Mad Dad, Glad Dad

Richard Kiyasaki wrote about two dads in Rich Dad, Poor Dad and how the lessons learned from them shaped his life. Today I write about an angry father, and a happy father and the ongoing lessons I’m learning from them.

It was the fall of 2012, and hockey was starting again. I dragged my equipment down to the arena for Sunday shinny and the inevitable razzing. You see, we had just had kid three the week before, and I knew I was going to catch (cheerful) holy hell from the guys.

“Another kid, are you nuts?”

“What were you thinking?”

“You’re out of your mind, I could never have a kid at our age, I wouldn’t have the patience.”

It’s that last one that got me thinking. You see, while Al couldn’t imagine having kids after 40, I couldn’t imagine having them younger. I remember my 25 year old self, and I would never have had the patience to have kids in my 20s. I barely had the patience at 40, and the mistakes I made would have been 10 times worse.

What changed?

Sure there was the inevitable slowing down. Get enough years behind you and you find you’re not in as big a rush to get to the next big thing. Your career is more developed, you have more money, and you’re not pounding the extra time to get that new job, next promotion, whatever.

But that’s really not the big thing.

I began a serious practice of yoga, and by that I mean three to four times per week, when my second boy was about a year old. At that time I was neither a happy man, nor a particularly good father or husband. In fact, my wife and I were pretty much on the fast track to divorce.

What changed? Short answer, I did.

Instead of running for exercise, I began going to Bikram Yoga classes three or four times a week. Bikram Yoga is pretty much self-torture. I mean, nobody makes you go. The teachers tell you, if it gets to be too much, take a knee, or lie down. Everything you’re doing, you are doing. So, you spend 90 minutes exercising hard, in 110° heat, and 80% humidity. In the beginning, you can’t concentrate on anything more than making it through the next posture.

You’re not thinking about your workday, the week ahead, your plans for the weekend. You’re not worried about tomorrow’s hockey game, or kid one’s allergy appointment, or kid two’s pediatrician appointment, or yesterday’s fight with your wife. Your entire existence is the heat, the humidity, the stress, the strain, the pain, the pounding heart, the heaving breath. The universe is a 6’ by 3’ slip-n-slide you created with your own sweat, and all you want is to get through the next 30 seconds.

Remember when I wrote about getting rid of stress? Exercise and meditation.

Remember when I wrote about sleep deprivation? Stress reduction/cortisol busting.

Remember when I wrote about moodiness? Stress reduction and proper sleep.

Remember when I wrote about learning to let it all go. To allow the process to unfold, and let the future take care of itself? Oh, wait, that’s what I’m writing about now.

Yoga teachers will tell you that yoga is transformative, that you will create a new you. Just yesterday I quoted Bikram Choudry:

You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from scratch once again.

I never believed it. I’m not one for the mystical mumbo jumbo you get in yoga. I believe in physics, chemistry, biology. Funny thing is, it doesn’t matter if you believe the mystical stuff. It doesn’t matter if you just come for the exercise. Why? Because it’s true. It transforms you physically, and it transforms you mentally. Whether you believe it’s because of physics, chemistry and biology, or the universe whispering in your ear doesn’t matter. Yoga transforms you.

Yes, I gained several pounds of lean muscle. Yes, I dropped an inch off my waste. Yes, I got stronger and more flexible, and stopped pulling muscles. But although that stuff is great, and it’s what brought me to yoga, it’s not what has kept me there. You see, while I was transforming my body, I was also transforming my mind, my whole self.

When I began this practice, I was impatient, demanding, snappish and short. With toddlers. I love my boys with all my heart, but I just didn’t know how to be a good daddy to them. I couldn’t ask my wife for help, because we couldn’t talk to each other without fighting. Like I said, fast track to divorce.

But a funny thing happened. The summer rolled by (this all started in May), and my wife, who had started a regular practice a month before me, and I could talk. And when one of the boys did some little boy thing, I saw no malice, no intent to bug daddy, I saw…a wonderful little boy exploring life.

The change wasn’t instant, and the change wasn’t easy. But by going into the yoga room I learned to let go.

  • Let go of what is out there, you don’t need it in here.
  • Let go of expectations, you are today what you are today.
  • Let go of anticipation, what will come will come.
  • Let go of yesterday, it’s gone and you can’t undo the past.
  • Let go of the wrongs done to you, carrying them saps your energy, does you no good and has no effect on those who harmed you.
  • Let go of the wrongs you did, carrying them saps your energy, does you no good and has no effect on those you harmed. All you can do is ask forgiveness from a true place of contrition, and try to make good.

Most of all, in learning to let go, I learned to forgive. Yes, I learned to let go the wrongs and forgive others. It would be a huge part of what saved our marriage, but forgiving others wasn’t the hard part. I learned to forgive me. When I was short with the boys, I hated myself. I beat myself up. But all self loathing and self flagellation do is add to the pile of stress and unhappiness. They give you a greater burden to carry, and don’t do any good for those you wronged. Before I could get good with my boys, before I could get good with my wife, I had to get good with me.

I had to let myself be human, to make mistakes, to fail, to learn, and to try again. And guess what, the Bikram sweat box is a great place to do that.

The yoga room is a great leveler. There’s no competition, you’re not trying to be better than the person beside you. You’re just trying to be the best you can. Hell, you might just be trying to survive the next 10 seconds. If you’re busy beating yourself up for skipping this posture, or for not getting that posture perfect, or for not doing the form as well as that guy beside you, if you’re busy beating yourself up for what you are not, you’re missing out on what you can be.

I was missing out on the magic of my little boys’ childhoods, and I was missing out on being a daddy to them. Through hard work and sweat, I learned to let go of the past, of what might be, and learned to love what is. And along the way, in learning how to be the daddy that three amazing little boys deserve, I am learning how to be deserving of the three little boys I have.

Sometime last year, when I was mucking about with our youngest, my wife looked at me and said, “You know, (kid three) is getting the best of you.” She didn’t mean it in the sense that he was pulling a fast one, but that he was getting the best Daddy. Yoga transformed me from Mad Dad to Glad Dad, and every day I try to apply the lessons learned to all of my boys, so that they all get the best me.