For those that don’t know, I’m a husband, a proud parent of a 15 month old boy, and expecting another little one in September. To say that my Buddhist practice and my family are linked would be a colossal understatement.
It was just a little under 2 years ago that we found out we were going to be welcoming our first child into the world. This was about the same time I was starting to discover Buddhism. At first it was all about how I would be one of the “cool dads” and what to name our child, and what we would feed him and all kinds of hippy-dippy head-in-the-clouds thoughts. But I’m glad we spent those few months fantasizing about what life would be like when Corbin finally arrived. It was a nice escape from the blunt reality that would follow.
Because the reality is, from the moment I first held our son in my arms, I became responsible for him. I became responsible for his upbringing, his well-being, happiness. I became a part of his moral compass. Suddenly, I realized that I would have to be his Father, much like mine was to me.
What does this mean from a Buddhist perspective? At the time, much of my Buddhist knowledge came from studying the 4 noble truths, the 8-fold path, and the 5 precepts. Easy (or so I thought) concepts for a beginner, and I think a good starting point. I learned quickly that Buddhism emphasized “right speech”. So, no swearing, disparaging remarks, no spreading rumors about friends and family. That isn’t the type of language I want my son to learn. But I was going to do that anyway. I didn’t need a precept or guiding wisdom for that.
I found out that Buddhism speaks of “mindfulness”, and the 5th precept talks about not becoming heedless. Yes, I am a home brewer, and I do enjoy craft brewing and beers. But I also know that I don’t want to be hammered around my children. There are few worse examples I could set for my children, and few worse lasting impressions I could make in their fragile minds. But I was going to refrain from such things anyway, I didn’t need a precept or guiding wisdom for that.
Buddhism speaks about compassion, and loving-kindness. Given current trends, my children will grow up in a world that is becoming increasingly divided, inclusive, and individualistic. The answer to this is more compassion, more loving kindness, more reverence. This is something that I was going to teach through example anyway. I didn’t need the Dharma for that.
When I look at all of the values I want to instill in my children, when I look at the type of Father I want to be as an example to my children, I see that it already lines up with Buddhist practice and the Dharma. When I look to the Dharma, I find that it is an intrinsic expression of what we value as “good”. I’m not equating everything “good” with the Dharma here, but I do find Buddhist values to be naturally syncretic with my approach to Fatherhood . I have to be mindful when I speak. My son is learning a few new words every day now. It would be so easy for me to slip and utter a few 4-letter words (which I have done) and for him to copy and repeat what I’ve said. I have to be mindful in my actions, for he learns through my actions the same as my words. While I knew these truths beforehand, I didn’t fully realize them until I was forced to put them into practice.
I am still a dharma-noob, a Buddhist novice, whatever you may call it. So a lot of my practice is involved with learning. Lots of reading, engaging with others, lots of contemplation. As such, my official practice is informal and sporadic. The one thing that keeps me focused and involved in my practice is my family. I touch my family more deeply than anything else in life (as they do me), and as such I see the need to practice greatest there. It is a daily test of compassion, and patience. There are victories and failures (usually more failures) to be sure. Through my new Buddhist “lens”, I’m able to learn lessons from each and apply them in a way that is meaningful to me. My family helps to develop my practice, and my practice helps to develop my family.