In celebration of my first Father’s Day as a father I couldn’t help but reflect on when and why I first decided that I wanted to have children. As an exorbitantly self-absorbed, 20-year-old, male urbanite with artistic passions and lofty career goals, I never thought about having kids. I don’t know that I defiantly didn’t want a baby—nor did I consciously want one. It wasn’t until approximately a decade later, upon my initial explorations into Buddhism and spiritual literature that I decided procreation mattered to me.
Parenthood, in my opinion, represented an important experience towards self-actualization. Like most young adults I developed aspirations to give to my future child an even richer and more complete experience than was given to me, which I’m confident my own parents succeeded in providing relative to their upbringings. I think most of my generation were brought up with greater affection and career opportunities than the previous generation. My hope is to bring my daughter up with a greater cultural experience and spiritual awareness, and of course a more conscious diet.
I entered parenthood with these naïve notions, images of sitting lotus posture across from my child, our eyes locked as I imparted fortune cookie wisdoms to her, until we spontaneously merge into an exploding ball of white light and love. Instead, my experience is closer to that of an unpaid employee at a 2-star restaurant, who frantically wears the hats of chef, dishwasher, busboy, and maintenance man, while shouting back and forth at my “co-worker” anything but pieces of fortune cookie wisdoms. I am aware of course, as I sit here typing this, that these are the “spiritual experiences” in action that I sought. Though it is admittedly beyond challenging in those moments to recognize them as such, or to understand what it means to be a father.
With all due respect to the modern mutability of gender roles, identifications, and definitions, when I think of a father I think of my own dad, the masculine energy, or “yang qi” of the body. In Chinese Medicine our first line of immunological defense are the “tai yang” (or “greater yang”) channels. It is the job of the yang qi to protect and warm us, also to motivate and excite us, and direct us upwards… which may be why my daughter prefers that I lift her up towards the ceiling to kick her legs and laugh, but insists with no equivocation that she always be put down to sleep by the calmer, more nourishing, “yin energy” of Mom.
While my own father was a paternal treasure, an awesome dad five times over, where I saw his “yang qi” finally falter in his later years was in the all too common indulgences of “pathological yin” substances: Sugar, alcohol, cold foods and drinks, a sedentary and relatively anti-social lifestyle over time will put out our yang fire, and too often in our society what we see in older dads are soft, curvy, and fleshier physiques concurrent with quiet, more withdrawn demeanors. While some degree of grounded calm is very organic in our later years, my opinion and observation is that there can be a healthier, more engaged manifestation of it.
Without much apparent choice in the matter, my intention is to continue grinding away in the 2-star restaurant, hopefully with perpetually greater mindfulness that every sleepless night, every screaming cry, and scrubbing session on my hands and knees of the cooked produce peppered around our living room floor is the spiritual experience. With hopes that one day through my own appropriate discipline and self-care, I’ll possess adequate yang qi by which to sit lotus across from Peyton, look into her eyes, and impart everything I know, and don’t know.
Happy Father’s Day!