May 26, 2007

Love, Life and Poetry

In a recent post, I mentioned my all-round philosophy to life. Here's an example of how it works.

I used to be in private practice in one of Singapore's top law firms. It paid very well and the work was very interesting. In fact, for my particular area of practice, no other firm in Singapore offered more challenging work. A year of experience there was worth two or three in other law firms. However, due to a chronic shortage of lawyers, the hours were very long.


Then my first child was born. Six months later, I quit the job. Mrs Wang quit private practice too. The kind of work/family balance we wanted was not going to happen, in a law firm environment.

I had absolutely no regrets. If I thought only in terms of the cost to my career, I would have had regrets. But the wiser thing to do was to consider life as a total package. I looked at my life as a whole, and the correct decision became quite clear to me. So I left private practice without hesitation, quite happily, and much to the dismay of my then-bosses.
And I haven't looked back.

Now I have two kids. Recently, I've once again been spending less time with them than I would like. This time it's not the job. It's my exams. Fortunately, they will be over soon. Also, there is another difference, compared to the earlier days. Now the kids are older, more independent, and they have each other as playmates. I've been discovering that their new attitude is: if Daddy can join in, that would be great, but if Daddy can't, then that's fine too.

Gasp. They're growing up. That was quick.

A Worried Mother recently wrote to me - she is stopping work for a few years, to be a full-time mother to her newborn. I say this: don't fret about taking time off from your career. In the big picture of things, it does not matter whether you devoted 40 years of your life to your career, or 38, or 37. But the time with your child is very important, and once lost, doesn't come back.

Because kids are not kids forever. They grow up. Treasure the time you have with them, while you still have it. Because before you know it, they'll have their own lives and it will be time to let them go.


That's what Kahlil Gibran wants to tell you too:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you,
yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Interestingly, in this other post of mine, a Buddhist reader, Chan, makes a bizarre argument against homosexuality. I thought I'd heard it all before, but this one is new to me. Chan says that homosexuality is wrong because the gay person, by not procreating, is being unfilial to his parents.

I then mentioned Buddhist monks. Are they, I asked, also unfilial to their parents, for choosing a life of celibacy and thereby not procreating? Chan's reply was that if the Buddhist monk seeks his parents' permission before entering monkhood, then the Buddhist monk is not unfilial. By extension, Chan says, if a gay person seeks his parents' permission before adopting a gay lifestyle, then the gay person's behavior becomes acceptable.

I'm struck by Chan's emphasis on filial piety. But personally, I think that in such a context, the principle has been stretched waaaay too far. Human beings are human beings, not the slaves or dogs of their parents. When they are adults, they must be left to make their own decisions and choose their own paths in life. Suppose you feel a strong calling to be a Buddhist monk. If your parents approve, that's great. But if they don't, then don't let their objections stop you.


Here is a real-life example: the Venerable Hyon Gak Sunim, Head Teacher at Hwa Gye Sah Temple in South Korea. Formerly, he was Paul Muenzen, the son of staunch Roman Catholics in the USA, and a graduate of Yale and Harvard. He pushed it all aside, to be a monk. Well, he's happy. And it's his life, after all. Not his parents'.

Speaking for myself, if my children grew up and decided to convert to Buddhism, I would not stop them. If they decided to convert to Christianity or Hinduism or Islam, I would not stop them either. In each case, I would only want to know that they have reflected and considered carefully and have concluded that this is what they really want for themselves. And if my children grew up and one day told me that they were gay, then in a strange way I think I would feel honoured. That they loved and trusted me enough to tell me such a thing, in a society where such things are often so deeply misunderstood.

In all cases, I think I would continue to love them, as a father should. I would respect their basic intrinsic right, as human beings, to choose their own paths in life, even if these are not paths I would have chosen for myself, or for them. How did Kahlil put it?
"You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you."

I like Kahlil's works. They contain such great wisdom. It's such a pity that our education system places little emphasis on Literature. It's just about the only subject that examines the condition of being human.

My next-door neighbours are always fighting and quarrelling, and it all started from the time when the handsome young Indian man there fell in love with a pretty young Chinese girl. That was years ago. Now they're married, but the man's parents are still fighting over this interracial marriage. Every now and then, they still throw the Chinese girl out of the house. So she sits outside the flat and cries. I see this as just another kind of Romeo & Juliet tragedy. If only the man's parents had read Shakespeare ... maybe they'd stop their bad behaviour.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes Mr Wang. I totally agree with you. Kids will not be kids forever. Spend time with them while you can. This is a song for you by Harry Chaplin called Cats In The Cradle.

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
He'd say "I'm gonna be like you dad
You know I'm gonna be like you"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home dad?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw", I said "Not today
I got a lot to do", he said, "That's ok"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
"Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head and said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
It's been sure nice talking to you"

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

Anonymous said...

A great piece of writing, Mr Wang, so many different insights carefully woven together. Very thought-provoking.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang,

Is that your real name? Can u put up your pix so that we can know u better?

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that Asians living in Western lands were always more 'westernised' than those in Asia. I found out that i was wrong.

In actual fact, most Asian families who have migrated to say America, UK, Australia or Europe are even more traditional and 'old fashioned' than one would have imagined. Ideas regarding filial piety are extremely strong and you'd be surprised that arranged marriages are still pretty much the rage in these parts of the world among the migrant communities.

These migrants settled down to have families in the new countries and the 1st generation often disagree with how these traditional values are forced upon them. Therein lies the disstress - different generations being torn by different values.

But really dawned upon me is that the reasons perhaps why the parents adhere so strongly to their old ways is because they bond so tightly among their own communities and hold hold on to these believes with their dear lives - a kind of group support mentality if you must.

There was a young man of Asian descent who was born and raised in Europe. Whenever he had disagreements with his parents regarding his choices, he was told by his parents his whole life that:

1. This was the way Asian families do it or
2. We are Asians and Asians dont do this or that.

When this young man grew up and was posted to work in Singapore, he awakened to an alternative Asia and imagine the culture shock he experienced! Only then did he realise that what he had been told his whole life wasnt exactly true.

FrauP.

Anonymous said...

Gee, this cat is indeed profound. Many times better than those commentaries from ST.

nanie said...

Someone told me once that we should spend time with our children while they still want to spend time with us. There will come a time when they would rather be with their friends than us. So we should try to be available to them esp in their early years.

Regarding the gay-unfilial theory - When Buddhism first came to China, it encountered major resistance because it called for total detachment and this conflicted with existing Confucius teachings and Chinese classics on filial piety. So the inability to procreate contradicts Chinese classics but it doesn't contradict Buddhism per se.

If anything, Buddhism calls for one to seek enlightenment and detachment from cravings, so to buddhism, homosexuality is as "unbeneficial" as any other heterosexual relationships. There is no moral value attached to it.

(BTW, you can check out the Classic of Filial Piety on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filial_piety)

Anonymous said...

I don't think people should confuse Buddhism with Confucianism.

It is Confucian ideas that staunchly insist on the filial piety thingie; not Buddhism.

If one wants to insist on Buddhism as intimately associated with Confucian filial piety, you may as well say that that Buddha himself was intensely unfilial to have disobeyed his parents in his search for enlightenment.

—a very small animal

amatu said...

Yea! I cant agree with you more. Our education has a moral loophole!

amatu said...

"It's such a pity that our education system places little emphasis on Literature. It's just about the only subject that examines the condition of being human. "

Yea! I cant agree with you more. Our education has a moral loophole!

Stephen said...

Thank you, Mr Wang.

I have been an avid reader of your blog for the past 1 year or so, and it is great to see you blogging about Spirituality.

You are right in saying that our lives consist of many aspects (Career, Relationship, Health, etc), and that Spirituality is the most important. Without it, the others do not mean much.

And thank you for the article about the Venerable Hyon Gak Sunim. Inspirational indeed. Keep up the good work, Mr. Wang!

Your loyal reader in Perth, WA.

=)

Roger said...

Mr Wang, just would like to say how impressed I am with your work and life ethic, and that your blog is indeed enlightening.

Recently finding myself at a crossroads, I consulted an uncle who advised me to look at my life in different quadrants (segments).

1. Studies
2. Family
3. Physical health
4. Spiritual health

Just thinking about my life and my achievements in this framework helped me in understanding why I always felt as if I was unable to move forward.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am in the midst of a career change... one where I'm walking away from upper-middle class salary to start from scratch. Have not told my parents yet. I know my dad may be worried in the beginning but would accept it as my choice eventually. It is my mom who often finds it hard to accept any choice that is not the societal norms. Still I decided that it's my life, I have to pursue the choices that I think would bring me the most satisfaction with my life journey :-)

Hsien Lei said...

"...don't fret about taking time off your career."

I think it's naive to think that a woman can take time off her career and suffer no consequences. I have a PhD in epidemiology and went to top American universities but decided to take time off to devote to my family. There is no way I could return to academic research now even if I wanted to. That's just a fact of a life.

Any woman who wants to leave the career track no matter how temporary needs to realize that whatever decision she makes, there will be good and bad consequences. If we want to spend more time with our children, we must be willing accept that our careers will suffer. And vice versa.

No woman can have it all. No woman is perfect. There are no perfect women with perfect lives. And that's OK.

Anonymous said...

To Hsien Lei:

Perfection to different people means different things. So i guess in this respect, there is no perfection, really =)

FrauP.

Anonymous said...

Buddhism (or whatever label you give it) in its essence is to transcend all forms & let wisdom flourish. Between now & the permanent nothingness, there are so many beautiful things in life like watching kids growing up, being with loved ones, mathematics, science, appreciate this universe.... There are many great thinkers before us whom we can learn from like Martin Heidegger, Kahlil etc.
Your article is refreshing & has the power to awaken many....

Janice said...

Mr Wang, I wish I had the same wisdom as you do. It's such a shame that my wisdom has problem catching up with my age. Recently I have been telling myself to reassess my goals and priorities. Do I want a balanced work-life that allows quality time for myself or do I want high income but little personal time and then seek superficial happiness in retail therapy? I am having a better idea now but still I have to constantly remind myself not to be distracted by how much more my peers are earning.

scb said...

Mr Wang, is spiritualism link to material wellbeing? I mean must spiritual attainment comes after material needs are fulfilled? Or is spiritual endeavour on a different plane from materialism; that is spiritualism must be attained through detachment from material pursuits. Kindly give me your takes, thank you!

Mr Wang Says So said...

scb:

you ask such huge questions. :)

Anonymous said...

scb:
Spiritual pursuit lead to inner peace, lasting happiness n more importantly put ur happiness within ur control.
Material pursuit bring instant,short and superficial happiness at best, if u succeed. Frustration if u don't. And craving for more. Material pursuit put ur happiness beyond ur own control.
It is obvious which is better in the long run.
However, in today's materialistic world, it is difficult for the average person to go 100% on spiritual pursuit. So strike a balance between the two especially when u r young. As u grow older, increase the % in favour of spiritual.

Yau-ming's blog!! said...

Yet the funny thing is that children invariably turn out very much like their parents as they grow up - despite trying to be different in their younger days. I think certain ways of behaving and thinking are hardwired in our DNA. But we still have an option to try and reprogram our brains and hopefully improve on the previous model

scb said...

Thank You sincerely Mr anonymous May 27,2007, 10.26pm for your kind response. Being an atheist since young myself, I am unable to anchor to any faith to look for enlightenment. However, I do strongly believe in spiritual(not of the religious kind) wellbeing and try hard to see how others understand and interpret spirituality and spiritualism. Having live for 56 years, I have yet to understand the minds and hearts of humanity.

Slawek Rogulski said...

In a strange turn of events those who migrate take with them a snapshot of their culture and values from the moment of their migration. The culture in their country of origin keeps evolving and changes. But the immigrants do not change. They are now sustaining their original culture in the context of the culture of their new land. If that is correct than maybe that's why immigrant families are more traditional than the counterparts that stayed behind.

Anonymous said...

Ah so, Mr Wang you are a free thinker.

That is why you comments are as such. Hopefully the day will come when you see the light

Anonymous said...

scb: At this stage of ur life u should be working for ur next life. Cultivating of ur mind to make urself a better person is the way to go if u r able to take this path. How ? There r many ways. I like Zen meditation technique. U need not have to be a Buddhist to apply this technique. Of course it helps alot if u study Buddhism. The progress is very slow. The important thing is to be compassionate and if u can, help others to have a better life. There are joy n happiness in helping others.

ainin said...

Dear Mr Wang,
Thank you for your always insightful writing. I'm an avid reader. I've been dealing with the working mother dilemma for a while, as my toddling twins clamber for more attention. This post was especially well timed for me, and proved to be the catalyst. After reading this post yesterday, I walked into my boss's office and announced my intention to quit. Luckily for me, she's offered an alternative I can't refuse. I'd like to thank you again. Children are indeed only young once.

scb said...

To anon May 28, 2007, 1037pm; hi, you must be the kind anon who responded earlier, I feel honoured to have your attention again. Well, at a tender age I was irritated by my mother who literally forced me to pray to deities(Taoism). Somehow I never like the idea but it then instigated me to read up religions, all sorts if I can understand them. I was also fully convinced that though I am an atheist, I cannot deny the existences of religions and their believers as they are all around me almost all the time. Honestly I even see much positive social values in religions. The unfortunate or rather sad thing about humanity is that the more educated(in tandem with time)the more they become artificial(less human may I say). The mountain fascinates me, I cant find one here and even if I do, it will be "state property, trespassers will be prosecuted". There are mountains and bigger ones elsewhere, it is a matter of time I will be there. It is a very big goal, so I believe it should score! I thank you and do hope to communicate with you frequently.

Anonymous said...

You wrote: "And if my children grew up and one day told me that they were gay, then in a strange way I think I would feel honoured. That they loved and trusted me enough to tell me such a thing, in a society where such things are often so deeply misunderstood... In all cases, I think I would continue to love them, as a father should. I would respect their basic intrinsic right, as human beings, to choose their own paths in life, even if these are not paths I would have chosen for myself, or for them."

Very recently, my dad who has accepted me, his lesbian daughter, said something very similar. That I am my own human being, and eventually all those issues surrounding homosexuality become irrelevant - and he would continue to love me, as a father should.

At that moment when he said that I felt so much love for him, so much security in his love for me, knowing that I will forever be accepted and loved as his child, even though I am gay - and so much respect for this wonderful human being who I am blessed to have as a father. And I know that moment, and that unshakeable confidence in my parent's love for me, will stay with me till the day I die.

Thank you Mr Wang, you have my utmost respect as a fantastic thinker and father.

- Singapore lesbian

Mr Wang Says So said...

:)

Ainin & S'pore Lesbian, I am happy for both of you.

What on earth am I here for? said...

some parents don't deserve to be parents and they confuse love with the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Love, my friend, is always the right thing to do. Go ask Jesus.

What on earth am I here for? said...

Love, my friend, is always the right thing to do. Go ask Jesus

You too are confuse.Yes the Lord said Love thy neighbour as one self. I would gladly give up my life for a friend or family member whether the friend is a homosexual or a lesbian or not. I will however help him or her seek the word of the Lord as to what he or she must do and do the right thing as written in the Book.

Anonymous said...

You have a lot of work to do then. Why don't you get started on the bulk of it?

You know - heterosexual premarital sex; heterosexual extramarital sex; heterosexual sex in Geylang, Desker Road, Batam, Bangkok, Haadjai etc etc.

Why pick on gays?

AverRal said...

You are really inspiring.
Your wisdom renews my senses.