Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World


Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World

Is Malachi your first child? I’ve known a few men, including myself, whose “eyes were opened” to the total interconnectedness of the world both in its physical dimensions as well as in the psychological and ‘metaphysical’ ones (depending on how you define the intuitive and non-material dimensions one can experience but not put into words), by their awakening to first fatherhood.

It is because of my concerns for the wellbeing of my children, now all adults, that I made my efforts to do more than just “make money” or “do my job” or “be successful” or just “have a good time.” I’ve seen some profound transformations of character for the better in men who fell in love with their first fatherhood and who saw the actual wonder of the little beings that had been entrusted to their care. I find such examples very heartwarming.

As infants we start out shamelessly and blamelessly grasping for all our needs, wants and desires; and as we grow older we slowly expand our horizon of concern to others — that is most of us with any decency. For some men, as I’ve noted, that expansion can be sudden and profound with their becoming fathers. Such an awareness and care for an other can then expand into a concern — the Buddhists would call it compassion — for the rest of humanity, especially the young, the helpless, the struggling, the unlucky and disadvantaged, the poor. And for those of us with such an enlarged feeling of compassion — some call it socialism — and who have a reasonable degree of personal security in this life, we can express that feeling as political attitudes and activism: from ‘do-gooder-ism’ to manning the barricades of “revolution.”

Sometimes our acting on the impetus of our extended compassion can help bring about real practical improvements to the lives of others beyond our own family members. But certainly not always, and for many of us not often at all. But such efforts are worthy even when impractical and failures because at least they elevate our own personal moral character, improve our own personal behavior, and such improvement even when “inconsequential” and “invisible” to society beyond our own families, or even beyond our own minds, is nevertheless a contribution of goodness to the civilized world because it at least represents an absence of negativity that we could otherwise have manufactured and emitted into the wider world. To put this mathematically, contributing zero — neutrality — is always better than contributing negativity: harm, degradation, parasitism.

But, it is always more than zero because: it feels so rewarding to extend good to others; it is so satisfying to extend love to those we care for. The emotional “reward” is intrinsic in the act of giving love, not in “getting” something: attention, praise, “gratitude,” or ego-gratification. The radiance of love is all in its giving. And the giver gains by the improvement of his character, which is the afterglow of that gifting of love.

And that experience is what can sustain you during the inevitable hardships life will toss at you. Individually, our lives may turn out to be “failures,” even luckless tragedies, but in those moments when our minds are not overwhelmed with racing thoughts while dealing with some crisis, we can reflect on the instances when we reached the peaks of cosmic consciousness — unseen by anyone else — while caring for our children, especially in their youngest years, and we can recall those instances of profound satisfaction that we gained by enacting our compassion and love — what the Buddhists might call “merit” — and feel justified in this existence however indifferent or even cruel it might be for us at the moment.

So, while I would certainly be thrilled to have been able to “change the world,” or even know that one action of mine made some small yet definite contribution to a significant societal advance and improvement, I can’t let the fact of this being quite unlikely to cast me into total despondency. As fathers we each know at least a few people whom we can help make life better for, and that is all the difference between despairing about human life, and celebrating our conscious experience of it.

In the Jungle Book stories by Rudyard Kipling, the various animals and the wolf-boy Mowgli who would acknowledge each other’s existence with respect and in some cases affection would say: “We be of one blood, ye and I.” And that is the essential and primordial reality of Life On Earth: the Buddhist “interconnectedness of all things,” the Gaia of the ancient Greeks and now of the Western New-Age Romantics, even the biodiversity of the deep environmentalists. This realization is as old as our species, our modern homo sapiens ancestors during the Ice Ages painted it on cave walls in France and Spain, and without doubt our remotest primate ancestors knew this even before they mastered the use of fire. Alan Watts said: “Man is something Nature is doing.” Awakened fathers see in the wonder of their children a reflection of themselves as expressions of that totality.

So, yes, we can all easily grow weary — “old” it’s called — contending against the selfishness and stupidities of people, the inhuman tyrannies of enslaving economics, and ultimately our flames will go out for lives are finite. But we each can experience some of what is authentically eternal, the totality of being, just by being good fathers and caring people. And that is all the difference between “saving your soul” and having a satisfying life, or of having a thoughtless, soulless existence lost to money, things, ego and materialism, and of dying without ever having experienced really being alive and profoundly aware of it.

I know Malachi will enjoy his day at the beach with his father.


2 thoughts on “Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World

  1. My email to Manuel, fostering and provoking the thoughtful response above. Thanks Manuel.
    Norman T

    Hi Manuel
    Good to hear from you. I was watching Planet of the Humans for a second time as I got your email. Robert Hunziker had it in a recent article. I had exactly the same response and thoughts after watching it. Then, I watched and read the critiques offered. I found these even more telling.
    I’m tired. This shit storm we have for a presidential administration is beyond belief. Yet, I do see it as a trend that has remained unchanged regardless of who occupies the white house. Quite frankly, I have simply drifted away from the vast majority of my family and friends over this issue of politics and the idea of sustainability. I have tended to be by myself, whether living on my sailboat or living on a private island, yet social bonds always remained important. Now, at 61 I just don’t give a shit. I am fully content with my wife and child and living in a relatively unspoiled tropical marine environment. Unspoiled in a local sense, of course. The water is crystal clear, the bush untrammeled, and there is little development going on at present.
    The one thing I want to say, Manuel, is that there is an even deeper cause of our disconnect. It is, I think, best captured in the word “presence”. Perhaps best summed up by Baba Dioun. “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. And we will understand only what we are taught.” But, I would take it even further. I fear, I truly fear, that we no longer feel, or can feel, the rhythms and cadences of the earth. We are, from living in cities, simply unable to understand, let alone know they exist. These essential bonds have been usurped by religion and other human created memes. Not only has it been educated out of our heads, but now, we don’t even have the minimum connections that would show up on the radar screen. Too many people now live in cities and no longer know, feel, live and breathe the harsh, medium or even the finer details of our living world.
    Now, more than ever, I can see this light, and especially the adage by Dioun. Daily, I take Malachi to the beach and along the shoreline. We swim each day. On the way over to the island last evening, our last trip over for the weekend total lockdown, we saw 3 dolphin cross our paths. We altered course and stayed with them for about 5 minutes. One, quite interested, stayed, swimming around our 13′ Whaler and coming up to see us. This is impressive to a 5 year old. Of course Malachi wanted to jump in and swim with, and ride him as we idled along. Right now on Victoria Point Cay, which we have entirely to ourselves, there is an explosion of blooms. The gumbo limbos, the sea grapes, poisonwood and about a dozen other species flowering with some of the most magnificent tropical smells around. Yellow crowned night herons, white crowned pigeons, ducks, green herons, plovers, and a whole host of others are currently nesting. We have dozens of conch crawling right up on the beach, we are catching starfish, sea urchins, octopus, gathering sand dollars and and lots of shells. As we drift in the kayak we are followed by large bonefish. Painstakingly, I am trying to instill a strong sense of wonder, while teaching him the rhythms of the tides, the sun and moon cycles and turning the learning into activities that are fun. At 5 years old, that seems essential for him. He has unbridled enthusiasm for all projects. He wanted to build a waterfall yesterday, so I used a perfectly channeled cedar tree together with PVC pipe and we made a waterfall that went right into a deep well dug into the rock.
    Here is my fear. That immersion, that presentation, that experience is nearly nonexistent today for the western world. I’m not talking about environmental studies, or academic expertise. I am saying that we have, as a consequence of specialization I suppose, have completely removed ourselves from the living world. Too may live in cities and are removed form our biological roots. I can’t even suggest we are animals anymore, for my Christian friends don’t want to hear that. I am trying to keep a foot in both realms. I try and spend a few hours a day keeping up with the news, politics and other affairs of men. I am tired. I find honesty in only one realm. That s the realm of nature. I am to the point where I am disgusted, that’s a strong word but apt, of having to spend a minute of my time considering the juvenile actions of a vile human being who is president of the US along with the millions of people who still support him. It makes me sick, truly.
    So, I am on my way out of spending any time on the stupidity that is engulfing the US, the world.
    Too many of us are living in cities, no longer taught, let alone experiencing what is the only true miracle around us, the living world. I no longer even have the energy to type out the responses to Republican and Democrat bullshit and the idiocy of seemingly most Americans now.
    It is 6:30. Malachi should be up any minute and my day will be just beginning.
    I was raised with a strong sense of obligation. For country, for family. It is disheartening to see a failure. And, Michael Moore put it right. Here we are, 50 years later and it seems like we have failed at our life’s work. That of educating and instilling a passion for what we love. My own home state of Florida is dead. Finished. My soul feels it because for 50 years I have poured my heart into learning, experiencing and writing in an attempt to heighten awareness and share my love for this once brilliant place. I’m tired. Have I mentioned that?
    Thanks for listening. Time to go.


    Norman T

  2. Excellent posting, Manuel. I identify entirely, having had my world expand after the birth of my child. It’s clear that Trump, who boasts about never having changed a diaper, regarded fatherhood as proof of potency to his admirers and as an opportunity to pollute the world with his own kind.

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