Monday, May 25, 2009

My dad, Zen master: Zen retirement

My dad was able to retire in his early fifties. This was back in the mid-1980’s when gasoline was relatively cheap, and many retirees bought Recreational Vehicles (RV’s) and traveled around the country. My parents successfully resisted buying an RV. They had an aversion to buying things that cost more than they paid for their house. But they became “campers.”

My father, a suspected Zen master, approached his traveling days in measured stages: a truck with camper shell, a small trailer, a larger trailer, and finally, a 20-somethng-foot trailer. This progression of training for retirement camping took several years, but my dad mastered each level.

Eventually, he learned the art of hooking and unhooking a trailer. He bought a pair of work gloves just for the task. He learned how to work hydraulic levelers. He even learned to listen to my mom as he was maneuvering the trailer in and out of camping sites. He was a Zen master.

But in the course of travel, one occasionally arrives. My parents did this a lot: camp-sites often have “stay” limits – you can't stay there forever. You drive, then you arrive. As a result, my dad had to develop meditations to pass the time at the campsites. He was an artist.

He and my mom did a lot of card playing: they practiced this art form for years. Occasionally, my dad would mix Zen yelling with his card playing. I remember a several favorite chants of his for playing Bridge: “Pull trump, pull trump, pull trump!” And another, “Gross under-bidding!”

Since Bridge involves having a partner, his partner sometimes got the brunt of this chanting aimed at them: I’ve been that partner. With me, he used a form of Zen yelling called “Dripping sarcasm.” It was quieter, but effective.

My dad also knew the Zen of cleanup. My mom would usually cook; my dad would clean up. This meditation was similar to his “Pool Sweeping Meditation.” He never broke a plate: plates never moved fast enough to be put in any danger. My dad was deliberate in his actions; some might call it slow, but he called it “being above average.”

Besides cards and cleanup, my dad’s retired life had several other main activities: golfing, fishing, various games, visiting friends and family, Zen napping, and Zen reading.

Once I caught him Zen reading. I had my own young family on vacation with me in northern California. My dad and mom arranged to be close by for a night. They were on their way to have a visit with my dad’s brother. (My dad and his brother practiced verbal martial arts together.) We arrived at my parent’s campsite a bit after lunch cleanup.

After initial hellos, I asked my mom where dad was. “Over there,” she said, pointing to a pair of chairs under a near-by tree.

I waltzed over and found my dad reading a book. In twenty-five years, I’d never caught my dad reading anything but the newspaper or the TV guide.

“Whatcha reading, Dad?”

“It’s a book, Stu.”

“It looks pretty thick. I’m impressed.”

“I’m enjoying it.”

“How long have you been reading it? I see you’re about half done with it.”

“Three years.”


That’s how I discovered Zen reading. It must be similar to Zen fishing. It burns a lot of time, you get to be alone, you have the appearance of doing something, and nothing really needs to happen. Catching a fish is just a bonus, like finishing a book.

I’m not a fisherman, and I read books start-to-finish. I am not a Zen master, but my dad was.


  1. I love these tributes to your Dad....he sounds like a really cool dude. I think you've got a lot of him in you Don.
    Oh, and please help me out on my "Not So Wordless Wednesday". I need all of the help I can get today, lol.

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  2. Thanks Reggie Girl: I hadn't started out intending a tribute, just a comparison, but you're right: it's a tribute. Sometimes writing on a topic leads you to special places of insight and appreciation. -- Don

  3. @Candy--my sister wrote: Hey, I was just at your blog, reading your stuff on Dad. I liked it well enough to print it off so I could read it again. I may share it with Mom, but I'll have to explain that it's your point of view, meant to be loving and funny and not necessarily exactly historically correct. We'll see.

    I didn't know how to sign in, so these are my comments. Excellent work. (And don't e-mail me the directions to sign on - it's more than I want to know at this point..........)

    Candy: Thanks. Loving and funny. You get me. (And not historically correct.) That's me.

  4. My Cousin Cheryl wrote me:


    I tried to post a comment to your blog but I'm not technologically advanced enough to get it! I just wanted to say that I also "get you" and find you mildly amusing in your ramblings (laughed my a_ _ off on the clean up - the dish never moved fast enough to be in danger!!! - loved it - I'll always remember Uncle Don as 'moving kinda slow at the junction').

    Actually your musings remind me of dad and how he was imparting information without my realizing I was learning something in the process. He was interesting, calm and never raised his voice or a hand to me but once - it's another story for another time but never again did I feel his hand on my back side. And, I learned so much from him that I'm still using to this day and try to get across to my children but I don't have his calm demeanor so it isn't going too well. I may have better luck with the granddaughter.

    Keep us amused with your reminiscing fact/fiction ...


  5. @Cheryl: Thanks for the encouragement. I remember your dad too: calm, caring, and knowledgeable. Good uncles are a gift, like good dads, and even good cousins! We have both been blessed.