To role model true compassion, we need to give up ownership of our children.
Recently, I’ve been shedding my role as the father of my two sons. I find this movement both liberating and nostalgic—full of love, yet tainted with longing.
Let me be clear. I am still a primary guardian for my sons. I see them every other day, play with them, sleep with them, and hug them. The role of father that I am forsaking is that of ownership. As Byron Katie says, “ownership is a myth.”
Some of you may be familiar with Kahlil Gibran’s poem, “On Children,” which starts:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
When I was single, I used to give this poem to new parents. What a fool I was. When we really take these words to heart, parenting becomes one of the biggest challenges of our lives.
I noticed the need to drop the illusion of fatherly ownership one day on the soccer field. Seven year old Jett was playing in a division with older kids. One kid knocked Jett down, scored a goal, and ran around Jett with his arms stretched back like an airplane.
At that moment, I hated this kid. I wanted to tell Jett to use his Kung Fu skills to front snap kick him in the head. As a father who has vowed to raise compassionate boys, the hypocrisy in my thoughts and feelings made my heart ache.
I realized that true compassion sees no bloodlines. If I wanted to role model compassion for my sons, then I needed to cultivate compassion not only for my friends and family, but also for strangers and enemies—sometimes in the form of cocky eight year old soccer players.
Research done by Brooke Dodson-Lavelle reveals that parents feel a lot of compassion for their child if he or she gave a speech in school and failed. When these parents, however, where asked how much compassion they would feel for another child who had given a speech and failed, but had bullied the participant’s own child, the responses were all over the board.
As parents, we know that children don’t always do as we say, but usually do as we do. So if we want our children to be kind and compassionate, then we need to be kind and compassionate, and not only to our own children.
In order to embody this ideal, I’ve started a new daily practice. Whenever I pick my sons up from an activity like school or sports, I look at the other kids as manifestations of the divine, even the ones who seem to be treating my sons unkindly. I try not to see my sons as angels amongst a bunch of little devils. I look into the eyes of all the children and try to see their true nature that is full of love, joy, compassion, and kindness.
Much like looking into the eyes of Darth Vader when Luke Skywalker finally pulls off the black mask and helmet, I realize that there are no real bad guys, only confused angels who know not what they are doing.
Since my daily practice consists of only thinking these thoughts in my mind, I know that this is a pretty small act, but as my friend Audrey Lin says: “In the end there is only kindness. At the end of the day we are all going to go, but what stays behind are those small acts.”
Of course the next step is to not just look at children in this manner, but also adults, politicians, police officers, felons, and suicide bombers.
Photo: Kozo Hattori