Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ignored by the lucratuve self-help industry ...

It's not there in the Rule of St. Benedict: What to say to your 5-year-old as you hold her hair back while she throws up every 20 minutes all night long. (Sorry about the throw-up reference in the first sentence, but hey, we're all dads here, right?)

I know it's not in there in the RB because I just fished my copy out of the attic and flipped through it. It's helpfully - even copiously - annotated. But there's not one word about being contemplative and a dad. Or being contemplative and a husband. Or contemplative and a homeowner (with a neighbor who just watched you stagger under the weight of two feet of fresh driveway snow without offering to lend you his Nascar-rated snow blower ... still trying to let go of that one).

So to some extent, we're writing our own Rule here, us contemplative dads. In my house, that means setting the alarm for 4:30 to get to the coffee pot (more staggering) before 20 or 30 precious minutes of centering prayer. It means trying to carry that barely-glowing ember of interior peace with me through the mundane welter of tasks just waiting to throw a bucket of cold water on it (envision a tribal shaman holding the basket of coals representing life vs. death over his head while crossing an icy river.)

Through getting the kiddo dressed and off to daycare ("How on earth did you get toothpaste there?")

Through an-hour commute each way to and from a high-stress job ("No, I'm not letting you into this lane, you should have moved over a quarter of a mile ago when this lane slowed down!")

Through arriving home not to my beckoning leather armchair but to a recipe for spaghetti pie (yum!).

Through putting the kid to bed every other night ("Dad, can we please read two chapters of Jack and Annie?")

All to finally reach (insert your best impression of a drum roll here): a half-hour of time before bed to spend with my wife to try to sustain our relationship.

And I'm sure plenty dads out there have it even worse (two-week retreat, anyone?)

There are days when that ember astonishingly, miraculously, grows, and I can relate to everyone and everything from that inner collected calm. Then there are days when I find myself snapping at the kid while trying to locate scallions in the back of the fridge ("OK, who moved my freaking scallions!"), and I realize that ember was a cold lump of charred nothing by lunchtime. And also days when I spend those 20 precious minutes already assaulted mercilessly by the dozen little demons who remind me of how far behind I am at work or the shrimp I have to pick up on the way home.

So it's pretty much that one-day-at-a-time thing espoused by the Desert Fathers, Zen masters, the folks who invented AA, and a few of the less annoying Hallmark products. Am I headed toward transforming union or bitter old age? God only knows. All I can do is keep offering God that tiny early-morning space to work with.

I do know that watching Maddie bravely endure an entire night's throwing up without shedding a single tear gives me at least a glimpse of what God can accomplish when it comes to empowering us to cope with the stomach virus or the two feet of snow life inevitably includes. The closest I can recall to Maddie complaining was her saying, "Dad, I need the bowl." Sometimes, it's good to have a bowl nearby. I'm putting that in the Rule.

- monk about town

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