Father's Day, Redux
I'd like to wish all of you who are Fathers out there a happy Father's Day - I hope that the day has been one of relaxation and joy.
Last year I wrote a short piece on both the joy and dangers of how we celebrate Father's Day (and Mother's Day). I have reproduced it here below as I feel it is still very relevant, no matter who you are and whether or not you have children.
I also wanted to let you know that I will be taking a few-week break from sending out these messages as I will be traveling. I am planning that my next 'Metta Letter' will be sent out the weekend of the 19th of July. Just a reminder that if you would like to read more of these in the meantime then we keep an archive of all the essays on our website. Also, you can find all of the fully-guided audio meditations on my Soundcloud account.
I do have some interesting topics in mind for future letters, including understanding the teachings to householders that I mentioned the other month. As part of that I hope to be exploring the question "Would The Buddha play chess?" Some of you may already know the answer to that one (spoiler: No he wouldn't), but what we should take away from that is a little more complex and nuanced. This is an area that is fascinating to me at the moment.
Thanks to all of you for your continued readership, it really means a lot to me.
This Sunday is Father's day, a day I look forward to for several reasons - it's a day I get to spend with my family and also one on which I fondly remember my own father.
But - and this is a big but - Father's Day is a day where we need to be careful. Unfortunately nowadays, like all holidays and celebrations, the day has been commercialized and idealized. The commercialization is obvious - that it is yet another compelling reason to buy stuff now! - but the idealization is probably the more sinister aspect of it.
What I mean by idealization is that the media and advertising around us tout one, single 'right' way to think about your relationship with your father (of with your children if you are a father). That there is an ideal we should all assume. That there is one and only one way to celebrate - usually by giving your smiling, loving father an expensive piece of electronics or a new grill. What the fluff news pieces and advertising don't acknowledge is the complex and highly individual nature of our relationships with everyone, especially our closest family. Of course this isn't only true of the idealization of our relationship with our father - in many ways the idealization of Mother's Day is even worse. Freud would have a field day with modern advertising copy!
While everyone biologically has a father, not everyone has known him. For those that have known or do know their father the relationship may have been wonderful, painful, traumatic, distant, loving, or - very often - a complex mix of those things.
The important thing here is that all of our relationships are deeply complex and personal. When we use broad brushes to define them, or when we make assumptions about how they 'should' be we can marginalize, alienate and hurt those whose experience doesn't match the prescribed standard.
In our metta (lovingkindness, goodwill) meditation we learn to practice meeting people where they are - not with assumptions about how they should be but where they actually are right now. If we approach someone who is suffering then we generate compassion. If we meet someone who is joyful we share in their joy. And we have the wisdom and equanimity to understand that this is how the world is, that people experience both suffering and joy, and that all these things are impermanent.
So I would encourage you as we celebrate the holiday to recognize the richness and complexity of our relationships. If your own experience with your father includes painful elements have compassion for your self. Don't assume those around you have cookie-cutter relationships with their close family, and be prepared to meet them with joy, compassion and equanimity.
Below you will find a fully guided audio meditation following on from the above ideas of generating metta for the people you will meet - wherever they are.