When I was a teenager, one of my favorite fantasies was imagining being a dad. Although I was open to having a child of either sex, my real dream was to have a son. The image that particularly brought a smile to my heart was playing catch with my five-year-old son—teaching him the art of throwing and catching a ball. This picture evoked the essence of the special bond of love between father and son. This wasn’t surprising given that I was fortunate to share just that connection with my own father, Arnold Baraz.
My dad was someone who was gifted with a big heart – he loved life, loved people, and loved to share his love. My first dedication in my book, Awakening Joy honors him: “To Arnold Baraz, who taught me how to love.“ We didn't always see eye to eye with many a lively disagreement in the 60’s over the Vietnam War and the flower generation, whose motto was “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” But no matter how wide the ideology gap, I always knew that he loved me. To this day, I can still remember our telephone conversations, with him saying softly and sincerely, “I love you, boy.” And me, replying in the same soft tone, “I love you, Dad.” And each time I picture this, a warmth in my heart unlike any other envelopes my whole being, and I easily well up with tender appreciation.
No wonder I wanted to pass that on to my son.
It is a great irony of my life that I didn’t get the chance to experience that loving bond with my older son, Tony. I’ve told the story in Chapter 5 of my book and in an Inquiring Mind article of how I didn’t find out about him until after he was born, and the pain and sorrow I felt over the years of missing out on fulfilling my teenage dream. I saw him once when he was three months old and then not again until he found me at 29.
Fortunately, I made the most of that second chance and we’ve made up for lost time over these last 15 years. It certainly helped that he inherited the same loving big heart of the grandfather that he never knew. We’re very close and, besides his wife, I’m usually the first person he calls when he needs an understanding ear or has exciting news to share. I'm grateful beyond words that we've somehow processed the pain of separation and have forged our deep connection.
My younger son, Adam, and I have shared a much easier path together. I was able from the start to carry on the legacy of father-son love that I dreamed of having when I was an adolescent. Some dreams do unfold as we first envision them. Although Adam and I have had our share of differences, we’ve always been able to touch the underlying pure, unconditional love that’s been a constant in our relationship. Yes, we went through a period where he wished he had a doctor or lawyer or successful businessman for a dad like some of his friends rather than a Buddhist meditation teacher. And though my wife, Jane, and I started the Family Program with Adam in mind, early on he said he would rather to play in Little League than go to Family Days. I distinctly remember him saying when he was eight, “That’s your Buddhaya stuff, Dad. Not mine.”
But as he grew up, with support of a coming-of-age group, Vision Quests, good mentoring and some Spirit Rock Teen Classes, the Dharma seeds planted early began to sprout and he more and more found himself drawn to practice. He sat his first intensive retreat at 18, spent a college semester studying Buddhism in Bodhgaya, India, has done a three-month retreat at Insight Meditation Society and many other 2-4 week retreats since. His main rebellion is that he's a serious Tibetan Buddhist practitioner rather than Theravada. But that's okay with me. And best of all, he loves mentoring young men both individually and in group settings. He teaches Teen and Tween classes at Spirit Rock and “Heart of the Warrior” trainings for young men 15 to 19 to develop their courage, confidence and leadership skills. He’s also studied many healing modalities and, now, at age 27, has become himself an accomplished and sought after body worker and healer.
Adam and I look forward to teaching together May 24th at Spirit Rock as we explore with men of all ages just what it means to share, strengthen or heal the bond between father and son. If you’re a father or son and want to deepen that bond yourself we hope you join us.
On Saturday, May 24, James and his son Adam Baraz will co-teach 'Fathers and Sons: Creating a Conscious Relationship.' More information and registration here.