That’s life

That’s life

By Jim Paredes
Philippine Star Humming in my Universe

At age 50 or 60, you look back at your life and a lot of realizations hit you. For example, you will look at friends, family, and other people you have gotten to know well, or even as mere acquaintances, in a different way than you did when you were much younger.

In your 20s, you may look at someone as a close best friend because you spent a whole summer together. Or you may think you have found true love because the other person could understand and accept all your quirks and imperfections within the few months you have been together.

But at age 20, you still have your entire life ahead of you. So much more will happen to you, and during that length of time between 20 and 60, you will experience more stuff that will change you. You will be tried and tested. You will go through heartbreak. You will feel pain so deep, it will change your personality. You will undergo great joys and disappointments. You will probably have a change in civil status, physical condition, geographical location, job, political affiliation, socio-economic status. You may change religion, life partner, or even sexual orientation.

No one’s life is static. Anything can happen, and you can be sure it will. That’s life.

Looking at people I’ve known from way back, I see entire life narratives played out, and still being played out. Some have had it easy. Some have had it tough. In some, I sense great spiritual growth, while others seem stuck in some of life’s tight bends and have not moved on. Not yet.

Days turn quickly into decades. Time will teach us that there are so many ways to be happy, and also so many ways to be miserable. We all change to some degree. As we age, some opinions and beliefs we used to hold dear will eventually be dropped for new ones. Carl Jung put it well: “But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.”

He also said something which I often remind myself of. “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.” When I look at people I have known for years, many seem, in some great measure, to have been successful in letting go of much of their ego, while others are still struggling with it and holding on. One can never completely kill the ego, but you can set it aside enough of it to be able to laugh at yourself, admit mistakes and be forgiving of yourself and others. Time and aging can help you to do that. Those who can tame the ego are happier. The others perhaps need more time.

On social media, I get an idea of how friends and acquaintances live their lives. There are so many permutations of how life can be lived. If life were meant to be lived only a certain way, then all this diversity would be wrong and against nature. But as we can see, the life force in us brings us to where we are. “Life will find a way,” as posited in the movie Jurassic Park, and each path is individually and personally carved out.

While life seems to have no rules since it goes on as it does, we must make rules to get to know ourselves and everything around us. It’s the only way we can earn the right to sing “My Way”.

It is also true that many of us often find ourselves in situations not of our own doing. That’s because many times, we did not choose things consciously. We do not know how we got to where we are. The unconscious took charge of our life and brought us there.

Growing up means that we must make our own decisions in our own lives. The task is to make conscious what is unconscious so we are able to knowingly make clear choices in charting our own path. To be conscious is to know and accept ourselves and our true motives, no matter how “good” or “bad” they are. I am talking about total honesty and acceptance of oneself. It is hard, but that’s what it means to be responsible for our own decisions.

On Facebook, we read about people dying – of lives like Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, and other more humble lives of simple people coming to an end. Words like “mission” and “destiny” come to mind. What did their lives mean to them? To others? Did they live with a purpose that was clear to them? Then, I turn to myself and ask: What is my mission? What is my life all about? Have I fulfilled my mission yet? What else do I have to do before my life ends?

In life, we accumulate wealth, and we build relationships and reputations. We also make friends and enemies. It is clear to me that worldly goods and relationships are not real possessions. You can’t take them with you. The temporal world has no place in eternity. We are all going somewhere infinite.

Maybe what matters in living our finite lives is to somehow outlive it and be remembered even for a few generations. We will die, but some part of us must live on. We must live a life that defies our own death, and leave behind something that people can enjoy, emulate, be grateful for or be inspired by.

That legacy speaks about how well we lived and loved, and what we leave behind that somehow makes life kinder and better for other people. ###

Real-life fathering

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 19, 2016 – 12:00am

Today is Father’s Day.

I became a father in 1979 when my daughter Erica was born on May 7 of that year. It was tremendous experience to see her right after birth being bathed by a nurse. She was so fragile. My feelings welled just watching her get wrapped up and taken to the baby viewing room. At that moment when I saw her, I knew I would never live a day without thinking and wondering about her.

I have two other kids — Ala and Mio. There isn’t any kid I love more than the others. I love them equally but differently. We raised them in the best way Lydia and I knew how. I did a lot to get them to enjoy reading and writing. I sat with them, helping them do a lot their homework from prep through college. I was the walking encyclopedia in the house who tried to answer all their questions. I taught them poetry and appreciation for the arts. Lydia nourished their health, mothered them, fed them, showered them with love and made sure they were always safe.

We are glad we became parents at the time that we did. It was a time when we still experienced the old ways our parents taught us about raising children while also being exposed to the new ways of building our family’s life.

I am both and old-fashioned and a modern dad. I taught them to be respectful of others and to be accountable for their actions. I shared the value and importance of being totally trustworthy when it came to money matters. They had to return the complete change always. I also encouraged them to learn to live with little.

At the same time, we encouraged then to join every activity they wanted. Erica was into gymnastics. Ala was into piano and ballet. Mio took up Tae Kwan Do. We traveled a lot with them. We let them attend youth leadership camps. We made sure they had both indoor and outdoor lives.

I am also a bit of a disciplinarian. I don’t believe in not calling my kids out when they do wrong. To kids, silence on my part can seem like a tacit “Okay.”

One time at the dinner table many years ago, I set a rule that “required” them to tell me at least three things they learned in school or things that happened to them that day. This came about because there was a time none of them would talk or converse even when I asked them questions. I hated their short answers. No one was interested in sharing. Dinner, which is an important family activity, was spent not even noticing one another.

I remembered pounding my fist on the table one night and demanding they talk to Lydia and me during dinnertime. They had to, or else no one could leave the table. At first it was a tense situation. In no time, I got them to start talking. From the required three things, we started to converse about everything. Supper, which used to be a 20-minute activity, became a one-hour affair, often extending to two hours because everyone had more stories to share.

Soon, they invited their friends to join in. Everything could be discussed at the table. I set no rules. They all talked candidly. It was a great way of learning where their lives were at. Lydia also thought of making a gratitude journal for everyone to write about things they were thankful for. That was a big hit with everyone. Every one of us, and even our friends and visitors, started to write their “thank you”
messages in the notebook. It was so inspiring to read this one: “I thank God for being born into this family.”

One of the things fathers often think about is how close they should be to their children. I am a dad who can sit down with them and listen with great patience and compassion, while still maintaining objectivity. I like to talk about spirituality, and discussing questions about life with them. I also like laughing with them and tickling their imaginations with absurdities. We can really have fun together. To be a real dad, you have to be present and engaged with your children!

The television used to be called the third parent since kids spend a lot of time watching it. Many kids grew up being exposed to TV content that, as a parent, I probably would not be crazy about. I am glad we as a family never got addicted to TV. We liked conversation more.

Some parents aim to be their kids’ best friend. I do not believe in that. As a friend, you will not want to give tough love when needed. And you will always find excuses for them when they do wrong. As a dad, I feel my duty is to check on them and raise them well with the right values, and to be around to guide them.

They have actually grown into fine adults. Erica is 37 years old. Ala is 33 and Mio is 28. I appreciate them a lot as true and good human beings who just happen to be my kids.

Parenting in this age of social media can be much more difficult. Too many gadgets stand in the way of real conversation. The kids, and even the parents, can get too spaced out. The big bad world outside can lord it over the family values you want to teach them. Porno, gambling, etc. are so accessible online. In place of reading books, kids now limit their reading to book reviews. In place of acquiring real knowledge and thinking things out, they opt for memes. In place of outdoor activities, they rely on video games.

The true values in life require patience, reflection and hard work. In a world of instant 24/7 communication, constant titillation and immediate gratification, it can be very difficult for parents to inculcate these life lessons unless access to all these gadgets is regulated. Kids should spend more time living a real life rather than a virtual one.

As a father, there is nothing like being with your kids, talking face to face and sharing real moments with them. Dad speaking from a TV monitor or cellphone can never replace a physically present dad who can hug his children, and be hugged back.

Scout’s Honor

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 12, 2016 – 12:00am

When I was in grade school, I was not much into joining clubs or extracurricular activities. But I was an active member of the Boy Scouts. I loved joining every activity. There was camping, hiking, games and survival skills like making a fire without matches by rubbing two sticks together. I learned first aid and mastered tying knots, pitching a tent and digging a canal around it so water does not get in when it rains. I also learned to handle knives and cook basic foods.

As a young boy, I loved being outdoors. It was an age when there was no social media to distract us and I gave my all to Scouting.

The Scout’s Oath, which we repeated every day, was, to many of us, a character-building experience:

“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

Then there was the Boy Scouts’ Law that went:

“A Scout is: Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent.”

Reciting this every day had such a positive effect on me that I have been using these characteristics as criteria when I vet candidates I might want to want to support.

Let me go through each trait and explain why it is important for leaders to possess them.

Trustworthy. This is very important trait. Basically, a person running for office offers himself to be a leader the people can trust with money, power and their well-being. They will trust him to do the right thing.

Loyal. We need leaders who are loyal to their commitments and promises, and to their constituents. It is disconcerting to see our politicians desert their own political parties and pledge loyalty to the winning side during elections. It says a lot about our political system and the character of our politicians.

Helpful. If a leader is not helpful to his constituents, why should they vote for him?

Friendly. Everybody wants a leader who is approachable. A friendly person is great to have around. In fact, many good leaders are people-oriented. It goes without saying that they are approachable. They wear big smiles and easily establish rapport and personal connections with people.

Courteous. Basic courtesy and good manners are essential. People need to be treated with respect and leaders must set the example. A leader can’t be calling people names. Duterte’s lack of courtesy may be one reason why people who did not vote for him continue to be hesitant about heeding his call for unity.

Kind. A kind leader is a good leader. Compassion touches people in ways they never forget. On the other hand, an efficient but spiteful and vindictive leader will be remembered only as spiteful and vindictive.

Obedient. A leader must be obedient to the law, the moral code, and his conscience.

Cheerful. It helps to be a happy, positive individual who radiates a lightness of spirit. A cheerful leader harbors no negative attachments that prevent him from reaching out to everyone. He seeks no entitlement. He is just happy to serve.

Thrifty. Extravagance, or excessive spending on luxuries, has no place in the life of a true leader. A leader who saves the community money in carrying out his projects is most commendable.

Brave. A leader will invariably face trials. He must be courageous in dealing with adversity. He must fight hard for what is right. There is no integrity in cowardice.

Clean. This is not only about personal hygiene, but also about having a clean record in governance, with no bad reputation for stealing or other shenanigans, and no credible cases filed against him.

Reverent. This character trait makes a leader capable of honoring and respecting life, relationships, vows, etc. He is also respectful of Mother Nature — all of God’s creation. And he pursues, with reverence, his vow to serve the people.

If you find a leader who has most of these qualities, you can be assured that he will serve his community well, and by the time he leaves, people will see how much he has changed things for the better. Such a leader will be remembered well by his constituents. Character is built early in life, and one’s character is reflected in the choices one makes.

One who aspires to be a good leader will find that there is a lot to learn from being a Boy Scout.