it meant to be a man.
I’m thankful for the journey we made together. We may not have fulfilled one another’s expectations to the fullest but we sure worked at it from a place of love, redefining our once limited perceptions of what it means to be a man. It would be nice to pull my dad in close, cradle his head, giving him a kiss and saying – “I’m not sure when we’ll see one another again. But I’m proud of you and love you Dad.”
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At work people can find all the negatives of our jobs and it is easy to chime in. I try and focus on the positives of how lucky I am to have a job, meet lost of people, and go places that I might not usually go. I try and walk away and help someone when I am feeling sorry for myself. There will always be someone more fortunate and less fortunate than me. I choose the half full glass!
Rebooting your life is a gift to yourself. It reconnects you with your spirit, the wisdom and joy that lives in you and the truths that ground your choices. It is a personal anti-virus program for you to be free of what distracts, disorients and keeps you from your best and highest good.
Rebooting is most successful when you commit to creating time and space on each of the 21 days to breathe and be present to yourself. Begin with two or three minutes on the first few days. Then allow yourself a five minute breathing time on the remaining days. Find a quiet place to listen to the breath flowing though you. Be still and open to the thoughts that are present. You job is to keep listening to your breath as each thought appears.
Day 1: Your magnificence is cause for thanksgiving. Name at least one quality about you that is magnificent. Savor and appreciate it. How will you let that quality be radiant in your life today?
Day 2: Your story reveals wisdom and spiritual truth. What part of your story nags at you for attention? Choose to listen for the invitation it presents you.
Day 3: Forgiveness is a learned path to freedom. What do you need to forgive in yourself or another person? Forgiveness is a choice to be free. It releases life-giving energy to be present to today and the future.
Day 4: Love needs to be named. Stand in front of a mirror looking at yourself and speak out loud something loveable about you. Celebrate it by sharing your new appreciation with another.
Day 5: Delight affects how you participate in your own life and the world. Chose to allow yourself to be delighted by something or someone today. Tell another person about your delight.
Day 6: Detach from a toxic person. You do neither of you a favor by allowing toxicity to invade and muddle your life. Detach and entrust them to the goodness and care of the Universe. It is a life-giving gift to both of you!
Day 7: Create a new conversation. Instead of allowing old conversations and hurts to keep playing in your heart and mind, make a choice to create a new one in which you welcome positive energy.
Day 8: Playfulness is a vital to your well-being. Do something playful today that makes you smile. Notice how it affects your experience of the rest of the day’s activities.
Day 9: Frustration closes you off from yourself and others. Pay attention to what frustrates you. Letting go of it allows you to be more fully engaged with what brings you alive.
Day 10: Trust your intuition – it is part of your positioning system. Respond to an intuitive reaction or thought today.
Day 11: A teacher awaits in your greatest failures. Invite awareness of what your greatest failures teach you about your values, hopes, purpose and joy. Express gratitude for the teacher within.
Day 12: Feasting with others is soul food to your life. Experience time today with another person as a feast with each other. Unplug your technology and relish being present with another.
Day 13: Acknowledge the fears that resurface in your life. They are an invitation to move beyond them. In going to the edge of your fear you discover what centers you. In the naming of the fears their power over you is loosened.
Day 14: Awe shifts your perception of time and your place in the world. Reflect on the things, people or places that fill you with awe. How will you choose to live with an intentional openness to awe today?
Day 15: Stop clutching! When you stop clutching at what you think you know you create an open and appreciative way of living. The Universe then surprises you with new invitations to life.
Day 16: Preoccupations are best dealt with by setting them aside. Allow the beauty of those you love to interrupt your preoccupations. Express your gratitude for such love in your life.
Day 17: You are hardwired for compassion. What act of compassion will you participate in today? Notice how each such act enriches your sense of self and your connection to the lives of others.
Day 18: You are made in the imagination of the Universe. Be awake to imagination alive in you, allowing it to become a new lens for how you engage challenges, other people and yourself. Celebrate it!
Day 19: Love needs your voice and heart. Express your love to someone you love today. Tell them one of the reasons you love them. Notice how your heart space and theirs becomes more richly intertwined.
Day 20: Your goodness helps to polish the world. What will you do today to polish the world – perhaps an act of mercy, kindness, love or playful delight? The energy of your goodness is life-changing.
Day 21: Celebrate and express gratitude! For your well-being and the blessings given and received in your generosity of spirit and heart.
Notice the choices you have made in Rebooting Your Life in 21 Days. Be aware of how more fully enlivened and alive you are. Because your life is always about more than only you choose a trusted friend or mentor to share your new insights and learning’s with. Rebooting is your spiritual and wisdom gift to yourself.
What tools have you used to reboot your life? Post your responses below or on the Huffington Post site or www.themindfulword.org
This opinion piece was first published in Huffington Post, May 31, 2013
The controversy over the Boy Scouts welcoming gay youth is being fueled by religious purveyors of judgment and condemnation. Ironically it is the Boy Scout values of compassion and respect that reflect a more generous spirit of inclusion.
I am no fan of the decision to allow gay youth to be members of Boy Scout troops while disallowing the leadership and service of adults who happen to be gay. It is a disingenuous double standard. However, the decision of the Boy Scouts looks enlightened when compared to the religious and cultural war that some religious leaders and institutions are trying to wage on scouting and gay youth.
Earnest Easley, a Southern Baptist pastor and chair of his denomination’s executive committee, is one of these warriors according to USA Today. Claiming that homosexuality is a sin and using spurious cut and paste theology to support a prejudice against LGBT people, a self-righteous crusade has been launched to sever ties between faith based groups and the Scout troops that they sponsor.
Sadly this is a re-run of old scripts in which religious texts have been used to support slavery, the denigration of women, the denial of civil rights and anti-immigrant fervor. Whatever happened to the more robust core values of love and justice?
In fairness, the warriors like Earnest Easley, do not speak for all religious institutions or leaders. Mike Schuenemeyer of the United Church of Christ is quoted in the USA Today article saying that the new Boy Scout policy will lead his organization to more actively promote sponsorship of scouting troops across the country.
The new assaults on the Boy Scouts and gay youth are at best mean-spirited and reveal a stunning lack of love and compassion. At worst they trifle with the lives of young people and their families as they struggle with questions of sexual identity.
As a young Scout I lived with the fear of anyone discovering that I was struggling with what it meant to be gay. My love of Scouting and my own worth as a human being seemed destined to be in conflict. While I survived those struggles far too many gay youth choose to commit suicide. The messages of condemnation and hatred being reinforced by religious warriors have an impact on those young people and fuel the bullying and violence directed toward them.
Data from the Pew Research Center reveals that 70 percent of Millennial’s (those between eighteen and thirty-two years old) support same-gender marriage. They reject the rationale of the battles being played out over the Boy Scouts’ policy shift.
Pew data also reveals that 25 percent of Millennial’s reject any formal religious affiliation. Among the reasons given are religion’s perceived obsession with judgmental orthodoxies and exclusion.
Those waging war on the Boy Scouts and gay youth may appeal to their own narrow base but their chosen battle is designed to reinforce the views of a significant number of young people who choose a more generous and inclusive way of life for all.
Ironically the core values of the Boy Scouts offer a more humane and spiritual approach to the storm in a teacup over gay scouts.
Those values are about compassion and respect. The Boy Scouts shine a light on being kind and considerate to others and working for the well-being of all. They emphasize showing regard for the worth of something or someone. Those core values offer respect and compassion without qualification.
I’d support those values and the decision of the Boy Scouts over the religious warriors — any day!
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