Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


You Can't Hold On To A Wriggling Puppy

Sears Point, California, USA

December 3, 2008



This essay, You Can't Hold On To A Wriggling Puppy, is the companion piece to Source Of Action.

It is also the third in an octology about my son Joshua:
  1. Joshua Is Doing Nothing
  2. Two Human Beings One Heart
  3. You Can't Hold On To A Wriggling Puppy
  4. Joshua Nelson Mongezi  Platt
  5. Source Of Action
  6. The Magical Breakfast Burrito Assembly Line
  7. Return To The Creek
  8. The Magical Breakfast Burrito Assembly Line II
in that order.

I am indebted to my children Joshua Nelson Platt and Christian Laurence Platt and Alexandra Lindsey Platt and to all parents with teenage children, who inspired this conversation.




Photography by Joshua and Laurence Platt - ... fifteen years later: Sunday October 5, 2008 ... - Muir Beach, California, USA
with
Joshua (Father And Son)
Parenthood, like most things which are immediate, urgent, and in that sense dictatorial  in my life, didn't come with an instruction manual. There's no on the job training  provided for it either.

When my parenthood began, in spite of what I expected it to be, in spite of what I looked forward to it being, in spite of what I hoped  it would be, regardless of whatever the right way  to parent may be, no matter how much instinct  I may or may not have to raise children, I discovered parenthood is really an ongoing experience of being as unprepared as it's possible to be for anything. Parenthood is ongoing proof  I don't have all the answers. It's the continuing confront I know nothing. Parenthood is the unavoidable evidence over and over and over again that doing what I already know  doesn't guarantee success.

There's no dress rehearsal for parenthood either. Once it starts, it starts. By the time I've learned  how to do it right, the skills I've acquired are no longer applicable. Learning to parent is like taking aim at a moving target: it's never where it once was, and just as soon as I've locked my aim on to where it is, it's moved on, grown, morphed  into something else, again requiring completely new skills.

To be sure, there's a certain amount of the machinery  into which is already built enough nurturing mechanisms to almost get parenting right by default. Even the lactation  reflex is automatic. That's parenting: an essentially human activity about which I know nothing, for which I'm totally unprepared having no learned skills, which is dictatorial and completely on automatic. Where, then, is the possibility of bringing transformation to it?

For me, examining what it takes to bring transformation to parenting first requires honoring all the not knowing  about parenting and all the automaticity of parenting like a foundation.

It's extremely hard to do at times. All the protection  machinery, all the survival  machinery, while noble and decent seem so in the way of  transformation, a created, intentional, non-linear verbal act.

I love my family. I'm proud of creating  my family. Yet it's confronting to notice, unavoidably, that reproduction  is a function of Life itself. It's hardly my doing at all. In spite of my arrogance and beliefs to the contrary, I actually had very little to do with it. I actually had very little to do with becoming a father and, if I tell the truth about it, can take very little credit for it.

When my son was born, I could hold his tiny body in one hand. I would provide him warmth just by holding him close to my chest, my fingers completely covering his head, letting them find the closest fit to his contours, like a knitted cap, gentle and comforting to him.

As he got older, it became a deliciously dangerous game for him to move away from me, first to crawl away then to walk away. Then, noticing the distance between himself and me, his safety, his home base, he would suddenly get nervous and race back to the sanctity, the security, and the shelter of my arms with a big, big smile for having dared to break away, and then an even bigger smile for having made it all the way back safely.

Setting off on his voyages of discovery, crossing the wild frontier was his game. And when he realized he was too far  out into the reaches of intergalactic space, he would decide it's time to come back - and there I'd be: Dad, the hug, the security, the warm.

I'd hold him. He'd want me to. Yet once he realized he was secure again, he'd wriggle to get free again. Like the puppy you want to hold, he'd allow himself to be picked up and held briefly, and then he'd wriggle to get free again. Indeed, from time to time he'd break  free. And the older he got, the longer he'd stay  free before he'd; return to the comfort and the security of the bond, the sacred  bond between us. When he'd wriggle to get free again, my job was to hold on  to him and be a secure stand for "home", be a rock, be the reliability of something firm for him. You learn more about something firm the harder it is to break away from it. My job wasn't to stop him breaking away - that much I already knew was inevitable. My job was simply to provide that "something firm" until he inevitably did break away.

I held on to him, guiding him not enclosing him, letting him wander away by himself within a safe range, a wary eye open whenever he got too close to the fence. I knew I couldn't expect him to realize I was only protecting him. My protecting him isn't shared by him. There's no way, out of his own experience, he could ever possibly share it. But in time, probably only when he has children of his own, he'll remember it and relate to it.

Eventually the wriggling to get away reached a new, urgent intensity. I realized I was no longer providing something firm. I realized I was fast becoming an impediment  to his freedom. I knew he knew it too. He cherished the warm between us as much as I, if not more. But he also knew Life itself was calling him to be free of me. So he wriggled and he wriggled and he wriggled until I, with both the heaviness of resignation as well as the soaring realization I'd accomplished something truly and massively great, realized I couldn't hold on to him anymore.

"Daddy" he was saying to me nonverbally "Please let me go. It's time. I have to go away. I must live my own life.".

He got it. He knew. Not from experience in the world - he was way too young for that. He got it because Life itself  was calling him.

My heart felt like it would burst with both a sense of loss as well as a sense of great pride at the same time. I knew if he had to choose between listening to me his Dad telling him something, or listening to Life itself  telling him something, my son would choose listening to Life itself rather than listening to me his Dad. And when I got that, I was completely and totally moved to tears, absolutely and totally blown away  by the privilege and the miracle of parenthood.

My son is now nearly as tall as me, and soon he'll be taller. There's a healthy roughness  in our relationship now. There's now boundaries  of privacy whereas before there were none. They're boundaries of respect, not boundaries of taboo. There's real friendship now whereas before there was necessity and dependency. And there's that smiling silence now which speaks eloquent wordless testimony that not what we are for each other but rather who  we are for each other is eternal, is unfathomable, and can never be interfered with or violated.

And whatever happened to the possibility of the puppy? What will become of the possibility of the puppy in the future? It's simple: one day my son will no longer be able to hold on to his own wriggling puppy either, just like I can't now anymore, just in the process of Life itself.

Life itself has decreed the puppy will be forever free.



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