Your father wasn’t just a boy “back then.” He’s one now, too.
I’ll do it as soon as I replace this toilet paper roll. Where are the nail clippers? I’ll do it as soon as I wash the dishes. And look at these floors. I’ll clean them first.
I’d felt mundane chores take on new or unnecessary importance like this before when laziness made me procrastinate. But this was wholly different. This was fear. I was about to hear my father’s voice for the first time in nearly fifteen years.
To plan this phone call we had exchanged a few emails throughout the month and those were our first communications since I was barely a teenager. His voice was the one thing about him I couldn’t remember. I could recall my father’s green eyes, the truck he drove and, of course, that he was left-handed. I could even remember many of his words verbatim. But not his voice. It was the one thing that memories and photographs hadn’t seared in.
As I sat in my Bangkok studio so too sat the dishes and the still half-full roll of toilet paper. There comes a sliver of a moment when the stress of leaning into a decision but not making it is worse than whatever stress the imagined outcome may bring. It could be bungee jumping or a marriage proposal or officially resigning from a job. Speaking with him on the phone was that moment for me. What to say? Where to begin?
Over the years I’d thought of him in seemingly every conceivable way and under the influence of seemingly every emotional state. I even wrote of him in a book. So I leaned the final lean:
– Hey Dad. It’s Cameron.
There was a one second pause of silent choking up, the breath of raw emotion–
– Hey Bud. How are ya?
What followed was father and son speaking for the first time as man and man. It was tender, it was real, it was surreal. It was his astonishment at my adulthood. It was my astonishment at the gentle and childlike curiosity in his voice. It was the meeting in the muddled middle, that terrifying and necessary place where the magic of growth often happens.
A week later, at Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh’s mindfulness retreat, I was guided at 5am through a 60-minute seated meditation about fathers. He spoke of how if we felt suffering and pain from our parents it was because they didn’t have the tools to transform their own suffering and pain and instead transmitted them to us. He spoke of “interbeing” and how we all have little children within us, how our parents are within us even at a biological level and how trying to purge rather than embrace this often only leads to more suffering. Here’s an excerpt of the first 10-minutes:
– Breathing in, I see myself as a 5-year-old child.
– Breathing out, I hold that 5-year-old child in me with tenderness.
– Breathing in, I see the 5-year-old child in me as fragile, vulnerable, easily wounded.
– Breathing out I feel the wound of that little child in me and I wrap it with compassion’s warmth.
– Breathing in, I see my father as a 5-year-old boy.
– Breathing out, I smile to my father as a 5-year-old boy.
– Breathing in, I see how as a 5-year-old child my father was fragile, vulnerable.
– Breathing out, I feel compassion for my father as a 5-year-old boy.
After the meditation, I jotted this in my notebook:
There goes my father
as a 5-year-old boy
down into the meadow.
I am there too.