I had perceived a challenge; a parental challenge, a social challenge. It was the coming of age of youth in our society today.
With traditional religion-based rite of passage of any convention — Bar/Bat-Mitzvah, Confirmation, you name it, all but losing its meaning, a vacuum was created. Youth still needed to claim their place amongst adults, yet having no significant ritual to carry them through, a void was created. Current ceremonies that are based on learning useless religious laws, and resulting in a big expensive party and receiving material gifts, miss the mark completely, leaving teenagers seeking other venues to prove their worthiness as adults. Smoking, drugs, gangs and various forms of violence are filling in this vacuum. “Be a man, shoot up crack,” “Be a real woman, suck dry this cock.” We, as grown-ups, may find these trials and conditions our children are facing in high-school baffling, not to mention demeaning and dangerous, but for teenagers whose brains are being rewired for adulthood, it is, in their minds, a proper replacement for meaningless religious rituals, if any are even offered. What is society to do? War used to be another ticket into adulthood. WWII, Vietnam – horrible as these were, the military took in kids and turned them into, albeit at a hefty price, adults. Israel has compulsory military service which recruits all citizens at eighteen, war or no war, and turns them into adults. The USA offers no such option unless one is to volunteer for the service. Sending my kids to die at some remote foreign land for the sake of some corporation whose concerns our administration was bought up to protect, I rather not. What am I, a concerned parent, to do?
I had a vision, a grand vision; or maybe more of a realization.
What is adulthood, I asked myself, but the understanding that we are part of a bigger picture. When we are born, all we care for as babies is to be fed, poop, and feel the warmth of our parents. The rest of the world hardly penetrates our consciousness. When we become toddlers, our awareness grows to include our close family members, and maybe a handful of friends. As children we further include a larger number of friends, our neighborhood and maybe our town. And thus the process continues – the more we mature, the more our awareness of our environment expand – our state, nation, world, universe – physical and mystical. And when we are ready to pass on from this world, by then, hopefully, our consciousness extended enough to include that which lies beyond. No wonder older people tend to, in some societies, become shamans and people of the spirit.
If that is the case, I argued, then the real rite of passage is when young adult start to realize that it is not all about them; that there is a bigger picture. If I can design, I thought, a project, plan a ritual, in which my kids will be able to comprehend this, I would successfully fill in the void with a meaningful rite of passage. And that I did. I spent much time meditating on this and came up with a plan. I explained the concept to my children and then asked them to each do their own research into a cause they would like to support. My kids did their work and each selected a topic – clean water for Africa, fighting deforestation, and helping to save the endangered Red Panda. Next they were to complete various goals – from creating public awareness for their causes, to raising money, to volunteering, etc. I designed this so the project would take about six months to complete, and that at the end of the process, there would be a carefully planned ceremony of acceptance into adulthood; something that would be very meaningful and remain with them for the rest of their lives.
My kids are bright, kind and intelligent. I am blessed with offspring on whom everyone who meet tells us how polite and considerate they are.
When I started them on the rite of passage project about 3 years ago, I thought it would be a no-brainer; that in no time my noble children would get caught up in the vision and carry it through. Yet as time went by a realization sunk in. My expectations were without a base. I read in the news about other young adults who took on projects with strong social impact, who discovered some scientific way to fight hunger, reduce disease, tackle pollution at sea, and I thought my kids will do the same. How wrong was I. Though my children are kind and considerate, and reaching an age that is traditionally the rite of passage age, something was off. And that something was me and my expectations. My kids were not making much progress on their individual projects unless I poked them to do so. No self-motivation seemed present. They were simply not “there.” And as time moved on, my frustration grew. I told my kids that as individuals who have not passed the rite of passage I do not approve of them having tools I believe only adults should have. This includes mobile phones, personal laptops, and, soon to be of legal age to do so, a driving license. I do not regret these conditions, however, what I recently came to realize is that I have failed, and gloriously so. No, not by setting the bar too high, nor by my expectations, but rather by failing to realize that I ended up using material items (mobile phone, laptop etc.) as incentives to complete the project. These are, after all, objects that are purely for personal gratification. It stands in full contradiction to what I defined as adulthood. In other words, if the only (or main,) reason for my children to complete their rite of passage project is not for assisting with providing clean water in Africa, nor reducing deforestation, or help save Red Pandas, but just so they can own a person mobile phone, what did I teach them? Help another only so you can get material gratification? Where is the big picture? Where is the expanded consciousness?
As I write this I am still lamenting my failure; reflecting on the paving stones on the road to hell. It is a tight spot to be at and the ground is burning hot. On this Father’s Day I feel ashamed and lost.
That being said, this too shall pass and a lesson will be learned. It is not the first time I missed the mark. It is how I learn. But for a change, rather than delivering a complete lesson on this blog, I wanted to share what is now work in progress; work I will continue to do with myself.
(To be continued down the road, if and when the lesson will be learned).
Learned from: reflection on my frustration over the rite of passage challenge I gave my kids.