Tag Archives: family

Entwined

Passing quickly in the morning
as you make lunches
and I rush to the car
isn’t what I imagined

that day we stood
in the old barn by the sea,

my hand gently touching yours,
and feeling every movement of the sweat
trickling down the small of my back.

Standing outside in the garden,
I didn’t notice the photographer
as we talked idly
between silences
about the softness of the rain —

though the pictures in the crimson binder
tucked up on the highest shelf
tell me he was there.

Let’s meet again in that garden,
where we can stand still,

my hand resting
on the laces that entwine
the back of your dress.

Touching the Heart Mind

Later today I will drive to the Temple in a likely swirl of emotions. I will leave my family behind for a four-day retreat, an opportunity that is a great gift. Yet I will be driving away from goodnight kisses, baseball and t-ball games, and chalk drawings on the driveway. Away from faces asking me why I have to go. I’ll leave behind my wife to pick up these pieces with grace and great generosity.

Sesshin, the name for extended retreats in Zen, translates as touching the heart mind. When I returned home from an eight-day sesshin last summer, the weight of this touching was almost too much to bear, too much to express. I wrote these words for my wife:

opening the door,
seeing each of you,
touching each of you,
tears not from missing you
[though how I did] --

but rising from a heart
once, twice, innumerably papered over
by each and every part
of our rushing lives.
a heart stacked upon
by ten thousand necessities
pressing down
on a space deep inside.

a heart now broken
open
so that the tears
streaking down my cheek
contain my whole life,
falling onto the rise of your shoulder.

Spring Haiku #1

deep night rain hammers
outside on the old tin roof —
blossoms arising

I drove home from work after midnight last night. It was my son’s eighth birthday. The cake from his celebration that I had missed sat half-eaten on the counter, surrounded by cards from his grandparents.

I haven’t had the time to capture poems and words lately, even as small snippets of them have run through my mind, my days. As I crawled into bed next to my wife last night, I heard the spring rain outside. For a moment, clarity.

Ten

Her ears glowed bright red
when she returned home,
newly pierced earrings
gracing either side of her
bright eyes and shy smile.

I wished that we had taken her picture
in the morning,
but we hadn’t planned
for this to be the day —
just gone ahead when she asked,
following through on a months’ old promise.

As I watched her through the kitchen window
my wife told me about how
brave she had been.
We reminisced about that cold winter
when we had walked her back and forth
between her bedroom and ours,
soothing her newborn tears.

She came inside to tell me
she had seen the first snow drops,
or at least their green shoots
peeking through the icy leftovers
of the latest storm.

That’s where I’m going to build my fairy house,
she told me.

She ducked back outside
and leaned against the post on the porch,
filling an old seashell with greenery,
her legs outstretched
in the pale sun and
whispering quietly to herself,
perhaps about the moment,
or maybe about
all of her ten years.

(A found companion piece to Almost Eight)

Coloring a Sunny Day

photo

Recently, our youngest son discovered a couple of large coloring books that had been tucked away on some basement shelves, unused since we got them years ago. He has sat with them several times for long stretches, simply coloring, tongue planted in his cheek just the way mine was as a boy when I was deep in concentration.

One afternoon this past weekend, he cleared some space at the kitchen table and asked me to sit with him while he colored. He chose a scene with a cowboy riding a horse, and worked carefully in crayon to make a sun in the corner of the page, complete with rays spreading out from a bright yellow center. I watched as he then colored a large swath of the sky, coloring blue right over the yellow sun. I wondered if he intended it that way, or if he was just caught up in the enjoyment of the blue. The answer came a moment later when I noticed him take a black crayon and make a scribble over and over the sun, and then slump back in his chair, dropping the crayon to the ground.

I thought this would fix it. It was supposed to be yellow, he said staring down at the sun, but I did the blue on it. I thought this would make it back to darker yellow, but it just ruined it.

He exhaled deeply and looked at me, then half-heartedly scraped with his thumbnail at the blue and black that covered his sun. The contentment that I had felt in sitting with him faded into sharing his deep disappointment.

What if we make it a cloud? I asked. It was the only thing I could think of.

Okay, he said.

I picked up the black crayon and traced an outline around the sun. There, now you color it in, and it will be a nice dark cloud.

He took the crayon from me and did just that. The black cloud looked a bit out of place in the otherwise bright blue sky, but he picked up a brown crayon and went back to coloring the cowboy riding his horse. I quietly exhaled in measured relief.

Until he started to cry.

But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad.

I was completely and utterly helpless. He had been enjoying our moment as much as I had; I was sure he had been enjoying the idea of his picture too, the image of it he held his mind. Now neither one was the way he wanted it to be, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Remembering his attempt to scrape away at the crayon, I thought of getting my wife’s sharp pair of sewing scissors to do the same, to reduce that paper to white, to give my son the fresh start he wanted.

Perhaps it was the scissors that gave me the idea of drawing a new sun on a separate piece of paper and pasting it on top of the mistake. I wasn’t sure he would like the idea, but he agreed and drew a new sun on a white piece of paper. He asked me to color in the blue so he wouldn’t go over the rays. I worked carefully and then had him finish before we glued it on. He was happy with it, and went back to the cowboy, the grass, and the fence.

Even though it turned out all right in the end, I can still hear him saying to me, through his sobs and tears, But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad. He had tried to set aside his disappointment – but he couldn’t. Instead, he surrendered to complete presence in the moment. No pretense, no holding back, no self-judgment. Isn’t that what we all long for?

Most touching as a father is that my son was willing to do this with me, and in this way expressed his complete love and trust. As an adult, experiencing and expressing anger, sadness, or disappointment in the presence of others is difficult for me. I have come to fear doing so.

Yet here was my five year old, showing me exactly how to do it right here, right now.

But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad.

Coda: In the days since, I have thought a lot about having fixed the drawing. I know I won’t always be able to give him the sunny day he wants. And I shouldn’t. But this one? I had to.

Almost Eight

I stopped at the top of the stairs
to wait for him
as he shuffled out of his bedroom,
sleepy-eyed and not yet steady.

He took the old walnut railing
with his left hand
as we walked next to each other
towards breakfast and the day.

His right hand reached into mine,
gentle and soft,
warm from his blanketed slumber.

He’s almost eight years old, I thought,

in fear of the day
when he won’t slip so easily
into sharing his space
or his hand
with me.

I tried to tread carefully as we went
so as not to disturb our clasp,
wishing the stairs might go on forever,
a father and his boy.

Fatherhood, Reality, and the Promise of Zen

I was excited to have the day off today, to spend some time with the kids in the warm comfort of our home while a bitter winter wind howled outside. With dinner time just ended, though, I stood on the front porch in the eleven-degree cold. Alone. In the quiet.

Back inside, the boys where whirling around the family room. They alternately laughed and bickered with each other about the rules to a game that involved holding your breath while running and seeing who could land sideways on the couch from the furthest distance. My daughter played the flute in the kitchen in unintended accompaniment, each note a bit off since my wife was trying to fix one of the keys on the removed lower third of the instrument. It had just been too much for me, and so I found myself standing outside. Breathing.

So much of the day hadn’t seemed to line up quite right. I was trying to make progress on a project that involved working the odd and inconsistent angles you find in a 19th century New England home. Our pantry has no door, and since the space was originally designed a literal ice box, well, it’s quite cold, and that chilled air rushes into the adjoining kitchen. I worked on reshaping a rescued antique door to fit, but between the angles and the interruptions, I didn’t get very far, except for breaking the hinge that I was trying to rescue.

There were a few of the peaceful moments with my children of the kind I imagine as I look forward to a day such as this. An errand out with one son, being asked by the other to sit on the couch and watch him draw, listening to my daughter make invitations for her brothers to an after-dinner episode of Word Girl.

But each fell apart in the chaos that inevitably overcomes a household of five human beings. Someone sits too close to another, complaints about household arise, frustration at the way the toy train tracks are coming together bubbles over, and a father who sometimes just wants a moment of quiet can’t find one and raises his voice. All of it like the angles and lines of antique door frames that won’t accommodate a partner.

Yet this is the great promise of Zen. Not a promise that it will all someday get better, that if I meditate long enough, everything will become free and easy. Instead the promise is that there is nothing to fix. Nothing to do. This is it.

That’s what I’m told. That’s the lesson that has been presented to me over and over and over – yet one that is so very difficult to grasp in the moment.

Shohaku Okumura wrote in his Realizing Genjokoan that “Zazen is not a method of correcting the distortion of our fabricated conceptual maps, but rather the act of letting go of all maps, and sitting down on the ground of reality.” I read this tonight as I prepared to sit and realized I have a lot of conceptual maps that preclude the difficulties I faced today. Perhaps I draw even more maps when I write in these spaces about moments of quietude and serenity; how much I write about these moments is disproportionate to how much I actually find of it in my daily life.

The reality of fatherhood is that it involves bickering, no matter how much I wish it didn’t. It involves having a child whose natural inclination and joy is found in a nonstop stream of talking, which doesn’t always line up with my own joy, no matter how much it endears him to me in late night reflection. It involves days that don’t go the way I planned, and the self-discovery of realizing I’m clinging to something that just isn’t there. It involves disappointing my children, who had their own ideas about what this day with their Dad might be.

Fatherhood is an incomparable joy. One that comes with generous doses of frustration, loss, and helplessness. This, too, is a truth I have encountered innumerable times, but one that is difficult to meet fully. Perhaps I have been waiting to get really good at fatherhood, just as we imagine we might get really good at meditation when we first arrive on a cushion.

But this is the same lesson, the promise of Zen that I have heard so many times. Now so clearly in front of my face that I have no choice but to hear it. There is nothing to fix. Nothing to do. Except get up tomorrow morning, sit with my children and pour them bowls of cereal, quiet breakfast time or not – and it does tend to vary.

Simple Day

The circles from our meeting
have rippled out
across the years,
growing faint for a time
from interruption,
and then stronger still,
rolling though seasons,
gardens and snows
and the voices of our children,
over quiet mornings
and hinted joy.

Let me kiss your forehead
and touch your hand,
look outward toward the sea
for just a moment
with a half smile —
another wave on this
simple day.

Worn into the Fabric

A pair of corduroy pants
sit folded on the ironing board,
their faded blue almost grey
in the early morning light.

They have passed in turn
from each of our children
to the next,
stories of young lives
worn into the fabric.

The ridges have been
diminished by the seasons
in places where they have bent
for a doll or a puddle,
or knelt for a story,
leaving nearly smooth,
but still patterned,
softness.

They are now too small
for any of our family —
yet my wife has pinned
a piece of cloth,
edges folded and ironed
neatly for sewing,
over a hole in the knee.

She’ll stitch them carefully together
one evening as we sit.

I haven’t asked her why —

perhaps she hopes our youngest
may wear them one more time,
or there is something else
her patching might repair.

A Winter’s Vacation

A long day apart
followed by another
will make these tender ones remote —

but late at night
passing an upstairs window
and caught by the moon
as it mingles with the dim street lamp,

I will pause,

and notice the overlapping snowshoe paths
behind the house,
evidence of our time together.