This I Believe

Jack - Kensington, Maryland
Entered on June 6, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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A Beautifully Imperfect Father’s Day

The Japanese have an understanding that I need. They call it Wabi Sabi. It is an awareness and appreciation for those things in our lives that are beautifully imperfect. Wabi Sabi is like the feeling that rises in us when we stand before a flowering cherry tree in spring and the wind blows. The blossoms fall from the branches like snow covering the ground with a poignant reminder that these sweet moments in life invariably pass away. I believe I need a Buddhist’s appreciation of impermanence more than ever this Father’s Day because our daughter graduates and we have to get ready to send our last child off to college.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am looking forward to my new parenting assignment. After thirty-four uninterrupted years raising three children, I will embrace the quiet freedom of an “empty nest.” As much as I love my kids, I do enjoy time alone with their mother. We have a life. We’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, walked the High Road to Great Falls religiously, and have even managed to sneak away to the beach from time to time. But even when we do, these Wabi Sabi moments take me by surprise as they did this past week when I saw a little girl running along the shoreline. Instantly I could picture our daughter doing the same as if it were yesterday and the memories of summers past overwhelmed me with a beautiful sadness.

I know these memories are treasures so I pay attention. In fact, I collect them. I often ask the other men that I meet for their best childhood memories with their dads. The stories that arise provide an array of images of good fathering. One man told me how his father brought him out to work on the farm each day when he was a child. At naptime this little boy would sleep on a blanket under the wagon and wake up to the sight of his father working the fields. He said that he believed his father could do anything. Other memories that I hear are about fathers and carefree moments uncluttered by work responsibilities – those days when time expands, our hearts lighten, and songs and stories rise from our lips. And of course, there are the memories of dads who gave their children the most precious gift of their undivided, open-minded attention in the midst of a childhood crises and showed their love in an unforgettable way.

These memories describe our fathering assignment perfectly. We are meant to be actively, emotionally, and thoughtfully engaged with our children in positive, meaningful ways. This has always been my hope, one that has guided my interactions with my children. But as I stand here looking at my daughter’s high school year book page and at the picture of her as a toddler clambering around the front yard with her brothers – the picture just above the one of her and her boyfriend – I am struck by how quickly this parenting journey has passed and how beautifully and sweetly imperfect it has been.