zenguitarguy

5 years later, the Return

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2015 at 4:04 pm

It is now 2015. My son has graduated from college and is out in the world working as an actor and circus performer. He owns his own car, pays his own rent and is basically his own man on his own terms. He is also kind and supportive and loving and possibly the best human being that I have ever known. We are very close and speak almost every day. Lately, as he moves more into the world as an adult, we have become even closer. We speak about the deeper things. The challenges and disappointments and the successes and transitions that Life presents. I do not live near him and that is still challenging. I miss being around him and seeing him regularly, and at the same time I am so grateful he is healthy and happy in the world.

Looking back I see the value of the sadness and grief that I experienced when my son left. I see now that it was a catalyst to help me re-focus my attention on myself and re-imagining my life as an individual adult. At the time the wound of separation was all I could see. The immediate sense of sadness and isolation and loss.

Looking back now with compassion I can see how many friends reminded me that this time would hurt, but that as children grow and individuate, they also come back. Often I heard that when they returned it would be even closer then before they left. This has definitely happened with myself and my son. In fact I have a deeper appreciation for his wisdom and insight now as he is almost 23 years old and responds like a caring and intelligent and emotionally available adult. I am beyond proud of my son and the man he is becoming,

All that said, I also know that the grief and transition were equally important. As a parent, especially a single parent, so much time and energy and focus is spent raising a child. They become the center of the universe, and rightly so! I know now that my life is bigger and fuller having been a Dad, and that the 20 years I devoted to that process was 100% the best possible thing I have ever done, but I also learned that Life takes you where you least expect it. By being able to turn my focus inward I became available to and also created a Life I could not have possibly imagined or foreseen. (I am not going all “Fried Green tomatoes” here…lol) I recently married a wonderful woman and am helping to raise her ten year old son, and so I get to do it all again!

Hopefully when it is my step-son’s time to go out in the world I will have the wisdom and perspective to move gracefully through it!

Wishing all parents everywhere peace of mind, healthy and happy children and the strength and compassion to pass through all the challenges that Life presents!

Men feel things too

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2011 at 12:38 am

If you are a man and going through “empty nest”, and feeling the emotional shifting ground, chances are that people around you are responding in really different ways. Women are given a lot of resources and outlet for the emotional aspect and impact, but quite often men are told to “get over it” or “just move on.”  What I experienced a lot was that most people were just bewildered that I had such strong emotions about it and wanted to talk about them. After all it is generally the women who have raised the kids isn’t it?

Ok, radical thought of the day; Men feel things too!! I know, I know, hard to believe given the cultural stereotype of the beer guzzling, football obsessed, disinterested dads, but here it is, men have feelings and they affect us just as deeply. I can say that the idea of my son leaving home and the idea of not seeing him on a daily basis simply broke my heart. The problem I had was that my son was my best friend, I absolutely loved being around him, and my favorite thing in the world was the time we spent together.

I remember as a kid there was a show called “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” and just how radical an idea it was that a dad, a single dad, could be raising a child, and all the hilarity and emotional upheaval that ensued.

Then the film “Kramer vs. Kramer” where Merryl Streep, in a fit of reversed mid-life crisis, leaves Dustin Hoffman alone to raise his son. Again the socially radical nature of the story and the transformational arc that happens when Dustin learns the life lesson that loving your son and having an emotional connection was not only important but precious.

I made choices when I separated from my son’s mom. Not to tour, or go out on the road. I was a career musician and sound mixer and I chose to be here, stay here, because from the minute I saw the sonogram of my son, I loved him more than anything I had ever loved before. My dad had been an absentee dad. It was what his generation knew. He had grown up during the depression, served in WWII at the age of twenty, and was taught that men are stoic and do their duty and just keep it all inside. (Now I want to be clear I am not a new age guy who cries at the drop of a hat. But this new phase really knocked the wind out of me and what shocked me was that absolutely nothing could have prepared me for it.)

So, what happened to me when he left? Basically I hurt. I hurt a lot. I hurt a lot for a long time. I looked for community. I read books. I meditated. I took long walks. I spoke with my son about the truth of what was occurring in my heart. We spoke honestly to each other. He spoke of his concerns for my well-being but at the same time he stressed how important it was for him to feel that he could go out into the world and know that I was 100% behind him and excited for him. I agreed.

The shift and the healing occurred as I began to see that my practice as a Buddhist was really connected with my ability to be a good parent. Here is what I learned; It‘s OK to not know what to do. It’s OK to feel really strong emotions and not do anything but let them be and feel them. It’s OK if no one around you gets it. It will pass, but right now all you can do is feel it. That can be a new experience for a lot of men. One that I think a lot of us really need.

My son is now just completing his first year in college. I am as proud of him as any father can be. My relationship with him is wonderful and also the best possible mirror for my evolution and growth as a human being. Everything about it so clearly shows up as a means and opportunity to move deeper into my own heart and the way I am as a man in the world, for which I am profoundly grateful. To know that it is ok that I feel things too.  Once again it is pretty obvious our kids are here to teach us to be more human, and what a tremendous gift that is.

May all parents who are passing through this transitional time move through it with ease and grace.

Embracing change

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2011 at 6:37 pm

So, empty nest has arrived at your house, your kid is leaving and now you have to decide what you are going to do. It happens fast. One minute your life is entirely about chasing schedules, getting the kid(s) where they need to be, being where you need to be. The next minute you’re looking at this grown-up person who’s telling you they’re leaving home to move way and go to college and your heart is breaking. (I realize this is just one possible scenario but for the sake of this article I’m going to assume that your child has left to go to college and is not staying home or joining the Army or any of the other myriad possibilities that could be occurring.)

As a Buddhist one of the principal tenants of my spiritual practice is the willingness to unconditionally accept change. In fact the denial or the unwillingness to accept that all things are impermanent and subject to change is described as one of the primary causes of suffering. The Buddha talked about three marks of existence and the first thing he pointed to was the nature of impermanence and the resistance to change (anicca).

Look at pictures of your child as an infant or as a toddler and imagine how, through the vagaries of time and space and change that tiny little person is now this grown person standing in front of you! The truth is that the soul of the child that you love is the same, but the human being in front of you needs to leave and embark on his own journey.

So, what did I do when empty nest arrived? Well I got sad, and mad and confused and overwhelmed and then ultimately I was forced to make a decision. I had to choose to accept the truth of the change that was happening or live in a really wounded denial and possibly damage my relationship with my son. The latter was unacceptable to me. So I chose the path of acceptance and an open heart.

I was going to have to start really practicing non-attachment. That doesn’t mean disassociation, or disconnecting and withdrawing. In fact quite the opposite. It means I was going to be willing to accept things as they are and stay with that truth and the feelings that came with it, no matter what. To embrace what was true and have as much compassion for myself as I could possibly muster. My Zen teacher used to say “Be kinder to yourself than you think you should be.” So every day I would shift, just a little bit more, and as I did the situation, and more importantly my relationship to it, changed, it opened.

By choosing consciously to embrace the change that was occurring, to recognize that every stage of parenting is a willingness to acknowledge and open myself up to the truth of impermanence, something fundamental shifted. Kids grow up, you do your best to give them love, teach them about being good human beings and send them out in the world with the best possible tools that you can. When they leave it hurts, a lot. There is no remedy, no formula, no instruction manual, just willingness. Willingness to be available and humble and learn what’s being taught.

I choose to embrace the change because I have literally no idea what the next moment will bring, but I do know that every step I take with resistance keeps me farther from the truth of what that moment could possibly be. Open your heart, embrace the change, trust that life is offering you what you need most. It’s not really an ending, even though it feels that way, it’s just a new place to go to together.

May all parents who are passing through this transitional time move through it with ease and grace.