explorations of mindful fatherhood

My Son, The Lonely Buddhist


8131655646_c300b23a8d_zThe other day in the car, my son lamented to my wife,

“I’m a lonely Buddhist.”

She asked him more about it. He told her that most all of the kids at school are Christian or Jewish.  He pointed out that we don’t live around any other Buddhists, and that there are no Buddhist kids in his school, which makes him sad.

It was like the other day, when we were driving his friend home from an archery lesson, and the kid was describing the seder meal at Passover to my son.  The kid said something to the effect of, “If we lived in ancient Egypt, the Egyptians would have given kids like you and me a hard time, because they didn’t like Christians and Jews.”  The kid rambled on for a while, and my son shot me a look in the rear view mirror as if to say, “Can you believe this guy? Help me out here.”

“It sounds like your friend thinks you’re a Christian, buddy,” I said to my son during a lull in the conversation.  “Do you want to talk to him about that?”

“I’m Buddhist,” he told his friend.

“”Is that a type of Christian?” his friend asked.  My son went on to describe the Buddha, and explained to his friend that he goes to a Zen center.  The friend listened, dumbstruck, absorbing the notion that there were more than just Jews and Christians in the world.  By the time my son was done with his short explanation, we were at the kids house.

After the kid got out of the car, I told my son what a good job he’d done.  I was really proud of him, and happy about the way everything played out.  If people make assumptions about my son, many times I’ll step in and answer for him.  This time, I thought it was important for him to correct the assumption.  He just seemed to need permission or help starting that conversation.  I was so proud that he was able to say something.

My son has come home from school in the past, proclaiming that he voiced his difference.  He’s asserted in class that in addition to Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa,  Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated in December.  For show and tell even brought in the cedar stick used to start meditation time.  The teacher eats it up.  Kids haven’t been so helpful.  One of his shittier classmates leaned over to him once and said, “God doesn’t like people who don’t believe in him.”  We had many discussions at home about that kid and his remark.

I grew up a Catholic White kid in a mostly Catholic, nearly all Christian, suburb of Chicago.  My Irish and Eastern European heritage seemed no different than that of anyone else in my nearly all-White suburb.  Let me put it this way: my mind was blown when I was 10 years-old, and my friend disclosed that he was Lutheran. Lutheran?  What the hell was that?  I was so sheltered, I didn’t quite comprehend that not everyone affirmed the Pope or believed in transubstantiation.

I had it so easy blending in with everyone else, to the point that my belief systems were a match with those around me.  We were seemingly the same, inside and out, spirit to pigmentation.  But my son faces a very different life.  He’s one of the only non-White kids in an 98% White community, and he’s Buddhist to boot.  Not only do people not look like him, but he even has to explain his spiritual practice to a friend who has zero concept of what he’s talking about.

But at least he does it.  For all the timidity that he shows on a daily basis, there’s still something inside that incites him to speak up about his Buddhism.  He’s told friends, explained things to his teacher, and even woven it into his artwork at school.  It’s obviously very important to him, and he makes his voice heard, even if in small ways.  When I was a kid, if people made presumptions about me, I would just swallow it.  I’d shut up and go about my day. There was something in me that was too afraid of confusing or offending others.  This fear persisted, even though I didn’t even have much to speak up about.  I looked the same as everyone else, had the same religion as everyone else.

And yet here he is, my son, looking different and believing different things, and he’s found his voice.  I couldn’t be prouder of my Lonely Buddhist.

Author: CJ Nigh

I am an East Coast writer with a Midwestern soul. Undead Dad is a blog about mindful fatherhood in the deadening age of hyper-technology and over-work. I also write science fiction for young adults.

9 thoughts on “My Son, The Lonely Buddhist

  1. I remember when I was in elementary school, a kid on the bus home asked me if I was Christian or Jewish. The thing was, I had never been raised with any particular religion. My parents had never discussed it with me, we never went to church, and it was never something I had even thought about.

    I replied, “I don’t know.”

    The kid looked taken aback. He thought about it for a while. Then he asked, “Well, do you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah?”

    My family celebrates Christmas. To us, Christmas is a holiday where we get the family together, give gifts, and take photos under the tree. We put out cookies for Santa. We decorate the house. But we don’t pray or go to Sunday Mass. Still, Christmas is Christmas.

    So I responded, “Christmas.”

    The kid looked satisfied. “Oh, ok. Then you’re a Christian.” He sat back in his chair. I went home that day very confused.

    Props to you for raising such a mindful kid. He’s not afraid to speak up and believe what he believes. He’s showing others that there’s more than just Christianity and Judaism– a lesson I could have used way back when I was growing up!

  2. You have reason to be proud. As a parent of a self-declared vegetarian, secular tomboy, my daughter is often put in the position of having to declare herself. She’s had to explain to girls that she’s in the right bathroom, to moms that she doesn’t eat meat and to friends that doesn’t believe the same things they do. I used to step in for her as well, until we talked it over and she explained that in a lot of cases, when she’s mistaken for a boy or a Christian, she doesn’t care. She cares about not eating meat and will loudly declare that she’s a vegetarian (she started doing that as soon as she learned the word – at 4). I let her take the lead now.

    I have to believe that not being afraid to state what you believe or who you are is a skill that will take them far – that they won’t go to horrid lengths to try and fit in, that they won’t follow blindly and that being different doesn’t impact their self-esteem. So many hopes…

  3. I remember reading before that you were from here. (I live in the city). Which burb are you from? I think your son has you to thank for sticking up for himself. Brave young man. Many of the elders in my family are still very close minded and traditional. I can’t always avoid family, but I try to keep my distance from them, and from anyone and everyone who is close minded and negative in general. Gotta break the cycle. I wasn’t raised any religion, and I’m not religious now. I have family and friends who are Catholic, Christian, etc., and I have attended their baptisms, church weddings, and so forth. I also expect the same respect in return and not be slapped in the face with their beliefs on what is “right.” I hope you and your family have a wonderful weekend.

  4. Loved the story and the comments from Michelle about her daughter too. It is refreshing to see our children speaking their own minds and choosing their own beliefs. And when anyone chooses to let others know about something like their religious beliefs and practices it forwards Freedom–whether it is freedom of religion, dietary choices or the right to not participate at all in something. One of my all-time favorite communications about respecting religious beliefs is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCD3UFpbg6I

  5. Very cool that he was able to speak his mind and is proud of his beliefs. Sounds like a wise young man, and I’m sure he gets that from his wise mom & dad. Sounds like you’re raising them very well. I hope I can do the same with my daughter when it comes to religion and other topics like it.

  6. I was raised an Pentecostal Christian and my daughter is being raised in the same type of household. However, although I feel it is my duty to teach her the ways of our faith,when she becomes old enough to decide whether or not to becone baptized I will not make the decision for her or criticize her for it. My mom intimidated my brother and I into being baptized and it caused alot of confusion.

  7. The Buddhist faith is so beautiful. As a recovering Catholic, I wish I had known Buddhism as a child. I love that he is able to articulate his faith at such a young age, and kudos to you for guiding him from the front seat:) I look forward to hearing more of both of your journeys.

  8. Speaking as a Christian – born again, washed in the blood, redeemed believer- I hope you realized the classmate who was ‘shitty’ was simply a child. What he said was unnecessary and unloving, but he had to have picked it up from somewhere; he wasn’t born with the idea of telling classmates that God doesn’t like them. Children unfortunately and miraculously soak up the good and the bad in their surroundings, and that’s what they reflect. Now if a twenty year old looked your son in the eye and told him that, then there would be a bone to pick.

  9. Hey UDDad

    Nicely done with your kid sir. I also grew of catholic. I remember my brothers and i used to bitch every Sunday and ask why did we have to got to church. We really hated it on Christmas. We were being very persistent one Christmas about not going. I asked my mom “Hey mom we don’t want to go to church how come we cant just stay home.” my mom yelled at us, “Because its Christmas God dammit”

    WOW good reason

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