Tag Archives: family

spring fragment

the afternoon sun is strong
even though apple blossoms are weeks away
and only slightest hints of early-green
appear on the knoll horizon

smoke drifts from the pile of collected brush
as my father points out streaks of grey
in the stubble on my cheek

i always wonder if there is more to come

ten

it was a purple one that first caught his eye
as we walked through the field—
perhaps some sort of clover,
but i don’t know the name in french.
papa, he showed me,
adding the smallest white daisies
and a few others i don’t recognize—
a tall thin grass, and
even dandelions, too.

they might not last the car ride home,
but they’ve once been collected,
spilling gently over the edge
of the vase he made of his hand.

My first post here in more than eighteen months. I think the moments have still been with me. Perhaps I’ve been better at not becoming attached—or perhaps I’ve been neglecting to pay attention.

Cardboard Box

I’m finally looking into the cardboard box
I brought home from my mother’s house
late last month;

The clementines she insisted I take and perched on top
have long since been eaten;
it’s been otherwise untouched
sitting in the corner of the yellow room.

Two pairs of my infant pajamas —
The yellow corduroy with the embroidered lion;
the faded white and green night dress.
She had remarked on the drawstring
she had sewn into the bottom,
how it was still there,
and the fold-over sleeves to keep me from scratching myself
as I slept in my crib.

My white shoes, too —
laces gone,
but still with their impossibly stiff soles;
my grandmother’s blue-and-white Canton ware,
wrapped in the 1975 Daily News
from Bowling Green, Kentucky.

That night,
just before I left,
we sat on the basement couch flipping through
faded Kodak prints, square with rounded corners,
(most taken before we moved into the house on the hill).

We paused at one where I wore that night dress,
standing with my sister
in the deep darkness of an evening east window.
There were others, too, from that forty-years-ago,
and she told me again about each one.

We had such fun, she said,
such fun.

Six

Ophoto
 
he knows now how to read.
he won’t pass through kindergarten again.

he won’t bring home another packet of sight words,
tape them to the wall
over his largely-unmade bed,
lie in the darkness,
read them by flashlight.

that moment,
that emerging,
that world,
that lifetime,

that he-and-I
is gone —

and I want it back.

Buddhism might one day free me from suffering, but not from being human. If anything, I feel my joy, my sadness, anguish, loneliness and contentment more acutely. Buddhism promises the possibility of welcoming each one. It has taught me, even, to welcome my attachments, to not run away from even my clinging.

My relief from suffering, when it arises, comes not from stoicism. Instead, it arrives when I allow the joy and dukkha that are the essence of fatherhood to be together. It comes when I turn and face them both and say, Yes, all of this. This is now. This is fatherhood. The wanting and the letting go. This is love. This is it. All of this. This is it.

I Walked in the Woods Today

I walked in the woods today
far under scattered clouds —
though it didn’t make me a boy again.

No dog by my side
circling ahead and back,
no sense of wonder at where I might emerge.

Patches of snow from an indecisive December
lay astride the path and filled in hollows.

Straining for the distant sound
of my mother’s voice
calling me in from play,
I heard only birds calling.

Nearly a month from moment to paper, when everything but renunciation seems a struggle.

Touching the Heart Mind

In a few hours time, I’ll be seated on a zafu and zabuton at the Temple, where I will sit for sesshin until Monday, rising for dokusan, sleep, kinhin, and to serve meals.

Outside, the sun will set and then rise to shine through autumn-colored leaves while small animals collect winter food. Cars and trucks will move down the road in front of the Temple as people inside them tune radios, make phone calls, and converse with friends and family.

Farther away, my wife and children will shuttle back and forth to soccer games and gymnastics, laughing, running, probably arguing too. We may take tea at the same time, not seeing but perhaps knowing.

Each of us will chase thoughts before stumbling upon moments of rest. We will cry. We will take breaths and release them, feeling the air around us, shouting and whispering.

Summer Evening Wandering

Company is coming,
so I wander from room to room
putting things in proper places.

The night air is finally cool
as it drifts through the children’s windows —
I find reasons
to return magazines,
makeshift duct-tape wallets;
to drop off bracelets,
baby food jars filled with water and glitter.

I linger in each room,
the dim and waning light
shadowing small bodies as they sleep,
then turn toward the hallway
and the softness of an old
incandescent bulb
we can’t let go of
shining on the maple floor.

Five

The arc on the old swing is short
and the set rocks uneasily
from so many seasons
in the snow and rain.

He has known it
for all of his five years,

but now runs to it less often,
lingers not as long.

Just the other day
he asked me for a push,
one he doesn’t need anymore —
a big one, he said,
and laughed
as he rose and fell
straining back,
reaching upward.

The blue sky was clear
and closer than it used to be.

Completing the set with companion pieces Ten and Almost Eight.

Dukkha and the Essence of Fatherhood

A few years ago I attended the funeral for the father of a good friend and colleague. My friend’s father had been an important public figure, serving as a Justice on the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Many speakers at the service described his important contributions to civic life.

When my friend stood up to speak and remember her father, though, she talked about dinner. While her father held an important position, she noted, and worked almost fifty miles away (no small distance in Massachusetts traffic), he always came home for dinner. She described how he always seemed to make it to his children’s sporting and school events – and my friend has nine brothers and sisters. I came away that day and in the years since thinking a lot about his example, about the effort he had made in his life to be present for his children and family.

Days like today, I feel like I have utterly failed to live up to that example. My son has a t-ball game tonight. But here I am, at work, waiting for a meeting. Not there.

Again.

I’ll arrive home later and find him asleep, his glove tossed aside on the front porch, his uniform crumpled in the dirty clothes hamper. In the morning, I will ask him how his game was, but I will feel a certain emptiness when I do. Then I will drive off to work as he pours cereal at the kitchen table.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I had made different choices, pursued a career that would allow me to be more present, to be home with my wife and children. But maybe this isn’t simply about my career choice. I am reminded of my friend’s father; he was a Justice on the state’s high court, after all.

So I wonder, what am I doing wrong?

There is a possibility that the answer to this question is quite simple: nothing. This nagging wish that my life were different is real. It is raw. It exemplifies the dukkha, or suffering, that Buddha taught comes from attachment and that characterizes so many moments of our lives. My impulse is to try and fix it, to take it away, to do something about it – and perhaps I still can make different choices in my life.

First, though, my Zen practice reminds me to meet myself right here and now. Zen reminds me of the possibility of sitting with this disappointment, this regret, with the wish to be something or be somewhere for my children that circumstances prevent.

Perhaps, in the end, this regret and disappointment are simply the essence of fatherhood.

Not every moment, surely. But right now, behind my desk, imagining my son reaching into his glove to throw the ball he just caught, his determined grin cast in a direction that I cannot see.