This, my dear blogging community, is a post on which I would like some feedback. Please tell me what you think. Give insight. I’d love to hear varying perspectives. What’s your take on this?
Though, of course, there are varying opinions about Prince Siddhartha’s (a.k.a., the Buddha) son, Rāhula, with regards to the meaning of his name (and his life in general), many believe that Rāhula means “fetter” or “obstacle.” According to one website on Buddhist studies, the birth of Siddhartha’s son prompted the future Buddha to state “a bondage has been born.” Undoubtedly, one, especially one who is not a religious studies guru or Buddhist scholar, might consider this surprising–or even somewhat shocking. One would be immediately prone to think that such an important world figure and spiritual leader would have not considered his own son an impediment to his goals, which was a need to find the right path, one that led him away from his family, material possessions, and an earthly existence. This, naturally, is easily debatable, but it isn’t the main point of my posting here. I’ve added this background simply because I am going through an issue that is equally open to debate, an issue that relates to the birth of my own two children.
I have long considered myself a traveler. For the first twenty-two years of my life, having been to most of the contiguous United States, having lived in eight states by the time I was in my 20’s, I was a domestic vagabond, an experience partially promoted by my parents–who were always moving, it seemed, but it was something that I continued on my own, too. Then, I ventured abroad for the first time in 1992, twenty years ago, and I’ve since been to some fifty countries. I, moreover, have lived in six countries overall. Nowadays, I have a family, and we’ve chosen to live in Asia for the present and near future. Unquestionably, I love my children. My daughter has been the love of my life for the last three-plus years, and my son, seven-months old at the time of writing, is equally important to me. Both provide me with a joy I’d not know hitherto in my life. Indeed, I have quipped to others that merely holding my children begets a feeling that surpasses the joys of seeing places like the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall, Tikal, Lake Bled, and the Grand Canyon, combined.
However, I still want to travel.
Before we had children, I told my wife that I would still hope to travel once a year, solo, even if we were to have kids one day because it was, and has long been, an important aspect of my life. In fact, I have long considered traveling an integral part of my being. I absolutely need it. However, I now am confronted with a dilemma, the aforementioned, debatable personal issue.
My wife doesn’t support such a notion. She feels that if I loved my children, as I say I do (and I do), then I wouldn’t leave them to travel. I, on the other hand, would like to continue having one solo trip each year, but I have met resistance to the idea, and the two times that I have gone abroad since the birth of my daughter have created tension in our relationship (between my wife and me). Recently, I have been pondering my next trip, which I’d briefly mentioned to my spouse before our son was born seven months ago, yet I feel torn, completely, both internally (I surely will miss both kids when gone) and externally (my wife will be disappointed by my selfishness). Places like North Korea, Papua New Guinea and Brunei are now calling my name, tantalizing me, taunting me to come.
Having been a teacher for a number of years, I was totally accustomed to taking three or four international trips abroad annually before marriage and before having children. Practically every winter break, spring break, and summer break I would travel, and being based in Taiwan for six years, teaching at an American school, I also ventured off during the Chinese New Year’s break. I made the most of 14 weeks of yearly vacation. Seven years ago, when I met my future wife, we started to travel overseas together, taking two trips internationally each year, yet I still had a chance to go solo traveling because she didn’t have as much vacation time as me. The balance was great. Now, faced with fatherhood, I am fine with not traveling as much, but to completely dismiss my needs to go is one arduous, seemingly impossible, task, indeed.
Many folks I know can’t–and don’t–support my notion of going. They don’t relate. They have never traveled like I have, never felt the need to go like I do. They think I have a responsibility to my family that necessitates my staying home. To leave my children to go for a week or two of travels, alone, isn’t right, they think–and they have said. When I chose to have children and a family, I opted to also give up my needs to see the world (solo), they believe. The topic has arisen more than a few times, in various venues. Needless to say, it has caused friction between me and my wife.
On the other hand, a very select few folks have told me, mostly off the record, that I should still be able to head off to satiate my travel needs. Once a year isn’t overdoing it by any means, they feel. If it is a core need of my existence, I should satisfy that need every so often. I am not leaving for months at a time, and I am not looking to go more than once a year, so why should it be an issue? If I look at it mathematically, if I travel for 10 days annually, that is a mere .03% of one year. Looking at it that way surely allows me to think that I am not being neglectful of my responsibilities. Is that percentage of time enough to be considered a shirker, a slacker? A bad dad? Of course… Who’s to say?
Last year, a chakra healer I met told me that he can see why I feel the way I do, and he explained that he and his wife had come to an agreement that each year they would have their own time to travel, going on retreats or healing journeys, separately. When I told my wife about that, she responded that they must not have children. I saw his point. I saw hers. I was torn.
Admittedly, I am ambivalent, of course, and the two times I’ve left, unaccompanied, for peripatetic purposes (not the times I’ve traveled for work, going to both Barcelona and Borneo for teacher training, to Valais for a school-related ski trip, and to Bangkok/Myanmar to pursue a new job opportunity), I nearly cancelled the trips because I felt it somehow wasn’t right that I was leaving my daughter behind (I have yet to travel since our son was born). Not only did I experience that increasingly internal debate both times, but my wife also wasn’t happy with me traveling to China for ten days last summer and for nine days in Myanmar in 2009.
(It must be said that I have also loved traveling as a family, with family, hitherto, when we have. Taking our daughter around Europe, while living in Switzerland last year, traveling–during different vacations–to Malta, Germany, Turkey, Lichtenstein, Spain and France, was wonderful, and we have also gone back to America and have visited quite a few places in Taiwan together, where we now live. Moreover, I look forward to bringing both my children around the world in the future, introducing them to places I’ve been, venturing to new locales together, opening their hearts and mind to different peoples. I want them to know the world as I’ve known it and how my wife has seen it. I want them to know more. We both want them to.)
So, how will this pan out? Can I continue my travels solo? Am I wrong to want to? Am I wrong to do it? The answers are not clear. Perspectives differ. Perhaps there are no answers.
All I know is that my children are not my Rāhula. I would never consider them a hinderance or an obstacle. I don’t plan to leave them forever, searching for answers and the meaning of it all. They answer many of life’s questions for me. They provide much of the meaning I’ve long desired and sought. Yet I still feel that life can have that balance. Do you? My ears are open.