They’re Not My Rāhula (A Father’s Traveling Quandary)

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?

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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.

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14 Responses to They’re Not My Rāhula (A Father’s Traveling Quandary)

  1. travelling_girl says:

    Michael,

    I really appreciate your article. I am a woman in my early 30s, lived in Taiwan for 3 years 2002-2005, lived in South America for a spell, and have travelled extensively throughout the world. So I “get” how important this face of your life is to you. I find your article to be somewhat of a forewarning to myself as I consider a future permanent partner and family life. In fact, I have not gotten married yet nor had children b/c it is next to impossible to find someone who “gets” how important this part of who I am is/shares this common lifestyle with me. To your query: If I was in your situation I would expect that my partner would get and understand that being separate beings is important and healthy in a relationship. Having a family should not mean completely losing your sense of self. If you were my partner, I’d say, “Yeah, man. Go for it. As long as we have everything in place re: supports, etc. so that I’m ok with the two kidlets on my own while you’re gone for a couple weeks-month, then yes, it is ok. AND it is ok if you are alright with parenting the children on your own for a couple of weeks or month later on so I can have the same opportunity!”. Does this interest your wife? What do you think is the real, underlying basis of her concern? Is it truly that she thinks always being together and parenting together = good parenting? Or is she feeling truly supported as one half of two parents?(I’m not making insinuations or judgements, but rather just trying to throw out some tidbits that may be helpful (or may not!). Consider the concept of “enmeshment” and how people in relationships can loose sight of their individuality and ability to distinguish themself from the other(s) and how this is unhealthy. Anywho, as a very independent, educated, almost-always-travels-on-her-own woman, as a potential mother I say you should be able to do this, as long as your wife is equitably given such/equally important to her alone time.

    • travelling_girl says:

      *this FACET of your life is to you.

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Ciao, Karla.
      Thanks for taking the time to respond to my posting about traveling solo even with family back home. I appreciate your insight and perspective, indeed. Yes, it has long been an integral ‘facet’ of my life, so I do find it hard to simply cover up and ignore. Indeed, you should consider such aspects of your own life and traveling lifestyle when looking for that partner you mentioned, and hopefully be able to communicate that to him/her. Not to spill the beans too much, but when I met my future wife, she agreed to the idea of me traveling after marriage–even though I knew it wouldn’t be as much as I did back in my single days. Modifying my travel lifestyle was surely acceptable to me, but completely disregarding the need to set out solo wasn’t what I expected to do. My gut still tells me that I can do a trip a year, yet I am up against a completely opposite perspective. How we’ll come to terms with that isn’t clear, and, in fact, I feel resigned to not even ‘ask’ any more. Being that we are in Taiwan where my wife has the support of my in-laws, very close support, then I feel she wouldn’t be “left” alone in handling the kids full-time. I wish I knew what the underlying basis of her decision is, and, to be honest, I don’t know if I ever will. She feels a great need to always be with the kids–and states that even if she goes out for a coffee with friends, it is too much being away from the kids–although I try to promote that balance is needed. 100%, I would be supportive of her taking the time to get “me time” or travel time, which she’s never done solo before (which would make her setting forth on her own a trifle odd because she’d never needed it before)–but if she did need it, I would definitely say “go for it”. Yes, I do believe she thinks always being together is good parenting, so perhaps that is the issue, for she might feel that if I take the time to get away solo, I am not being a good parent. I have tried to explain that such a trip might be good for me; thus making me a better parent. Years ago, I had kept a quote about how a good parent–specifically a mother–should find the balance and still pursue one’s goals and aspirations, for if you give ALL to your children, you give up part of who you are, and that isn’t being a good parent; its more like martyrdom. Never would I neglect my children by taking off for a prolonged period, and I wouldn’t be able to be gone for too long–for I would miss them, yet 7-10 days seems totally acceptable to me once a year. We just came back from a trip to Brunei, and I loved being with my kiddies for that time, but there were times where/when I couldn’t shoot (photo) a site/sight that I wanted to capture. Once a year, I’d like to be able to do that, having full freedom to scour the landscape for good shots while not caring my son or daughter (though I LOVE carrying them, etc.). That, I believe, doesn’t make me a bad dad. Where this will end up, I cannot foresee. However, I love hearing insight, so, once again, thank you!

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Mike,

    Travelling allows you to stretch your wings, sure, but ……there is always a downside? As a suggestion….a sheet of paper with not 2 columns but three. Column A – How your travel helps you, Column B – How your travel helps Payling, Column C – How your travel helps Isabella and Derek (even ask Isabella and write her response down as a visual),

    End goal – Long term happiness for you, Payling, Isabella, and Derek.

    If your wings are clipped slightly, due to you growing as a result of a new stage in your life, I agree with the other person that responded…..perhaps an escape for a couple of days rather than 10 may be a compromise.

    Just thoughts.

    Chris

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Thanks, Chris! I always appreciate new perspectives and different opinions! However, I was simply hoping for a “Man, just go for it!” response! ; )

  3. vagabondwithfamily says:

    Reblogged this on vagabondwithfamily and commented:

    I thought I would share this one more time!

  4. Keith Enlow says:

    Tough one and I don’t think anyone can relate to you necessarily because of all your travels and how it has become, well, you. If that makes sense. But I think while you still want to be that same you if only for a week or two out of the year it may not be possible. As for myself I would not want to travel alone and not because of feelings of selfish or my wife’s unhappiness but because I would only want to be with my wife and son during these rare moments and I could not imagine doing it alone. Vice versa too sure China isn’t my ideal destination having been there numerous times now but I still would never miss a trip with my wife and son. I’ve never experienced what you have or traveled even a fraction as much as you and I can understand some more adventurous travels can be difficult with family and sure I’d love to go swim with sharks but before traveling without my wife and son I’d prefer to sit home with my wife and son doing nothing.

    Safe Travels.

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Hey, thanks for sharing some insight! Good points, indeed. I am always ready to be open ears to the different perspectives folks have on this topic, K.

      I am willing to give up the former 3-4-times-a-year expectations of solo travel, for sure, yet once a year seems to still beckon.

      I, indeed, look to take my kids traveling, and I look forward to so many open roads with them. When we went to Malta two years ago (and Turkey, Germany, Italy, etc.), I loved the change in our travels, for having Isa with us opened up many new connections. At parks and playgrounds in Malta, we met quite a few local grandparents and older folks who were taking care of their grandkids, people we’d not have had a chance to chat with previously. Totally enjoyable.

      However, I have long had that travel bug, and it is still there, calling me to take to the road, still. Something inside me says I “have to ignore it”, staying with my kids at home instead, but there is a periodic voice that says “it would be okay”.

      Again, nobody will be able to answer this one. Just looking for insight and perspective.

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. kikikmg says:

    Gardening can be super therapeutic…lol. It was kind of nice to read this for selfish reasons. To see that even someone who has traveled all around the world and experienced some incredible personal things can still feel lost at times or yearning for something. Forgive my lack of eloquent writing skills. My immediate thoughts went to being able to find the same solace/ happiness/ peace that you find in traveling solo in other more local activities now that you have a family. I have yet to have had the amazing, and in my mind totally dreamy, opportunity to experience life in the way that you have (completely due to my own decisions which I take complete responsibility for). I do however understand very well the feeling of needing something more, or maybe not more because my children have been an amazing blessing, but something for myself, which I don’t feel like I’ve had since I had my son at 19. Something outside of the day in and day out being “stuck” at home caring for the kids, struggling to make ends meet and frequently feeling very lonely and feeling as though I’m missing out, that I was too smart and full of passion and determination to be living the way I had been, meant to do something more etc. Anyway, long story short, years of bitterness and frustration with what ultimately were my own life decisions but that I tried very hard to pin on those closest to me..started overflowing into every area in my life and I not only became tired and sick all the time but came very close to losing the most important relationship I have because of it about two years ago. It’s a hard subject because we all need something for ourselves, something all our own that makes us feel alive inside and like we still have some sort of individuality outside of those closest to us. At the same time when the decisions we choose to make put us in a position where we can’t live for ourselves as much as we’d like to we can become seriously torn inside. I read the book Eat Pray Love. As cliche as it may sound it felt like reading all of my escape fantasies put into words. Unfortunately, taking off in the middle of the night, on an emotional whim, to an ashram in India to meditate for months and / or a romantic tenure in Rome was not in the budget and honestly far too selfish in my mind to even be considered a possibility for atleast the next 13 years. (Though i do still sometimes wonder if the things I consider to be “selfish” and forgo for the sake of others are holding me back and causing myself sadness..which maybe I’m wrong but was what I got the feeling you were talking about.) So instead I went to Massage Therapy school. At first just because I was searching for a new career path as I felt being at home full time might be making me insane and that I had completely lost my independence, but now looking back I feel like I was drawn there for a reason and it has changed my life in so many beautiful and amazing ways I could write about it all day. Unlike a lot of schools mine was on the “hippy” side which at first I was completely turned off by. We spent four hours a day twice a week learning how to meditate, learning Reiki, talking about where we all were in our spiritual journeys, doing things like writing down emotions we want to let go of and burning them in a trash can. All things that if you had mentioned them to me two years ago would’ve been nothing more than just a bunch of pot head foo foo BS. I had never learned about anything like that or been exposed to anything like it, I was so closed minded. I’m going on and on. In the end what I have found is an ability to find happiness in nothing more than a smile or a flower I see, my health has improved vastly, my dealings with those closest to me are so much better. I just see things so differently than I once did. That no matter how much I wanted to blame my situation on certain people and circumstance that when push comes to shove I had a choice and a part in every situation that I needed to learn to take personal responsibility for. Once again when we moved here though and Joe went back to work I found myself again feeling very alone and sad and worried. So I started working in the yard. I don’t mean tending to flower beds. I mean clearing over an acre of land with nothing but a chainsaw, shovel, rake and a wheel barrow. I’ve decided to spend my days working like a man, break all my nails, be filthy and sweaty and challenge everything I thought I knew about what I enjoyed and liked to do, because hey, it worked once before. And low and behold I started feeling ike a million bucks at the end of the day. Every day I wake up and see the beginings of what will eventually be our own Zen masterpiece and my own personal Oasis where I will meditate and appreciate life lol.. and I feel so accomplished. Even better knowing noone really cares but me. lol.
    I do have a point somewhere in here and you have probably been well versed in this type of thing being well educated and traveled and having years on me. So I apologize if this just bres you to tears and is not the response you were looking for. But all we can offer up is our own experiences and opinions that have come out of them. That being said, from my own, I can tell you that your relationship with your wife will affect your children dramatically and unfortunately for my now 13 year old son it took me about 11 years to realize that what I was feeling all the time, as strongly and as passionately that I felt I was in the right, was not nearly as important as it seemed. Certainly not as important as those who I love the most in the world. Certainly not worthy of litteraly making myself physically sick over. Somehow I was able to find happiness literally right in my own back yard. Someday I hope I can go to india and Rome and I continue to dream and reach for that to someday be a reality, but for now I have to be able to find the things that I need here…and be happy about it. for me and for my family.There are more important things to be dealt with now.

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Whew, Kiki, whew! Thanks for sharing such insights. I am always interested in hearing about others’, and yours, experiences, so I did read it all. Connected to my “dilemma”, I took from your response the notion that “we all need something for ourselves, something all our own that makes us feel alive inside.” Well, I certainly don’t disagree with the concept, and I agree with it all-in-all; however, I don’t know if it applies to me, for a long time ago, long before family and marriage, I knew that travel was an integral part of my being, the essence of my existence in many ways. So I haven’t “a need” for travel as “something for myself”. It is me. I would like to continue having a slice of that former self, so my struggle is in being stuck somewhere between limiting the amount I travel (which I have NO qualms doing; what I am looking to do is far less than what I used to do–in terms of time on the road) and giving it up completely. I’ve been looking at it this way: If I travel 10 days in a year, which comes to 10/365 days, that amounts to, with rounding up, 3% of the year I would be away from my kids. Is that acceptable? Who is to say? If I feed my soul by doing so, is that bad? Is it being neglectful? Is my time away detrimental to the family, to my children? Or by reinforcing that aspect of my being, and, thus, adding to my sense of accomplishment in my travels, will I not be a better person, better father, better husband? Wouldn’t that somehow benefit me and my family? That’s where I am torn!

      • kikikmg says:

        Sorry for the long reply and thanks for reading it all! When you put it into perspective it’s only 3% of a year it certainly seems like you deserve that. Espescially if it helps you as a person.

      • vagabondwithfamily says:

        Thanks again, K! I do appreciate you reading!

  6. kierstenkaye says:

    I love this post, and I think it is great that you are so concerned about your family. I completely understand and agree with the thought process that when you get married and have children, you have opted to give up the privileges of living a freer, unfettered life. You have made choices and you have to live with the implications of those choices, both the wonderful and the less wonderful.

    However, I also understand that travel is a part of your being, it helps to make you who you are, and being alone is incredibly freeing, terrifying, and heightens self-awareness. I would not be able to live if I was with people all the time, and I love the adventure and self-relience I experience when I try something new by myself. Everyone needs to get away once in a while.

    So my advice is this; try to tell this to your wife. Try to help her understand that you aren’t trying to run away from your family or your responsibilities when you travel solo (unless, of course, those are the reasons you travel. Although I doubt it). Make sure she doesn’t feel abandoned by these trips, maybe offer to let her go on sabbaticals each year too. And try to find out if taking a shorter trip would make her feel better. Maybe shorter, and two per year? Or maybe just shorter. Because, let’s face it, your a dad and a husband and that does mean sacrifice. I hope this helps in some way. Best of luck!

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Thank you, Kiersten! You’re the first to have left a comment on this one, so I appreciate your insight! I’ve just shared it with my wife, actually! Being that the bug was within for all of my adulthood and even early childhood, the spirit of travel isn’t used as an escape from my kids. It is still there and has long been, and though I am no longer interested in or needing to travel 3-4 solo times per year, I still would like that one chance each year.

      We’ll see how it pans out! Only time will tell–and proactive, healthy communication, ideally, will help us to deal with the “issue”.

      Again, thanks for reading and responding!

      Cheers,
      Michael

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