Saturday, June 20, 2009

My dad, Zen master? Zen gone!

Back on May 17th I wrote a post that began, “I suspect that my dad was a Zen master. He would have denied it. Zen masters always do.”

I wrote the post inspired by a book I’d recently read, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. The book got me thinking about my own father and the things he taught me. He was, in many ways, my Zen master.

I say “was” because he is “Zen gone.” He died in early December of 1996. I last spoke to him by phone around Thanksgiving. He had gone into the hospital for some tests. It did not appear to be serious, but in a matter of a few weeks his colon ruptured and he died of sepsis. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, because I was preoccupied at the time.

On Christmas Day, 1996 my wife died. I was out-of-the-loop in my father’s last weeks, because I was tending to my wife who was on hospice care at home after battling cancer for five and a half years.

No one would blame me for not being an integral part of my dad’s last days. I was doing what I needed to be doing. He was in Iowa. I was in California. My mom and sisters were helping him, and my three kids and I were helping Patti. It was the natural order of things. And it sucked.

Back in early May, I went to a family reunion. I wrote several blog entries about the weekend. On my May 5th post, I recounted how I was helped by a talented relative named Katrina. She is a trained Jin Shin Do masseuse, and during a massage she was giving me for a wrenched back, I recalled and released some major grief I was holding on to about my first wife’s death. I had held on to some of that grief because, at the time, I needed to be strong for the kids. I had been holding on to that grief for 12 years. My kids had grown up. I didn’t need to be strong for them anymore. I could let go. And I did.

After the reunion I began to explore acupressure massage therapies similar to Jin Shin Do. I hit upon something called Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT. A quick definition of EFT is “an emotional, needle free version of acupuncture that is based on new discoveries regarding the connection between your body's subtle energies, your emotions, and your health.” I went to the web-site, downloaded the free book, and started practicing EFT.

One night, several weeks later, as I was going to sleep, I was doing EFT and I recalled a regret, “I never was able to properly mourn my father’s death.” I recalled many of the specific aspects of that time: not being there for my mom, not being able to hold my dad’s hand, not being able to tell him I loved him…

And I cried. I mourned his death, 12 years later. I lay there in bed, tears running down towards my ears, until the phone rang. (I jumped out of bed to answer the phone before it woke up my wife Leslie. Ten years ago I remarried. She was widowed as well.)

It was 10:30 at night, but I answered the phone. It was Leslie's brother whose wife had passed away suddenly earlier in the week. He couldn’t sleep, so he’d called. He and I visited. I didn’t tell him why I was up. It didn’t matter. He just needed to talk, so we did. I understood something of his loss and grief.

It was a few days after this mourning for my father that I wrote the first Zen piece on my dad. After the release of the grief, I began to recall and see many positives that had lurked beneath the hurt. More pieces followed. Unknowingly, I had moved on from mourning my father's death, to celebrating his life. I was giving him a memorial service. Who knew?

Well, my readers knew it before I did. I read your comments, and I realized you were right. I was paying him a tribute.

This Zen series has been my way of saying, “I love you Dad. You are loved, and you are missed. I treasure the things you taught me. I’m a better man because you were a good dad.”

Tomorrow is Fathers’ Day. Some of us still have our dads, and some of us are dads. Some of us never had a dad who could be remembered as a personal hero, a Zen master if you will. (If you need some good “dad” memories, you can steal some of mine: I’ll share.)

June is often called the month of grads and dads. If this were a commencement speech, I’d entitle it “Looking back… and looking forward…”

The heart of the message would be “Live the dash.”

We each have a day of birth. We’ll each have a day of death. And someday, we’ll each have those dates etched on a gravestone or plaque. And in-between the dates will be a dash. That’s where we are right now: living the dash.

Be somebody’s hero. Live the dash!

Happy Fathers’ Day!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Creating Life-long Learners: Three Prerequisites

One of the blogs I follow is Digital Lives, Media Musings. The author, Sasha, is a teacher (Head of Media) in a school in England. (He commutes from his home in France.) He’s a great resource to things educational and technical. I like that.

Recently Sasha posted a piece called The Pace of Change. In it he shared a short embedded video called Did You Know 3.0.

I think the video makes a strong case for educators to help students learn the processes of content mastery, in addition to mastering the content. My goal as an educator is to inspire life-long learning.

That's why I often pause at the end of a lesson and pose three questions. These questions are: What did we learn? (content mastery) How did we learn it? (the processes of mastery) and Why did we learn it? (affect/meaning of mastery) These are the prerequisites to creating life-long learners and creative problem solvers. These are questions that students can use to self-regulate their learning and prepare themselves for the unknown future.

The video ends with the question: What does it mean?

To me, as an educator, it means content mastery is insufficient. More important that content mastery is learning to learn (process), and learning to enjoy learning (affect).

So what does it mean to you?

Sasha's post validates for me why teaching content is only 1/3 of the curriculum.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Marriage, Cats, Claws, and Sofas

Goals are funny things. They can provide a compass to simplicity, but they can also introduce an undesired complexity. Here’s the problem:

I am married, and one of my personal affirmations/goals is: I love and nurture my wife.

Nothing wrong with that. I heard Josh McDowell recently say one of the best gifts a father can give his children is to love and nurture their mom. I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I remember distinctly my dad saying to me, “Son, if it comes down to a choice between you or your mom, I’m choosing her… every time.” That seemed a bit unfair at the time, but he knew what he was talking about. (Zen marriage?)

I am a home owner. Another personal affirmation/goal is: My house and cars are well maintained and cared for.

Because I own stuff, I need to take care of it. Sometimes you can own so much stuff that it seems to own you, but with me, I think I’ve found a good balance. Some time back I replaced my cat demolished sofas for some “gently used” leather sofas. Lovely. I traded up. I got a good deal on Craig’s list. But…

I own cats. Nothing wrong with that either. I own a dog too, but she doesn’t claw sofas. My cats do. I have an affirmation/goal for my pets: I care for my pets.

You begin to see the complexities. I love my wife. She loves the cats, and so do I. We like our stuff, including our new sofas, unfortunately, so do the cats. What is one person to do? (I have an affirmation/goal that ties it all together: My goals are meaningful and in keeping with my core beliefs and values.)

I’ve got core beliefs and values, and they provide me with both direction and challenges. They provoke me to find solutions that don’t violate my myriad of complementary and harmonic inner schemas.

So what to do about the cats slowing poking holes in the new sofa?

What’s a guy gonna do? Research! What have others done?

I found ways to train cats, ways to protect furniture, and most of them aren’t cheap. But I am. So…

I invented a “sticky moat.” Invention is a creative art. Being creative is not creating something out of nothing, only God does that. The rest of us create by mixing up existing stuff in new ways.

I took some old file folders, trimmed off the tab, and stapled seven-inch strips of contact paper face up. I peeled off the non-stick portion of the contact paper, cut some notches in the folders, and built a sticky moat around the chairs and sofas. (The uncovered part of the folders go under the sofa.)

But cats are complex animals. They have needs. A few years ago I bought them a nice three-story cat house that provides a view into the front yard and an appropriate clawing spot. They use it, sometimes. Because my cats are indoor cats, they love the smell of the outdoors. So I took some outside plants and rubbed them on their cat house in order to make it more appealing, even "new." (I also trimmed the cats' nails.)

Cats don’t like citrus smelling things, so I gently rubbed some lemon-scented Pledge on the sofas and chairs.

A three-pronged plan to solve a problem in keeping with my core beliefs! My wife and the cats are happy. My sofas are safe. (I hope.) And my wallet was barely impacted.

Score one for Don!? (I’ll tell you in a few weeks.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Time Machine: Summer Vacation

Time seems to move slower when you’re young. I’ve wondered why, and I suspected that it had to do with the three-month summer vacation. Toward the end of summer, it would get a little boring and time would seem to drag.

After leaving college, that yearly cycle was broken. I entered the adult world of two to three weeks of vacation a year, plus some paid holidays. I did that for 20 plus years.

Recently I heard the time mystery compared to a roll of toilet paper: it goes slow at first, then it flies off the roll! How can you slow it down?

I’ve found a remedy: ten week summer vacations, plus two weeks at Christmas, plus a week at Easter, and a dozen other days sprinkled in for good measure. Ahhh…

Time. Slows. Down.

Although teaching is often fast-paced, near frenetic, and sometimes borders on being all consuming, it has its perks. One of them is time travel.

I get to travel back in time to a land of summer vacations, spring breaks, and Christmas vacations. This has the effect of slowing things down. I might even get bored… in about eight weeks.

Then I might teach a short summer school. Or not. It depends on if I’m “picked” via the seniority scheme. But, either way, I’m on the brink of summer vacation. Ten, long, time-bending weeks.

I have few plans, fewer commitments, but lots of time to tinker, explore, relax, nap, garden, learn, spend time with my wife, visit friends, play racquetball, read some books… I might even get bored. I’ve got the time.