I have to laugh at myself. I have stayed up late the last two nights. I kind of over did it, and kind of ran myself into the ground in order to deliver a sermon with the message of "Easy Does It."
The title of this sermon is “Good Lives For Dads, ” and I offer it as an early Father's Day gift. It is my hope that it will be useful to anyone interested in applying an “Easy Does It” attitude to our lives.
I am not a Dad. Nor am I an authority on fatherhood. What I offer comes from my knowledge of the power of belief systems, and my personal struggle to overcome oppressive and dehumanizing beliefs and habits coerced into males. I will highlight some religious and cultural belief systems that have enforced rigid gender roles, but also insights that have brought more ease, peace and happiness to my life and improved quality of connection in my relationships. My hope is to assist dads to move beyond systems of force and coercion in order to be able to enjoy greater ease and closeness in their families.
One of the reasons I appreciate ministry is that I get to teach about things that I really want to learn better. Sometimes I turn up the heat on myself by sharing things from wisdom traditions that I have barely begun to put into practice, and once I preach it I feel compelled to try to live it.
This topic has been one of those challenges for me. Imagine the paradox of accepting the challenge to allow life to get easier. I don't want to give up on what's important to me.. I do want to find ways to make my path a joyous journey. I have been known to have a passion for living. There are moments in most of my days, when I feel so excited that I can't contain it. There are moments in most of my days, when I feel such gratitude for the life I get to live. And truth be told there have been plenty of moments in my life when I felt like I was enduring a tortured existence. Some went on for days and weeks. It is this personal knowledge of misery and happiness that motivates me to learn to give myself an easier, more peaceful and joyful existence.
As a UU, I claim and raise up our cherished ideal that we are here for lifelong learning. I celebrate our willingness to learn, to be inspired and shown new ways of doing things that will bring us more ease, more joy, more peace, more fun, and more gratitude.
Are you with me so far? ... Any of you dads and the rest you willing to learn to have more ease, fun and joy in your life? What about power ? Do you want more power in your life? Tell the truth, does power sound easy to you?
When we were children, who looked powerful to us? Adults, right? Teachers, parents. Maybe we looked forward to the day when we would be the one with a paycheck. We grew up and became adults. Some of us went from being students to being a teacher or professor. Some of us became a tower of power and authority also known as Dad or Mom. Some of us accepted powerful positions such as (radio voice) board member of the church. So, when we accepted these mantles of power, did our life get filled with ease and joy and peace? Did life become more fun, less stressful, more filled with gratitude? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Despite the burdens of responsibility, I have often heard parents express gratitude for the blessings that their children are to them. I have also heard much anguish from parents. I have never met a parent that didn't experience some regret, some sense of wishing they could have done something better for their children's sake. One thing I've heard repeatedly from parents is that you are never completely ready for parenthood, that it puts your shortcomings right in your face. And that can be tough to live with.
Assuming positions of power and responsibility doesn't necessarily make us feel powerful. Power and ease may not seem to go together. However, when we can transcend our ego, when we face the limitations of our belief systems, when we seek spiritual solutions to our problems and become willing to connect to the abundance of the divine source of life, the interconnected web of existence, then power comes flooding into our lives and we welcome it.
The problem is that we have considered power from perspectives of alienation. We have learned think of ourselves and our group as being in competition with other people. We don't want to them to have power over us. I don't want "you to have power over me." We may have experienced life as a power struggle.
Sound familiar? Any parents here ever get into a power struggle with their children? Any parent here ever feel stressed, maybe when you go out into public, because you feel a pressure, an expectation that (authority voice) "you are supposed to be in charge. You must control your children. What's the matter with you? You weak, wishy-washy, liberal loosey-goosey mommies and daddies?! Are you afraid to show your kids who is the boss?"
Moms, especially single moms get a large serving of this too. But for Father's Day, we are focusing on Dad for a bit. Dads get their very own flavor of this stuff. Anybody from my era remember the name of the prime time animated tv show starring the voice of Tom Bosley? (pause) It was "Wait till your father gets home" Sung: "Wait till your father gets, wait till your father gets, wait till your father gets home" Said (dramatically) Wait till your father gets home.
Yeah, when Dad gets home, you're gonna get it.
In the old days, it was the Mom's job to provide the nurturing. Mostly it was moms who did any sweet, lovely dovey, kiss the boo-boo things. Dad's job? To provide, to keep safe, to set things straight, to lay down the law, to administer punishment, to be the force that ensured there would be order. For several of my peers, the phrase “wait till your father gets home,” brings to the fore the memory of "the leather belt." Dads didn't actually have to get the belt out very often. The fear of getting whipped was often enough to keep kids in line. And there were lesser punishments; such as privileges being taken way, extra chores assigned, or getting grounded. Usually, it was Dad's job to decide, declare and enforce these punishments.
In my home we played a different game. It was called "We won't tell your father about this.” Even though it plays out differently in each of our families, culturally, historically, dads have faced a lot of pressure to do the dirty work. It's been considered part of being a real man. Growing up in this world, a boy gets the message loud and clear: To be a real man, you have to do the tough jobs without complaining. You have to be willing to sacrifice yourself for your country, for women and children. The abundance of men who fell short of this were slackers.
I'm not saying the old stereotypes were all bad. There is something beautiful and noble about giving yourself in service of something greater than you. At some point most of us have counted on or wished we could count on the man in our life to buck up and do whatever needed to be done to take care of the situation. However, you haven't always liked the way men took care of the situation, have you? And some of the things that guys think they “have to do" are pretty horrific. Many of the time-honored ways to be a real man, have succeeded in establishing order, but have done so at a very high cost.
I've noticed that people often defend violence, force and coercion with language that suggests a lack of choice. People who resort to violence are often compelled by a perception of having no better options. Violence begets violence, through a contagious compulsion originating in an perception .of having no choice. “You have to learn that there are just some things you have to do.” “I don't want to do this, but I have to.” The implied but rarely stated message is that “I have to make you do what you don't want to do. I don't want to do what I am doing, but I have to do it, I have no choice.” This loss of freedom is at the heart of the force and violence that gets passed from one generation to another.
"Son this is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you.” When I was a child I thought such words were nonsense. Now I know there was some truth to them. Most Dads didn't enjoy spanking or giving punishment. These were the only options that dads knew. Now I know times have changed significantly, but not entirely.
It's been tough for the last couple generations of men. We have faced shifting expectations, unclear expectations, contradictory expectations. But thank Goodness that things are changing. It may be the premier lesson of our time, the shift from power-over to power-with.
Men, I know that you the have contributed and are a part of this paradigm shift. One way you can support continued forward movement is to talk with other dads. Tell them what you have learned about parenting with connection, compassion and ease. Please also find peers to tell about the places that you still struggle and fall into the old familiar patterns of domination & force. You know the way you lose it sometimes? You think you are the only one who does that? No, your friends sometimes sound and act that way too. Progess needs us to learn to support each other. It is simply more of the conditioning that tells us that we have to figure it all out by ourselves.
Although I am not a dad, I have learned some spiritual principles that Dads also find helpful. The two most important things I've learned to practice are compassion for what is and courage to believe it can be different.
Compassion for what is If we want to change conditions for ourselves and others, we need acceptance. Without acceptance, we will be at odds with ourselves. When we can't accept ourselves, we can't see ourselves clearly. Then we aren't able to get a good look at what needs to change. Instead we are busy using force against ourselves. We think that we should be different, and we lose touch with the divine source of life that exists inside of us. At odds with ourselves, we lose touch with what we really want. We lose touch with our deepest values.
One way to begin to accept ourselves is to realize that we have inherited a lot of hurt, a lot of blindness, a lot of beliefs that limit us, and to realize that we have done the best we could do with it all. We inherited patterns of domination and alienation given to us with the momentum of generations going back thousands of years. Think of all the stereotypes of men being dominant, having to be in charge, having to be strong, needing to be the good guys, having to do it all by ourselves. Then realize that you are not the originator of any of these patterns.
Courage to believe it can be different Our cultural beliefs have become our habits. However, right now, we are completely free to believe whatever we want to believe.
When we are feeling depressed, guilty, shameful etc. we are simply carrying on the ancient tradition of trying to influence ourselves through force and punishment. There are other ways to change behavior. Become clear on what really matters to you. Declare an end to the war you wage upon yourself, and discover what is inside. Discover what you actually, really do value. When we know what we value, when we are clear on that, we are going to find ways to move toward fulfillment.
We can change beliefs in a second. Believing that you can't change, that change is hard, those are just ideas. We can change our ideas & thoughts. We can do it in a second. We can do it right now.
Our culture has been shaped by beliefs that to be good we needed to do battle and conquer the evil that is our nature. Our society has been built upon these assumptions, and the attempts to dominate nature have taken us to the point where we have compromised the ecosystems that supports our lives. We have polluted the air, the land and the water.
The good news is that the force of life that created us is not separate or removed from us. We are one with the forces that created and sustain life. We are one with that source. Nature does not need to be dominated. Our nature does not need to be conquered. We need only to discover our nature, our connection to all that is eternal, to all that is. We need only to discover divinity within our particular form. Then we will see ourselves and our children differently.
And when we stop believing that we must do something to be okay, to be important, to be good, then we will stop separating ourselves from the support that is all around us. When we stop thinking that we need to figure everything out ourselves, and realize that we can trust something greater than ourselves, then power will flood into us.
When instead of having to use force and domination, we trust the beauty that is inside of us and all living beings, we approach the world with awe and wonder. We will meet ourselves in our humanity as if for the first time. And with peace in our hearts we will teach only love to our children, to each other and to ourselves. We will remember what we value, and we will teach our values through example. We won't worry about outcome, but will trust that we shall reap what we sow. We will know and remember our inherent worth. We will know and remember the inherent worth of our children. We will teach this to them with our every word and our every deed.
Oh sure, we will make mistakes. We will notice that some things didn't come out the way we intended, but we will find new ways to guide our children because we will find ways to guide ourselves with love. We will remember what is true about us and about our children, and the truth will set us free.
These blessings already are.