As some of you may have gathered from my recent postings and tweets, I have been trying to navigate through a family conflict, in particular with my father. Sadly, he told me (on Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, no less) that he never wants to speak with me again. I am not very good at discussing my personal problems (funny how much easier it is to discuss the Dharma when it is abstracted from daily life), but as a dear Sangha friend recently told me, “the raw emotion of real life is where the mind moves the most.” So I am going to try share my feelings and thoughts about how I am trying to work through all of this in the hopes that it might prove helpful to others who may one day face a similar situation. It’s probably all wrong, but it’s my honest best. At the very least, I hope clarifying my own thinking by writing it down will prove therapeutic in bringing a little peace.
I don’t even know where to begin. I am sure my explanation is biased in a number of ways, but I will try explain things as “objectively” as I can. Please forgive me in advance for that. This is also unfortunately a bit of a long story, but the spiritual lessons I have learned from all of this lie at the end and for me it has been worth the trouble.
My parents got divorced when I was one year old. My father is (was) a Doctor and made a ton of money. My mother was a beauty queen. If truth be told, my mother left my father because she thought she could “do better,” and if she didn’t do so soon, she would lose her beauty and it would be too late. My mother later started dating this high-powered lawyer, and he eventually proposed to her but said he didn’t want my brother and I around. My mother couldn’t bring herself to do that, so she said no. She then had to get a job as a secretary and basically spent the rest of her life deeply scarred by the whole experience.
My mother’s actions, quite understandably, upset my father quite a bit – that’s an understatement, he hated her for it. As a result, he refused to pay anything more than the absolute, absolute minimum in child support. He had good lawyers who made sure he didn’t have to. Sometimes we didn’t have enough money even for heat. Meanwhile, he is flying around in his private plane and cruising on his private yacht. My mother hated him for that. She was part jealous of all his money, part bitter that she found herself a poor, single mother working as a secretary (when she could have had it all), part guilty knowing it was her own mistakes that led her to this fate. I spent my entire childhood with my parents hating each other, taking each other back to court fighting about money, and being made to feel like I had to choose between my two parents – my love of one viewed as a betrayal of the other. For whatever reason, my brother always had a very close and loving relationship with my father (first son, and all that). I looked like my mother, and thought more like her too. The legacy of this has echoed throughout my life.
The big problems in my relationship with my father began over payment for my undergraduate studies. The last time my mother took my father back to court was when I had just started high school. Part of the settlement was my father would have to pay for our college expenses. My father had only allocated enough money to send me to a middle of the road public university. His logic was “I put myself through school and I went to a State college. If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” But I managed to get into a very expensive (but very good) private college. The money ran out after two years. The problem was in the United States the financial aid rules are such that if your parents make money, you are not eligible for financial aid. To get around this, my father had to write to the financial aid office basically saying he was disowning me (so I could take out student loans) and I had to graduate in three years instead of four. None of my other classmates were going through similar problems. The families that had money, paid; the families that didn’t, got financial aid. I had to cut school short and, to be honest, I felt cheated. My father could have easily paid, he just chose not to. He said it was to teach me responsibility. I was a straight-A student, succeeding in my every venture.
Like all recent graduates, I struggled financially at first. My now wife’s family was there for us, and largely picked up the slack helping us stay on our feet. They were incredibly generous. But when my father sent her family a bill for some minor dental work he did on my wife, I blew a fuse. I basically told him everything I thought about how I thought his behavior was wrong – what he did in terms of child support and his not paying for college. My words had echoes of my mother’s, and basically ever since this time our relationship has been strained. He never forgave me, I never changed my stand that what he did was wrong, but I regret many of my word choices which were bitter and sometimes spiteful.
We spent the next 20 years trying to rebuild. While I still think he made a mistake when we were growing up, I forgave him and made the best of it. I tried to learn the lessons about self-sufficiency and personal responsibility that he wanted me to learn. During this time, he basically disagreed with every career choice I made – leaving law school, working in investment banking, leaving banking to get a degree in economic policy, working for several years at a job beneath my educational attainment so that I had more time available to be Resident Teacher of a Dharma center, then becoming a Professor of economics. He always felt I was making the wrong career choices and that I was irresponsible with money.
Seven years ago, there was a landslide at our house in Geneva, and as a result we had to use all of our savings for repairs, experts and lawyers. I also had to borrow a substantial sum of money from my brother (who had taken over my Dad’s practice when he retired) to cover expenses until we received compensation from the insurance companies for our damages (the lawsuit continues to this day). Five years ago, Dorje Shugden “arranged” for us to have twins when we weren’t planning on having any more children (we already had three at the time, bringing us up to a family with five kids). This was yet another example to my father of our irresponsibility. Shortly after the twins were born, while they were in the hospital with a bad infection that could have gone either way, he sent me an email accusing my wife and I of being “vagabonds” in life who are “living high on the hog on other people’s money (meaning my brother’s, who lent us the money to deal with the landslide lawsuit).” He has since consistently expressed dismay about us “living beyond our means” (we’re not), and making us feel guilty anytime we spend money on anything, such as going on a family vacation. Throughout all of this time, when he would make such accusations, I would spend many hours drafting respectful and carefully worded replies to try help him understand why his view of us was mistaken. As his son, it hurt me greatly to have my father think all of these things about us when we were doing the best we could to get by. In reality, I see now, I was very attached to both his approval and his understanding. I mistakenly felt my happiness depended upon him approving of us and understanding our life choices.
Every year for the last eight years my wife has brought our kids back to my home town for the summer. We would stay at my father’s place while he would go on his annual boating trip to Alaska. He would then usually see us for a few days at either the beginning or end of the summer, depending on the timing of his trip. We never once failed to express our sincere gratitude for him making his house available to us in the summer, explaining if he hadn’t done so we wouldn’t be able to come home and make connections with all of the family (I have about 40 members of my family – aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, etc. – in my home town). My father also owns a lake cabin which we enjoyed tremendously as kids growing up, and my father generously kept the cabin so that my brothers and I (and our kids) can continue to enjoy it. Unbeknownst to me, my brother had several years earlier began assuming the annual expenses of the cabin (maintenance, taxes, etc.) which ran into tens of thousands of dollars every year. When I became a diplomat, and my salary improved considerably, my brother explained what he had been doing and asked if we could also contribute since our kids were enjoying it throughout the summer as well. I explained that between the on-going lawsuit and the price of tickets to bring the family back every year we could only afford to contribute about 15% of the annual expenses. It was simply all we could reasonably afford. My brother said that was fine and he appreciated whatever we could do.
Two years ago, due to the timing of the school year, my wife and kids had to leave Spokane in mid-August. In order for my father to see them, he had to cut his boat trip short. He wanted to see them, but he also didn’t want to cut his trip short, and he wanted to make sure we knew how much he had to sacrifice “battling the elements to make it back quickly” to see us. There were, unfortunately, three incidents that my father misunderstood to be us avoiding him. He was quite upset (inside), asking himself, “why did I go through all that to come back, only to be avoided when I get here?” When I saw my father last June, he confronted me about all of this (before I knew nothing, except some murmurings from my brother). I found this difficult to accept. Basically, for the last five to seven years, my father has been “absent.” He has consistently forgotten our kids’ birthdays, never made any effort to invest in their lives and was often standing in judgment when he did engage with us. Nothing we could ever do was good enough for him. We had sacrificed tremendously, both financially and stress-wise, to come back every summer to invest in family. To spend 48 weeks in town over the span of several years to see family and then be accused of avoiding my father when in fact he was the one who was never in town was a bit much to swallow. I explained as such saying essentially he has been completely neglecting his role as a grandfather and we have said nothing about it, choosing to accept you as you are and to instead focus on the positive, but for you to then get upset at us for avoiding you is a bit hard to comprehend.
This summer, when it was time to make plans, he asked when we were coming. Due to changing countries and school systems, this summer we only have three weeks available right in the middle of when he is usually on his boat trip. When we explained our timing, he started getting upset again basically saying we should try come earlier if we can. I then sent him an email saying, “please don’t get upset, given the timing of the school year and movers, this is all we can do.” He then sent an email titled “here it comes” in which he lambasted us for our lack of gratitude and appreciation for all that he does for us, accused us of having a “perverted sense of entitlement” and “misguided sense of my birthright” in my use of his house and lake cabin. He accused us of being ungrateful, disrespectful and inconsiderate. He completely fabricated out of thin air some story about us showing disrespect for his wife when she got cancer (never happened). He said we were “mooching” off of him and my brother with our “token contributions” to the expenses of the lake. He belittled my wife for what she does, and then concluded by threatening if we don’t start showing him “the respect he is due” there will be negative consequences (meaning we won’t be able to use his house, etc., any more.
This was emotionally devastating for both me and my wife to read, much less deal with given that we are currently on opposite sides of the planet (she is in France this year while I am in China). Despite this, I really took my time to craft a reply in which I did not retaliate – at all – saying hurtful things in return. I once again tried to clarify we weren’t avoiding him this was just his mis-reading of the situation, we were extremely grateful for everything he had done, we were sorry if he saw things in this way, we were financially contributing all that we could to the expenses of the lake, and that all of this was quite hard to take against the backdrop of him being the one who has been completely absent from our kids’ lives for the last five to seven years. He then replied completely ignoring all of my clarifications, saying he was still “pissed” at us for mistreating him for the last 20 years. He said all of the emails that I had previously sent during this 20 year period were just “meaningless words,” because our wrong behavior remained the same. I felt like he had thrown away all of the work I had put in over the last 20 years to try rebuild our relationship after the college incident. It was gone, out the window. Again, I replied without retaliation, clarifying. He replied he didn’t know how I could be so “dense” and engage in such “idiocy.” I then sent a timeline, showing how things could have been different. Once again, he responded with spite saying he gives up.
A week goes by and then he sent an email in which he communicated the exact same message saying he was angry at us for our mistreatment of him, expecting a change in our behavior. But he did so with a decided change of tone, using nicer words. This was a revelatory moment for me. Every single example he had given us about our supposed mistreatment of him had been thoroughly refuted as being factually wrong, wildly exaggerated, completely misunderstood, etc. None of our supposed wrong actions “objectively” (or should I say conventionally) could survive the scrutiny of a little light being shone on them. Yet despite all of these clarifications, he simply couldn’t let go. In his mind we had wronged him even though he couldn’t explain how or why, and by my constantly relating to his accusations as if they had a basis in truth I was actually feeding a dysfunctional dynamic. I realized – quite vividly – that for the last 42 years of my life I have been chasing after his approval and understanding, and that my doing so was the source of all of my own mental pain with regards to this. I also realized I wasn’t helping him by assenting to his simply wrong view of us nor trying to chase the rainbow of living up to his expectations when he couldn’t even articulate what needed to change.
So I sent back an email in which I essentially said, “what are you talking about? None of what you are accusing me of actually happened, this is all your misperception of things.” I then held up the mirror of what he had done and said that if he has a problem with me, it is his problem, not mine. I will no longer chase after his approval or understanding. Either he accepts me or he doesn’t. I concluded by saying the solution here is simple – we both need to be happy with what does happen, not upset about what doesn’t happen. This is what I am going to do, and I invite him to do the same. But if he doesn’t, it is his choice. His reply was “have a good life, I will no longer be a part of it. Because of the way you mistreat me, I never want to hear from you again.”
When I received this, I quite clearly was struck with the understanding that his anger towards me is actually just, deep down inside far beyond any place he is emotionally or spiritually equipped to confront, his own guilt about his own failings and shortcomings as a father and grandfather. His obsession with money and his attachment to the fulfillment of his own wishes have caused him to neglect his responsibilities to his family, and deep down inside he knows it – and feels guilty about it, but he can’t bring himself to change his own behavior. When I refuse to assent to his narrative of what has supposedly happened between us, it forces him to confront this within himself. Since he is incapable of doing so, he lashes out at me. But what he is really lashing out at is his own reflection in the mirror which he is incapable of confronting. I realized I no longer need to chase. This actually has little to nothing to do with me (except, of course, it all being my karma). These are his own inner demons he is wrestling with, and I can’t do it for him. All I can do is understand what is going on, stop feeding the problem by assenting to his distorted view, explain to him that I love him anyways and leave the door open for him to come back once he has done this work within himself. But to enter into this dynamic with him of trying to prove myself to him and conceding that there is some cosmic injustice I have inflicted upon him when I have done no such thing doesn’t actually help him. And it certainly doesn’t help me, my wife or my kids to have to be subject to all of this unnecessary drama.
We sometimes take the Dharma teachings of “accepting defeat and offering the victory” or “not disturbing others” or “working to fulfill their wishes” too far, where in effect we are just feeding others’ delusions and wrong behavior. If we love them and we care for them, sometimes we have to say “no, enough is enough. I am not going to play this game anymore.” Gen Lhamo explains that we often sacrifice inner peace on the altar of outer peace, and we do so driven by our own attachment to not wanting to lose something in our relationship with the other person. Of course we shouldn’t unnecessarily antagonize others and we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, but when dynamics become fundamentally unhealthy and continuing with them is leading to an emotional black hole for all involved, we need to take a step back and take a stand. Doing so is an act of compassion. It is sometimes the only way to break the cycle of unhealthy dynamics. Compassion without wisdom is not helpful. Cooperating with and assenting to delusions – our own or others – always makes the situation worse.
It is hard when this happens with figures as important to us as our parents. Of course we need to focus on the good, and appreciate our parents for all that they have done and not be upset about them for falling short of our expectations. If I had a perfect realization of the kindness of my parents, this is what I would see. I shouldn’t fault my father for what he didn’t do, I should just be grateful for what he did do. We can always want and expect more, but when has that ever helped anything? But at the same time, loving and respecting our parents does not mean we need to cooperate with their deluded behavior, nor does it mean we need to be attached to their approval and understanding. Of course we need to be respectful, but ultimately our happiness does not depend upon what others think of us, including them. The story of Buddha Shakyamuni also poignantly reveals this. It is my attachment to his approval and understanding that prevented me for the last 20 years from realizing I had been trapped in an unhealthy dynamic with my father and I wasn’t willing to say, “Stop! I am doing the best I can, if you have a problem with it, there is nothing I can do about it. It is up to you to assume responsibility for your own feelings in the situation, as I have to assume responsibility for mine.” He thinks his happiness depends upon me changing my behavior. If I assent to that, then I disempower him from being happy on his own. I don’t help him by agreeing with this premise. While it can seem harsh, sometimes the best way to help somebody else is to tell them, “your feelings and your reactions are your responsibility.”
I don’t know where things go from here. But I am grateful that all of this has happened. I now understand his anger at me is actually coming from his own unacknowledged guilt and conflicting desires. I can’t do his internal work for him, but I can do mine. I can get myself to the mental space where I feel no animosity towards him at all, where I feel completely grateful for what he has done, not resentment for what he hasn’t. I can forgive him, love him, but still not cooperate anymore with his wrong narrative. I can also finally let go of my attachment to what he thinks of me and realize there is no contradiction between being a Dharma practitioner and saying, “if you have a problem with me, it is your problem, not mine.” Sometimes, not often, this is the kindest thing we can do. Even if saying so might mean the end of a treasured relationship.
Love someone unconditionally while not cooperating with their delusions. Finding the middle way is never easy.
26 thoughts on “My father never wants to speak with me again”
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this difficult painful time x
Oh Ryan, I found that very hard to read. I felt my heart drop when I saw the title those words alone nearly stopped me from continuing.
I have so much that I want to say to you. I have tears falling. I know they come from some identification that I’m experiencing with your experience. It makes me want to reach out to you and to wrap you in my arms and somehow take all of this away from you, away from your Wife and your Children. I have this longing to sit down with your Dad and help him too, help him to see how his own emotional pain is driving him to cut off his own limb. As a Counsellor I meet this kind of behaviour amongst families every day. As the daughter of parents who separated when I was 18 months old I have my own karmic legacy of dysfunctional family relationships and a Dad who lives at the other end of the country who doesn’t know his five children or his 11 Grandchildren and will face his death with so many regrets.
I bow to your faith in Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden and over and over again I have had the good fortune to learn from that faith of yours and have been helped and healed by it.
As my Vajra brother we truly share the same Spiritual Father who loves us without conditions and who will never forsake us, not even for one moment,nor any of our loved ones, including our earthly Dads.
We are so blessed, so fortunate and our Mental Continuum is being healed for as long as we keep our faith and our reliance tethered to our true Spiritual Father who needs nothing from us whatsoever but who can give us everything that we need.
Let us strive to become just like him.
With deep respect and affectionate love,
Deeply moved by your words and kindness. Thank you.
It takes a lot of guts to open your heart and pore out the hurt for others to see. I pray that one day things between you and your father get better. But it may be that you will have to respect his wishes, it doesn’t stop you loving him. Time may mellow him and with the help of the Buddhas the situation will one day start to get better.
Mark, from the UK
Thank you, this was an insightful post, and I can relate to a lot of what you say about dealing with your father. I think you are acting skillfully, and I imagine you are helping your dad; he will probably talk to you again; you are kind to him despite his selfishness. This was meaningful to me partly because I am myself estranged from my family; not in anyway out of animosity, but rather because my parents are unhealthy to the point of obstructing my dharma practice and my entire life. My father is an undiagnosed high-functioning alcoholic, never seen the man without alcohol in his hand from the time he gets home from work until midnight— weekends finds excuses to “drink socially” from about 12 noon on— abusive to us as kids— then also, always very tight with money (I am guessing so he could buy wine, beer, and hard liquors to drink every moment he wasn’t at work). Military guy– so I always as a Buddhist felt like you know, he was unaware of the karmas that brought him to this state or how to fix them— I honestly love my father very much— and I do a lot of Vajrasattva for him and my extremely neurotic co-dependent mother— I did have to leave them 7 or so years ago, and basically never go back because it has been nothing but interference after interference in the actual functioning of my life, to the point that I left, went homeless, and moved away from them (we lived in the same town). It is not easy for people to understand– all they ever say is you should reconcile you should forgive— there is nothing to forgive really at this point– I am grateful they gave me my precious human body’s landing spot on earth, and kept me alive; I am grateful for what they did to try to be good parents and I constantly pray for them that they will gain merits for raising a person who at least is trying to attain enlightenment. I am not angry with them, but it is not really functional sometimes— like if people don’t admit they have a lifelong drinking problem or are codependent/mentally distressed like my mother– if it interferes with our lives functioning to the point where we just can’t function at all in the world or be healthy, then it doesn’t work. I don’t advocate estrangement generally, but when I left them, it was definitely Buddha guided and blessed by the Buddhas; I think people have to be able to have a two way street, like one person can’t force another to accept alcoholism and other dysfunctional qualities, pretend that it’s functional; so I just want to say, thanks for posting this, because when I read this, I see how skillfully, in my opinion you interacted for years with a difficult family, after going through a lot and I rejoice in your being able to do all of that. I hope it will get better soon. Please don’t worry, I think your dad will come back to you because you have been so kind to him.
I’m sorry to hear about your struggles with your father. It seems to me if we learn from the mistakes we see in others and in our own behavior choose to respond differently then we may finally break the karmic cycle. But it definitely doesn’t help others when we go along with their seriously wrong behavior. Little stuff, we overlook; big stuff we don’t cooperate Ghandi-style. If they can’t handle it and expect us to cooperate with their dysfunction as the price for being with them, then probably better to pray for them from a distance.
Dear Kadampa Ryan, your words have helped me so many times in the past and it’s uncanny how this is appearing now when i need it. My brother just recently told me he doesn’t want to speak to me again! I got a letter from him a few weeks ago entitled “Final Letter” where he dumped a bunch of stockpiled grievances against me and other family members, most of which were imagined but based on a very long and convoluted family drama rooted in my mother’s suicide, my father’s infidelity, and his own extreme negativity since he was a kid (I think he’s somewhat autistic, though we didn’t have labels for that when I was a kid). I vacillate between having a huge heart of compassion for this person who has been unhappy and angry since I can remember, being angry at the unfairness toward myself since I had tried to reach out to him and was very fair to him in a big uproar between him and my sister involving moving my mother’s grave (!), and being concerned since he is a very angry right-wing guy obsessed with guns who particularly hates my sister. I asked my teacher and my counselor how to deal with all this. My counselor read the letter and didn’t think there was any immediate threats to himself or others – he was mainly expressing hurt – so I ended up sending him a compassionate response agreeing to his wish to stay away and sending love. I could go on and on about this, but i am so grateful for Buddhadharma that gives a different way of looking at things. I can step back from this drama and see how this person’s very sharp mind has been hijacked by delusions. I can see my own delusions hooking in and keep pushing back at my own habitual responses. Every minute is a lesson. I am also happy to be able to make prayers for all of my family members since that gives me a positive way to respond rather than getting mentally pulled back in the quicksand of the drama. So many of us have stories like this. I pray for every member of your family involved in your drama and hope you will pray for my family as well. It is a real relief to not buy into their issues anymore – as you say, not cooperate with an incorrect narrative. I’m so grateful for teachers such as my kind teacher and you who help me look at things more clearly, the Three Jewels, and especially to Venerable Geshe-la who has given us our amazing spiritual life. May we all be released from the bonds of samsara where this kind of thing happens again and again. Sending you and your whole family lots of love and good wishes.
So much wisdom in your words. Thank you. It seems many people have similar difficulties. Geshe-la has given us the Dharma. Our job is to now learn how to apply it wisely in all of our life situations. Kadam Bjorn said if we think things are complicated it is because we are probably complicating them. He said we should establish a simple framework of mutual respect, and then if other people violate it, we just don’t engage with that. Then we keep it clear “it’s their trip, not ours.”
Beautifully written. Courageously shared. Thank you xo
Hey Ry, Buddha Shakyamuni, Shantideva, Princess Mandarava to name but a few. Your story resonates and mirrors theirs. As I was reading this I thought about how Prince Siddhartha must have felt asking his father to please understand that he cannot follow the path his father wants for him and in time he will understand. Blimey, Princess Mandarava was thrown in a dungeon by her father because he so disagreed (understatement of the aeon) with her spiritual path. This story has been played out many times by spiritual practitioners in the past, it seems like a key feature in the tales of past masters’ lives. It’s almost like this happening is an auspicious sign. I always think of my dad as Heruka, not because he’s benevolent and kind and warm and fuzzy but because he’s this “monster” I love, ripping me from the comfort of samsara, giving me nothing to cling to as a safety blanket. I rejoice Ry, you’re spiritual path is going the same way our forefathers and mothers has, I wish no one suffered pain in all of this but for you, these are perfect conditions as you know. I don’t know how much you are aware of your impact on Kadampas around the world but you are talked about a great deal as being a source of inspiration to thousands of us. Thank you from the depths of my heart for that. I have such faith and respect for you and I also regard your wife as Yashodhara whenever you mention her. She is a real Dakini!
Peace out homeboy ❤
Your words brought a big smile to my face and warmth to my heart. Thank you.
Your patience and feeling of familial duty over all these years, your whole life with your parents really, is impressive. I hope that this enforced space from the situation now will really help you to feel you can let go, move on, live your own wonderful life, and stop living in their shadow. That your father pushing you away ends up being a blessing. I know you will be able to help him later.
Hi Ryan. It’s true that indulging other people’s delusions is not cherishing them, but harming them. I don’t know how you managed to put up with him for so long. We all certainly do live in our own worlds and yours and his certainly did collide! I pray that there will be resolution in the future, but in the meantime I pray that you and your family find peace. Love Chris
Dear Ryan, I am so sorry you and your family are individually suffering so much–you, your wife and children, and your father, mother and brothers. Samsara is so relentless. No matter where you turn, there is nothing but absolute torment. Like Buddha has said, it is like we are caught in a thorn bush. I truly pray that all of your sufferings end, both temporarily and permanently.
Your approach towards your father up until now has been compassionate and admirable, and a display of some wisdom. To meeting your father’s actions without retaliation and expressed anger shows a lot of restraint and love on your part. That is wonderful. But I wonder whether some additional wisdom is needed to help you accept if not overcome the suffering–wisdom that I know from your profound writings you already possess.
The first wisdom is emptiness. You know that all this has been a complete creation of your mind. Your mind has been doing nothing but appearing it all–your parent’s divorce, your childhood and all its difficulties, every moment of your adulthood and all its trials and tribulations, your father and all his behavior, and even your own difficulty and suffering with it all. It’s all a creation of your mind. First of all, everything is appearing from your karma. Through your own delusions in lives past, you created the causes for it all. You have been the exact kind of father your father is now. Despite great wealth you have neglected providing adequately for your children. You have felt great guilt over that such that you acted it out in the same way your father is acting it out throughout your adulthood. None of this is about your father in this life. This is all about you. This is about what you did to others in your past. The fact that this is all happening to you right now–that this is been acted out for you using the appearance of your current father–is actually all wonderful. It is you purifying all those harmful actions you performed in the past. At the very least, you’ve got to just accept it. Or you can rejoice in the purification. Rejoice that the karma is not ripening in a hell realm, where it probably would have, given the increasing nature of karma, and were it not for the precious human life you have now taken.
The second teaching from emptiness wisdom is that there is no father out there, outside yourself. There is no father out there that doesn’t want to speak to you again. You’re just appearing him. You’re just appearing everything. It’s all just a bunch of waves on the single ocean that is your mind. Don’t get so wrapped up in the surface turbulence. It will pass. It’s all trivial. You know I’m not trying to belittle the suffering you are experiencing. It’s painful and I want you to be free of the pain waves appearing. But underneath it is a calm ocean of Buddhahood; that’s your real nature. That’s what you got to keep remembering.
That brings me to our second wisdom, bodhichitta. Your father is one of your parents, and we have vows to respect our parents deeply. But you have and are continuing to do so very admirably. There is no question that you have acted externally in a respectful way–in all but one that comes to mind. You yourself have recognized that your father has deep-set guilt over how he behaved towards his ex-wife and children while they were growing up. What do you think he needs most to overcome that guilt? Why, of course, he needs your forgiveness. I don’t think you feel that forgiveness yet in your heart. Not really. How could you? You are a person, with that child still inside you, hurt yourself and in deep pain. It would probably take a lot of psychotherapy for sentient-being-you to come to truly forgive your father. But Buddha-you has no problem whatsoever to completely forgive him. Rely on that part of you to do just that. Then express that forgiveness to him. He needs to hear it, even though he would deny that he does. Perhaps then your relationship–vis-a-vis his changed behavior–from that forgiveness will improve.
The second teaching from bodhichitta wisdom is that your father is but one sentient being. You need to continue to respect and love him deeply and equally to all, but change your focus to all sentient beings everywhere. As I have said, you are a Buddha in training; you know that. I sense there is a lot of your energy involved in the drama with your father. That first of all is samsara–your samsara–and we know that samsara can just suck all our energies without a thought and without relent. But what about every other sentient being that you have an equal duty towards? Change your focus to all sentient beings everywhere, including your father, and the drama with your father will take care of itself. Because there is no father out there to start with, let alone a father that is behaving the way yours is, there is no relationship to fix. There is only the mind that is appearing those things that needs to be fixed–fixed on all sentient beings, instead of fixed on yourself and your own problems. Because of emptiness, a mind of bodhichitta will not even appear a father that has written his son out of his life.
You have already recognized–though I believe only intellectually so–that you have deep attachment to your father’s acceptance and admiration of you, to his approval of your choices and the man you’ve become. That is wise on your part. But you need to bring that wisdom down into your heart using emptiness and bodhichitta. There you will find the answers you are looking for. I have no doubt.
A few years ago, just before I disrobed, I expressed some frustration and was hoping for a solution about difficulties in accessing Dharma at my local Center (for about a decade). The senior monk I was speaking with pointed out it was my karma, in the way so many of us do – ignoring his personal ability to improve the situation. Irritated by this attitude and decades of frustration I replied, “Clearly I’ve been an asshole spiritual guide in the past, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about making Dharma flourish.” I still stand by that statement.
Ultimately, it seems, if we loose sight of the need for Dharma to flourish internally and externally, that is the largest mistake we can make – if our main goal is enlightenment.
I understand the four types of action to be qualified by their impact on others minds. Ryan, over 15 years ago you and I debated about wrathful actions. You were hesitant, I was advocating that we *practice* wrathful actions – “practice” as in, we will make mistakes because we’re learning. I think your story and actions reflects wrathful action, the realization of which is necessary to attain enlightenment.
Not a comfortable lesson, but necessary to travel the bodhisattva’s path. But when relating to others, we can’t make them happy and it’s so easy to forget some people just don’t give a damn about the spiritual path and want their egos stroked, want to be respected for achievements related to the 8 worldly concerns, and sometimes just by prioritizing our life so differently they may take this as personal rejection. This sense of rejection is related to how human aggregates are psychologically wired to feel safe and secure when people mirror us.
That is based in innate delusion. Your situation Sounds like innate delusions being expressed, which is why things hurt so deeply and can be resolved with Vajrayogini’s blessings.
You will be ok.
It’s been a few years since your post, I hope your mind towards your father has found peace by now.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I remember our discussions about wrathful actions, you very much moved my thinking on it and I still recall what you said quite frequently (comes up a lot as a father of five! ha ha). I can say without a doubt you were right then about that, and several other topics we discussed.
On the situation with my father, things have dramatically improved. It’s a long story how I got there, but at one point I was finally able to see him with compassion for his views and see how they were destroying his relationship with so many in his life. All of my anger just vanished. I was then able to forgive him. Once I had done so, space opened in my mind to be able to see his perspective and where he was right on some points, which freed me to unconditionally apologize. We then were able to discuss some parameters to try make sure something like that never happens again (or at least less likely). The hardest part has been realizing how much I do towards my son what my father did towards me, and finding a new way forward that doesn’t recreate the same dynamics yet addresses the things that need addressing.
I hope you are well. 🙂
Ryan, I hope that you take your new understanding and allow it to work through you to you father. We can do the inner work for others by skillfully ripening their karma towards it. The You before these recent realizations, about your father, acted in a way that was stained by them, and even though you remember putting dharma into your actions, with certainty we can say the actions were stained. Now you work towards seeing your dad for the first time with clear eyes, and it becomes easier to let go and love him. He has never had any control; in reality You, as a Dharma practitioner had the “potential” to have all the control. To truly love you dad would be to quickly deepen the truth that he like most others are prisoners asleep in their minds and you are one of the rare few who can actually know how to help them and change things.
Mahayana change is always for self and other, so as you accept your dad and try to help him be the father he wants to be, you and he are transformed. The speed and effectiveness of the transformation is directly related to your effort and wisdom. More effort learning what reaches your true father generates wisdom nurturing your father. The wiser the actions towards him the quicker the result. The same is so with more effort. Wisdom that arises from effort exponentially empowers our efforts.
What I call your True father is the “inherently” loving father that lies within his mental continuum. This would liken to Buddha nature and is based on the common, worldly, meaning for inherently which is permanent. So within Every father there is this True father who knows how to love us. The world stains that loving father and from that mind arises all these words and actions from him that do not appear to be love. There are tiny lights of his love that we may see shine through before the clouds block it out, but those lights are who our parent really is, though most see only the darness that they are not. The clouds and their bs are nothing of their self. They are not love, and we as practitioners have the opportunity to help teach our own parents how to love their kids more purly by seeing them correctly and accepting them for who they are. A parent finally feeling the love they always wanted from their child was caused by the child teaching them how to love.
Dear Ryan, Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been reading your writing for over 10 years now – always loved it, it’s always good or great – but this is special, and probably the best thing you’ve ever written, simply because it is so heartfelt. More please 🙂 Many people will recognise their own parental relationship struggles in what you write – so again you’ve done us a service. You’re on the track to freedom in the heart. Keep going, Hero Ryan. Thanks and love, Tim
This a recent post-meditation contemplation of mine about my Dad, Ryan; he died two years ago; fortunately all of the problematic appearances had disappeared like a long and scary storm. This poem may or may not be useful or relevant, I am only offering it because it is a recent related theme for me too.
I must have loved him before I was six
I don’t actually remember
I do recall the middle years
Of icy hatred and tears
When shame was his game
And the narcissistic whine was mine
By the time he died
When I was sixty-three
Everything was fine
Between him and me
We are at peace now
Sean Hunt Windermere April 2015
Two comments I have are
1. The only valid mind to have towards you father, who is suffering deeply from his delusions and his long look in the mirror, is deep Compassion. I hope that this drama allows you to deepen yours and fuels your path. Interestingly Dharma is a mirror, not only for the practitioner; one could posit that your dharma behaviours over the years have also manifested the mirror that he has been looking into.
2. Gen Tharchin had a very difficult relationship with his father (and mother). He taught us in Toronto years ago that before his own father died he paid him a visit, got down on one knee and thanked him for giving him this precious human life. This left a deep impression on my mind and was the actual cause of profound reconciliation with my father. Houses and samsaric stuff are not that important when compared with the precious human life that we have been given, allowing us to connect with our guru and tradition.. The rest is our own karmic projection on that screen
Like Luna Kadampa said, trust that the future will provide opportunities.
Sean in Windermere
Thank you for sharing such an important yet painful teaching. Sharing your clarity will help others to rescue theirs’. All the best.
Sent from my iPhone
Thank you for sharing this! I’ve had a very similar relationship with my dad, and I’ve found the critical thing is for me to pacify my emotional response so that I can see with wisdom and compassion.
Plus, I chuckle everytime I hear Geshe-la in the back of my mind saying “Daniel you’re in samasara—why do you expect things to be any different?”
Thank you Geshe-la for giving me perspective! 🙂
I’ve run across your wonderful posts every now and then and today, as I was scrolling through them as a source of refuge for some ongoing challenges I’m experiencing with someone very close to me, I ran across this post.
Two years ago, my mother left my father after 55 years of an increasingly abusive and co-dependent marriage. My father immediately blamed me and my brother. Whilst trying to help my mother transition into being alone for the first time in her life, my father refused any and all forms of help we offered. Every interaction with him ended in him yelling at my brother and I for ruining his life, destroying 55 years of happiness, etc. It culminated with my father threatening our families with harm if we didn’t do what he wanted.
My struggles with how to transform all of this into the path led me to seek the wisdom of my kind teacher, Gen Kelsang Rabgye. He helped me to understand exactly what you have so clearly described here. In the end, he helped me understand that continuing to try to help my father was only having increasingly negative effects/karma for everyone. Further, he suggested that the only way to stop these negative actions from occurring was to stop trying to help my father.
While I still have the odd tinge of guilt about my families decision to remove ourselves from our father’s life, I have faith that this has been the correct path to follow.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
I think the key is realizing that sometimes the best way to help somebody is to not help them. It takes great wisdom (and usually a lot of trial and error) to know when this is the case. Looking back on this past for myself, I think the biggest mistake I would make was looking at all of the different ways those around me are acting in deluded ways. Of course, we need an accurate assessment of the emotional landscape, so there is nothing wrong with knowing where everyone is at, but my job was to look at the delusions in my own mind and heal those. If I had done so, the correct reactions to what was happening would have arisen more naturally. Oh well, lessons learned. I hope and pray that your family dynamics become a powerful cause of enlightenment for yourself and all those concerned.
Thank you for sharing…I wonder, since this writing have you communicated with your father? Fathers Day is almost here and I struggle on what to write…I know I should but…
Yes, things did finally resolved. What cleared everything was I finally got to the point where I could generate compassion for him, this purified my anger and creates the space for me to sincerely apologize for my role in all of this. That apology opened the space for him to do the same, and from there, we gradually rebuilt. These things are tough, but it is our karma and so we much work through it. May your doing so become a cause of your enlightenment.
I have this avoidance karma myself.
Basically my mind is like a massive open wound. Its very raw & what a need is for one or two people to apologise to fix it. But because they wont I cant heal. They could send me a letter saying they forgive me but it wouldnt work.
if Im in the room with them it hurts a lot. I sat in the room with these people for 6 months but there was no sign of improvement because there was no constructive discussion. Just a total statemate where any conversation would just cause things to degenerate further.
Im in my 40s. Now if I was in my 60s or 70s I wouldnt be able to formulate a clear idea of what was causing this problem because my mental faculties would be lacking.
The point is a need something. Desperately. And because Im not getting the help I need Im living with this open wound that cant heal.
You know what my wound is. What I need is to meet a teacher who has faith not in Geshela but in my potential and I am their disciple. The wound is being told that 30 years of Dharma practice means nothing and my teacher sees me as useless after 30 years of doing sadhanas & meditation. This is because they dont believe. They dont look at me and see a Buddha or a Bodhisattva or a heroine. They see something worthless. Until I meet someone with faith who encourages me genuinely, not just in a lecture but as an individual, my Bodhichitta is dead.
So what I need is for a teacher to come up to me and say, “I believe you are capable of becoming a Dharma teacher”. Thats all. Its that simple. Not “You are incapable of giving Dharma & should just sit in classes and wait for a powa”
I dont know what your father needs from you but he desperately needs to not have a massive wound in his mind as he faces death. I think as death draws near what people feel is a desperate need to know their life was fruitful and not a disaster. This might be why your dad is so fixated on his achievements “how much he has done for you”. I got the same feeling when I got cancer. I needed to have achieved my goals before death. My goal was to become a Dharma teacher. It sounds like your Dad desperately needs to feel he was a good father. He might be thinking he can only see himself as a good father if you turned out in a certain way. Thats a hard trap to get out of.
I would simply try to convey in a few short comments how he is a good father. Like saying special moments you spent togheter and how they helped shape you..that he might not know about. I wouldnt write an essay or long letter, just a few sentences in birthday xmas and fatherday card. Like saying remember when you said this to me..it made me a good father and husband..thank you for saying that to me when I was a boy. OR Whenever I spend time with my kids try to be as good a Dad as you were to me xx OR whatever works for him! OR I feel so lucky to have has a doctor as a father because it taught me to care about other people as my main outlook. Thankyou for being such an inspiration.