Fatherhood and the Concept of Legacy
It has only been recently, mostly I think, as a result of becoming a father, and realising what a massive responsibility this is, that I have truly come to understand and appreciate the concept of “legacy”. Before that I was so intently pre-occupied with the wonder of my own (or other people’s) navels that I barely gave it a thought.
I would never have admitted it, but, mostly, all I cared about was finding ways to “feel good”, be it through romantic relationships, interesting work, stage performance, alcohol, meditation, adventure, sex or what-have-you. All very well, but somewhat lacking in big picture consciousness: the fact that we are here in this Life to help and look after each other, the Earth and those who will come after us, not just to mindlessly seek pleasure.
Perhaps this is just a more grown-up way of seeking pleasure: discovering a need to feel good through living an upstanding life, but truly, I think it is deep need that must be met. I cannot be happy unless I am living as the best person I can be (and always improving what that means) and I cannot succeed as a father, partner, friend, relative and member of society unless I am happy. The Dalia Lama says (I think it was him) the purpose of Life is to be happy. And he’s right – imagine if we were all happy!
A happy person does not become a despot, an abuser, a war-monger or a thief. On a smaller but more common scale, a truly happy person does not have dominant habits of criticizing others or indulging in behaviours that cause harm.
A happy person is not afraid of death, but looks it square in the eyes and says “Come what may; I am at peace with the Universe and myself, and I know I am walking a righteous path”.
Personal evolution seems to move slowly sometimes and even as my daughter came into this world, it still took time to come to this more conscious point. It’s not like your child just pops out and suddenly you go “Whoa – that’s it: I have completely changed as a person as of this moment”.
Well, maybe that happens for others, but it wasn’t that way with me. It really took one and a half years (of generally pretty loving and responsible parenting, I would like to give myself) to really start to ‘get’ the nature of the beast; to start to even get an inkling of why so many other dads seem so serious. Why they wouldn’t come out to party with me. Why they put up with their mundane-but-respectable jobs that they were obviously bored with.
I still don’t 100% agree that it’s the best thing for our children to be so damn serious and caged-in all the time (too fear-based), but I do now understand why they choose to be this way: legacy. They are extremely serious about leaving a legacy of having done the right thing by their children, and this is their way of doing so, and kudos to them.
Like A Dad in the Headlights
Once I came to appreciate the concept of legacy, I was instantly smitten with the darkest self-loathing and anxiety I have ever experienced. After years of pretty much embodying the first card in the Tarot deck – the light-hearted fool – suddenly, I discovered that (gasp!) I cared.
Suddenly everything mattered a lot more than it ever used to – especially everything I personally did and said.
A good thing right?
But nevertheless, this scared the crap out of me and I promptly shut down.
Not that most people could tell from the outside. After all, I had too much to do: a toddler to rear, bacon to bring home and passions still demanding to be expressed – but inside – I was a deer in the headlights.
Habits Are Hard To Break – Until You Break ‘Em (then they’re easier)
So my first reaction: I decided to change some of my self-indulgent habits – and then promptly re-discovered that habits are, in fact, extremely hard to break – until you break them, that is. Then they’re pretty much broken.
You can break your bad habits. I’ve done it (smoking). People do it all the time. But that doesn’t make it easy.
Here’s a trick that worked for me with smoking – you have to associate more pain with the bad habit than pleasure. If you can genuinely do that, then it “just” takes applied strength and patience with yourself. Easier said than done, I admit, and yet to be proven in other areas of my life.
Many times I have woken up with a hangover or otherwise fallen short of my own new-found high-standards and proceeded to beat myself up mercilessly about it for days (and maybe that helped) but now I am kinder on myself. I guess I can afford to be as I look back over the past year or two and see a real positive progression. I’m no angel, but I am a hell of lot happier with myself than I used to be and getting better all the time.
Yep, I am coming out the other side. And in contrast to my initial catatonic state, I often feel positively loose and limber with the belief that whoever we have been in the past, we can choose who we are going to be today and in the future.
I used to be a fun, but self-centred kid; now I am a fun, but family-centred man, corny as that may sound.
Anyway, all of the above is pretty much a spontaneous ramble. I didn’t sit down to write an article but rather to write a list of what I would like my legacy to be, so here goes:
I would like people to remember me – actually no – stop. Let’s rephrase that.
I would like people to know me now and remember me after I am gone as:
A man who puts others and his responsibilities first.
A man who is always looking for ways to help others and to make powerful contributions to the positive evolution of Life on Earth.
A man who forgives others.
A man who tries to be the best man he can be, and who tries to better what this means every day, but who can forgive himself, ask for and accept forgiveness when he lets others down.
A man who refrains from unhelpful criticism and instead uses his words to encourage and build others up.
A man who believes that anything is possible – and who actively goes and proves it.
A man who is in awe of the Great Mystery of Life and who does not take life for granted.
A man who has found God and, in doing so, inner peace.
A man who chooses to be happy and feels free to do what makes him happy so long as it does not cause him to harm others or neglect his responsibilities.
A man who believes that there are two paths to choose from, the Path of Love or the Path of Despair, and who chooses the Path of Love. A man who may sometimes lose his way or stumble, but who always gets up, returns to and continues down this path, towards the Light.
A man who knows that whoever we have been in the past, we can choose who are today and who we will be tomorrow.
A man who laughs every day.
A man who is truly grateful and gives thanks everyday for his abundant blessings – whatever guise they come in.
A man who has conquered fear and left it powerless to hold him down.
Pretty epic huh? And in truth, if I dropped dead tomorrow, I wouldn’t expect anybody to be spouting this stuff at my funeral, I’d rather they just said I was a good bloke and got on with the party. Regardless, when I stop to really think about it, that’s where my values lie.
I can’t claim to be the walking embodiment of everything in that list from moment to moment, but I give it a go, and every day I get better and better.
The last one about conquering fear really is the clincher – many of us are so in the grip of the negative, fear-based spin pummelled at us every day by the media (who have a lot to answer for) that truly, the best thing you can do for the world is to skip the infernal, incessant news updates and go create something beautiful, something that helps people feel better.
Screw the Path of Despair – choose the Path of Love and enjoy this wonderful life.