Nicole and I have been involved in Buddhism and the FPMT since the early ’70s. We’ve been married for 12 years.
Nicole was working voluntarily in a hospital when we lived in Hong Kong, in a ward for abandoned children. We became aware of the condition of one little boy in particular. He was very premature and weighed about one and a half pounds when he was born. He had all kinds of very complicated health situations and was in a respirator in his first few months.
There was one young doctor there, a lady who had just graduated. This baby was her first case, and she really took a huge interest in him. She told us she had begged some of the consultants to keep him going. Nicole followed this process, and Michael – as we called him – was in the hospital for a year and a half before he came to us. This little guy, he’s got a smile and a spark. Somehow, Nicole felt he had some potential.
It was very hard to see how that was going to be realized; he was simply left by his parents and he was in hospital. Nicole saw him over many months and saw that he was very delayed in some ways and wasn’t getting the stimulation that was going to help him progress. I think it was then the idea came that perhaps it would be good if we tried to help him.
We thought we were too old to adopt. We thought that if you’re more than 40 you can’t legally adopt in Hong Kong. At some point we found out the age limit was 50, so we still made it. By then he was almost 2 years old.
Were you eager to become a father?
No, I never thought about doing so.
Were you ever resistant?
No, not at all. It was Nicole’s initiative, but I supported it. Here we were at 49, and it seemed that we were so fortunate. Just our saying “yes” would entirely change this little boy’s life, and now three years later I would recommend it to anybody.
He’s a little character, and he generates good will wherever he goes. He has mild cerebral palsy, which is probably delaying his speech somewhat. It’s not major; it’s very, very mild. His gait is a little difficult too. His speech is coming along very well. It’s not there yet but it’s coming along. He’s having difficulty putting words together but he can say 70 or 80 words now. He can understand everything; he’s sharp as a needle and very aware, and he’s very sensitive. He didn’t make a sound when he came to us, he didn’t speak, he didn’t do anything. Sometimes he laughed.
First he went to a Montessori school in England and now he’s in a good preschool here in Vancouver. We’re not keen to put him into a grade school system until he can speak. Normally kids can speak by one and a half to two years. You hear of some kids who don’t say a word until they’re six and then all of a sudden they’re quoting Shakespeare, so who knows what’s waiting to come out of Michael’s mouth!
He understands a lot. Conceptually he can put ideas together, and the way he imagines and creates and makes things, there’s nothing lacking. It’s really the ability to output that’s difficult.
Along with that we try to help him develop his ability to read and recognize his words and numbers, and to continually support him, try to make sure he’s happy, secure, that his social skills develop with other kids as well and as much as possible.
It’s difficult when he’s with other kids because we find that other four- and five-year-old kids don’t understand why he doesn’t speak. He wants to communicate so he’ll touch them or pull them or do something, and they interpret in perhaps the wrong way. That’s a little difficult and that’s where I feel slightly protective of him. Nicole is working very hard on the speech with him.
I think the biggest thing about being a parent is patience, and you really have to give yourself. You don’t just talk about giving yourself; you really have to give yourself. I see that in Nicole. Her entire day, every day, is given to Michael’s welfare, finding out about the different resources we can tap into: the speech training, the physiotherapy, improving his hearing, finding out about tests for different things, finding out about good schools, making opportunities for him to play with other kids and do other interesting activities, writing for the disabled.
I think for us the most important thing – I mean, we give him food, we give him clothing, we give him education and protection – but absolutely the most important thing we hope to give him is contact with Dharma.
We had hoped to move to Santa Cruz in California so we could raise him in a strong Dharma community and he could go to Tara Redwood School, but that didn’t work out. How we give him Dharma at the moment is to give him as much opportunity to recognize the pictures, the photographs and other images we have in the house and in the meditation room.
He comes to the meditation room with me, he lights incense and offers it to all the pictures, and he loves to do that. He loves to sing prayers and I sing him to sleep with prayers every night, along with mantras.
He loves the tape of George Galt’s long-life songs for Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Osel. We’ve played these over and over and over again, and one of his favorite ones is lama sangye, lama chö … [a prayer of refuge and bodhichitta]. We never forced that – he just enjoys it. He’s lucky, he’s met Lama Osel, he’s met Lama Zopa, and he’s met other monks and nuns. We encourage that as much as possible.
We keep a lot of animals and he’s really good with them. We try to encourage him to be kind, to look after them – he really does, he loves them.
One of the things I feel is incorrect with kids is to say no without a reason, without having a real boundary that isn’t just based on the parent’s whim. It shouldn’t just be based on a whim or something arbitrary in the moment; there has to be a foundation of saying no.
It should be a “no,” followed by a “because.” Generally I try to relate it to what’s happening in his mind; I’ll let it go to a certain point and then I’ll stop it. It helps me know how the mind is developing, which traits are developing and when it’s necessary to curb these traits.Tags: parenting