My wife and I have been blessed with four lovely children. Early in my role as father, I vowed to do my utmost to help our children realize life's most precious lessons and to instill core values. I thought I was going to be their teacher. I soon learned it was I who was in training.
Since my children were born, I have practiced Zen meditation. Zen invites us to be "awake" and "present" in each moment. What better way to practice "beginner's mind" than to spend time with children? Children are not yet conditioned, lost in an array of dead concepts and ideas. I will always treasure their joyful teachings, and life's simple wonders they helped me wake up to. My life is filled with incidents where my children helped me see things differently.
A while later, it was Jason, our oldest child, who requested more cookies. I felt they had all had enough and said no. The next time my hand dipped into the bag for another cookie, Jason looked up at me and asked, "How many cookies do you get Dad?"
The children all looked at me awaiting my reply.
"Hmmm," I said, "Actually I never count how many I have." I then put all the cookies in a large bowl and let everyone help themselves.
I was not teaching by example. If it was unhealthy for them to eat too many cookies, then I too should be moderate. And if it is OK to indulge from time to time, then so be it for everyone. There are many times that incidents with my children reminded me to practice what I preach.
Jason had a bunk bed in his room and was laying on the top bunk. The bottom bunk, his brother's, was vacant. I entered his room and climbed onto the bottom bunk. Soon, Jason's face appeared aside the top bunk, looking down at me. He asked, "What are you doing in here?"
Jason's eyes widened.
"Are you grounded too, Dad?" he asked.
Smiling, I replied, "Well Jay, being sent to your room is not about being punished. Rather, it gives us some time away from a situation that has gotten out of control. When you think we have been in here long enough, we can go."
Many times a child's perspective forced me to look at my actions and reflect on my own behavior. When I think of the many ways children helped me see things differently, one Saturday in particular comes to mind.
Early one Saturday, the two youngest boys and I decided to hike some trails in the country. My daughter and oldest son were off shopping with their mother. Raymond, our youngest son, spent most of the hike perched up on my shoulders clutching my hair. Bradley ran ahead. He always wanted to be the first to point out a hawk high in a tree, a fox running, or a turtle sunning itself by the pond.
Bradley picked up an acorn and asked, "Dad, what's this?"
Both the boys looked at me in disbelief. Raymond, curled his brow and said, "Noooo! That's not true, Dad!"
I did love to joke with my children. I always enjoyed their inquisitive looks as they tried to figure out whether I was kidding or being serious. But this was not one of those times. Bradley then held up the acorn and said, "Really Dad, what is this?"
I began to laugh. This made it even harder for me to convince the boys I was serious.
"Really guys, I'm serious, it's a nut, a seed. That's where oak trees come from. This tree came from a seed just like that one."
Still they did not believe me. Raymond scrutinized the small round object. I reveled in the wonder and puzzlement on their faces. Their disbelief revealed to me how complacent we can become with the natural miracles that surround us every day.
"It really is magical, isn't it?" I said. "It's a miracle, boys. I don't understand it either."
Later that afternoon, Bradley and I began to collect the tools. Bradley walked toward me attempting to roll up an extension cord. Suddenly he stopped. He looked toward the pool, our modest house, and the deck.
"Are we rich, Dad?" he asked.
"Come over here, Bradley," I said. "Stand up here on my tool box. Give me a hug, son."
My chest absorbed his rapid heartbeat as we shared a timeless embrace. I can still remember the smell of his tanned skin. I said, "As long as we can do this, Brad, we are truly rich."
"You see, Bradley, if being rich depends on pools, decks, cars, and things, then it can be easily lost. Being rich is a matter of the heart, son. Remember our walk this morning and that snack under the old oak tree? That is as rich as I ever want to be."
Bradley went to fetch us some iced lemonade as I put the rest of the tools away. I took a deep breath and reflected on how wonderful my life was. Indeed, I was a rich man. I will always be grateful for the numerous times my children have helped me see things differently.