My father was in his pajamas and robe already, and I had followed him to the foot of the stairs, where he paused again, one hand on the rail. Despite his need for a good night’s sleep before an early morning start, he let me go on, listened, gave me further food for thought, met me mind to mind. Over all of me teen years, we had a father-daughter intellectual fellowship that fed me, facilitated my growth, challenged my thinking, helped me practice communication. We talked about the ways of people–at school, at home, at work, of art, books, ideas, many things.
These last two evenings, I have been enjoying a meeting of minds with my son that recalls those talks with my father. He appeared as I was tidying the kitchen after his siblings had toddled off to their rooms for the night; he had emerged from writing an essay, and spoke of the pressure of time, the way it shuts down creative avenues, certain kinds of meaningful experiences. He recollected experienced of deep being in responding to art, books, nature or some other experience, being pulled out of time, sometimes for hours. There was a tone of mourning in his telling, and yet a stance of determination not to let himself be overcome and become a production machine, a mere do-er, rather than a be-ing.
I encouraged my son to be aware of that unique balance in himself, to preserve it, even if it meant changing the pace, intensity, and rhythm of his studies, adjusting commitments, sometimes taking a break, exploring other interests. I suggested that as he got used to the research and writing processes of advanced study, he would become more efficient and could find more space to be, to reflect, and to process life with his friends. I shared experiences I’d had with burnout, lack of balance, over-specialization, and my ways of dealing with that.
We spoke of certain people we knew, how some were masked and came across as fake or pompous, which were able to be more genuine and really connect from their true selves. The problem of the youth leader template (upbeat, positive, fun, always ready to be “stoked,” “pumped,” “excited”), why he never was interested in youth groups, despite wanting to meet people, learn, discuss spiritual things, have fun. I encouraged him to have patience with pretenders–they were trying to please, to be accepted, and would let their guard down and unmask themselves when it was safe. And we all pretend, or hide, at times.
He hearkened back to summer days–open, flexible days, working at the pool, lots of rest, many chances to make new acquaintances and hang out with friends, some before they headed off to college. He thanked me for allowing him that flexibility to be with them, late sometimes, or overnight. I assured him that I trusted him to make good choices about friends, that I knew there they were generally quality, and even if some among them ere marijuana smokers or pretty mixed up in some way, I felt he knew how to be a friend without getting caught up in any foolishness that might be part of his friendship circle. Smiling, he asked me if I was thinking of anyone in particular. No, just an example, I answered. I didn’t ask about whom he was smiling.
Then he thanked me for the conversation, and said he should be getting to bed–swim meet tomorrow and all. We again became aware of time, and yet it was not burdensome. Time may be a tyrant at times, but it is also an artist, for in its flow, look what the creator may mold out of the dust: a man.