For my 40th birthday, my then-9-year-old daughter gave me a little book of daily meditations for men, from the Touchstone series. She didn’t realize, not did I until I read the preface, that it was for men in 12-step programs, working through their additions and coming to clarity about themselves and their worth.
For all that, it was humbling to realize that just about every piece of advice, every insight, and every affirmation in the book applied to me pretty much to a tee, despite the fact that I have never participated in a 12-step program and don’t really consider myself an addict (not even to blogging, which was a worry of my wife’s early on).
My practice is to take a minute a day to read that day’s thought and meditation, and consider how I can go through my day in heightened awareness and kindness and joy and courage based on that reminder.
A Challenge from Dietrich
One day the meditation began with a quote by the Luther theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whose last name is pronounced as if U2’s Bono had hooked up with J Lo), as follows:
There are things for which an uncompromising stance is worthwhile.
This is a guy, a German theologician, who decided to publish articles critical of the Nazis when they came to power in 1933, engaged in dangerous efforts to rescue Jews in the 1940s, and was killed by the Nazis in 1945. Possibly someone with an understanding of worthwhile causes and the toll they can take on a person.
I write mostly (in this blog, at least) about family health and fitness; what can parents learn and apply from a man whose life and death were so far removed from our mundane "Eat your vegetables" and "No, you can’t have a cookie, how about a piece of fruit?" existence?
I’ve written many times about not turning the dinner table into a battleground. About being reasonable, understanding, and non-fanatical. About taking the slow road of education and leading by example. Turns out I have a hole in my memory the size of 6 months…
My Life as a YIFA
Our friends Andy and Diane and their three kids visited us last month. We reminisced about our 10-year friendship, including a trip to the Jersey shore that was a ritual for them, and to which we tagged along one year. Andy reminded me about the tension in the air, due entirely to my failing efforts to get my wife and kids to eat healthy food, not junk food, on this trip.
I had just seen the food light, and was busy detoxing my own diet and struggling not to eat pizza and cookies every chance I got. My family was nowhere near my state of consciousness – how could they have been? All of a sudden I made a 180 degree turn and announced that cheese and yogurt, which I had told them was good, was bad. And that was one among many such revelations they were dealing with.
And like all YIFAs (Young Intolerant Fundamentalist A-holes, a term Bryan Todd and I coined in a different context), I was so insecure in my own beliefs that I needed to impose them on everyone I met.
Showdown in Jackson Township
So we stopped at a package store in Jackson Township, halfway to Long Beach Island, where Andy and Diane picked up their favorites: soda, chips, sub sandwiches with deli meat, and cookies. I was horrified to see my family come out with a 6-pack of Ginger Ale and two bags of Cheddar popcorn. LIke an early Church father, i railed against the lifestyle of the pagans, and exhorted my slipping kin to follow me to the light, toward salvation, away from the tortures of casein and refined sugar.
I lost that day.
We kind of had a lousy time, because I was being tough and judgmental about what they were eating and drinking.
Several years later, we’re eating healthy food. My kids hardly ever get sick. They’re full of energy, lean and fit, strong and flexible. My wife is awesome; she cooks delicious garden-fresh meals with whole grains, and just became a certified Natural Trainer up at the Monkey Bar Gym in Madison, Wisconsin. All three of them now acknowledge that they’ve changed, that they’re much happier and healthier and more fulfilled, even though they aren’t eating junk food and dairy and stuff like that.
So it was worth it, right?
Two Ways to Be Kind – or Not
I often get emails from moms who don’t know what do to about their obese kids. The emails are heart-wrenching. I want to swoop down in a cape and tights and defeat the food industry, and make eating safe again for these families. I want to give them the education and resources to instantly detox, and embrace fruit smoothies and veggie wraps and oatmeal for breakfast, and all the other strategies that fit families know and use.
Yet I don’t want to be responsible for family conflict, for dinnertime battles, for engendering the same kind of fundamentalist intolerance that I displayed for months.
The longer I work on this, the fewer right answers I can find. Sometimes it works to be patient, and sometimes, as I was reminded, it pays to be uncompromising. In transition, as everywhere else in life, balance is key. My wish for my desperate email correspondents is that they act always out of love and greater awareness, whether the action is pliant or inflexible, permissive or uncompromising. And that we may all move, at all times, toward greater wellness and happiness.