My daughter is 13, with all that entails. This forces me to try and remember what is was like to be 13, to feel 13. Sometimes that works, most times not.
It’s amusing to be on the older end of the generation gap, to scoff at most of her music choices (but take joy in her liking The Who and The Beatles). I’ve come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t find much humor in old Warner Brothers cartoons or Monty Python episodes (it will be awhile before I try to get her to appreciate the Marx Brothers). I have yelled at her for being so unrelentingly silly around the house, then privately wondered when, exactly, did I lose my own silliness.
But one of the biggest issues has been her anger, specifically when it is aimed at her younger brother, who is nine.
Now, I’m not so old that I can’t remember my chronic dissatisfaction with most things when I was a teenager. And I know very well that younger siblings can be annoying. But she seems to be annoyed by every little thing he does and takes delight in needling him about everything, to the point that we can see it taking its toll on his demeanor. When we’re alone, he asks why she doesn’t like him. It breaks my heart.
My wife and I have tried many things to try and change our daughter’s behavior, from reasoning to punishment, with only fleeting success. Finally, last night, I reached my saturation point (which, my wife can tell you, takes a lot of doing). I then resolved to do what I had avoided at all cost: to start treating her the way she treats her brother, starting immediately.
Not exactly the mature response, but nothing seemed to get through to her. I felt out of options; I really wanted her to know how it felt to have someone you love be that mean to you.
I went over in my mind how things were going to change between us, and the more I thought, the sicker I felt. I didn’t sleep well that night.
I awoke still intent on carrying out this questionable lesson. Then I received an e-mail from my Zen teacher this morning, informing me that John Daido Loori, Roshi — the abbott and founder of Zen Mountain Monastery and author of so many books that have been part of my Zen training — was near death after a long bout with lung cancer. And all at once my attitude toward my daughter changed, not so much because Daido Roshi’s condition made my problems seem trivial by comparison, but because the totality of what I had learned from him came flooding back in feeling more than thoughts, and I knew that giving in to my own anger was not going to help my daughter, my son, my wife or me.
I woke my daughter, hugged her and apologized for my angry behavior the night before, but made it clear we still had things to work on together.
I continue to be grateful to Daido Roshi.