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Josh Misner, PhD

Mindful Living in a Distracted World

Everything I Know About Forgiveness, I Learned From My Dog

Allow me to begin this story by emphatically declaring that I am much more of a cat person than a dog person. I’ve always identified with the following quote from Robert De Niro’s character in Meet the Parents:

You see, Greg, when you yell at a dog, his tail will go between his legs and cover his genitals, his ears will go down. A dog is very easy to break, but cats make you work for their affection. They don’t sell out the way dogs do.

I genuinely admire the way I have to earn a cat’s love and affection. In fact, I have a cat at this moment who did not warm up to me for at least a few years, but once I earned her trust slowly and methodically, I became her best friend (until I rub her belly, and then all bets are off).

In a way, I suppose I can extrapolate something of myself when looking at my preference for cats. I tend to be somewhat guarded and protective of my trust at first for most people. I wait and watch what they do, carefully selecting who I allow into my “circle of trust,” as De Niro’s character would say, based upon how much of my trust I feel they have earned.

As a cat person, I suppose I’ve always looked at dogs with a healthy dose of skepticism. I never gave much thought to what De Niro’s character said about “breaking” them, but I can’t help but feel like dogs are a bit on the, well, dumb side. It’s always seemed to me like dogs blindly offer their loyalty to their masters. Once you bring a dog home with you and give him or her some food, it’s all over. You can tease them, toss them imaginary treats and laugh as they lunge at nothing, leave them alone all day long (knowing that they are waiting patiently by the door for your return), occasionally forget to feed them on time, and you can commit a whole host of other indiscretions, but their loyalty remains unfazed. There they still sit patiently, awaiting your return home again, ready to greet you with a wagging tail, and in my unnaturally large yellow lab’s case, a cheesy smile (yes, he really does smile).

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My beloved partner has always been the dog person in our family, and she absolutely adores them, which means I have to put up with them. As a result of healthy compromise in our relationship, she has always kept at least one dog, so I’ve had about a decade and a half to get used to dogs in our home and really observe how they interact. What has always struck me about dogs is their generally easygoing nature. I envy that.

Cats hold grudges. Make a cat angry by simply not filling their food dish up high enough (it doesn’t even have to be totally empty for a cat to get irritated—just near empty) or by petting a cat the wrong way, in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, and the cat will not only let you know, usually in the most painful way possible, but will then spend the next several days knocking prized personal possessions and knickknacks off ledges and countertops. In a sense, I recognize that I’ve always been a little like cats in that regard. They say that people and their pets often hold striking similarities, and now, I understand why. When I get upset about something someone said, perhaps a sharp comment or an off-color remark, I have a tendency to ruminate on it, to allow it to occupy space in my head for hours and even sometimes, days. I spin it around, look at it from various angles and often end up stewing on what happened before finally confronting the other person much later, usually much to their surprise.

Dogs, on the other hand, forgive almost instantly. When our golden retriever sneaks a snack that may have been left out by one of my kids (something that happens often), we discipline her, usually by shouting “No!” At that moment, we clearly see her canine expression of remorse, as she cowers away to her doggy bed, tail between her legs. After cleaning up the mess, and I sit down near her doggy bed, she gets up, tail wagging, and approaches me, as if to say she is sorry. In that moment, I am absolutely dumbfounded by what is happening before my very eyes.

First, the way in which she approaches me, in the unassuming and humble way only a dog can, assures me she’s already let go of what happened. She doesn’t dwell on the way I yelled at her. She isn’t fixated on rationalizing how she deserved the snack, nor is she making excuses for how she thought the snack was up for grabs. She doesn’t “kitchen sink” me by pointing out how this is the fifth time this week that I got angry and yelled at her for something. In that moment, what she exhibits is unconditional forgiveness in its purest form. She is the first to extend the olive branch. She admits to her fault, as best a dog can without the benefit of spoken language, and in doing so, seeks my forgiveness.

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Second, I am struck by how her action is completely and utterly disarming for me. Regardless of how irritated or angry I might get, regardless of how indignant I might feel because she took something she should have known better than to take, and regardless of any of my other emotional baggage I might be holding (i.e., had a bad day, a headache, or tired), her selfless and humble gesture immediately softens me, and I forgive her. In that moment, she lets go, as do I, and we leave the past behind us (hopefully with her learning to no longer sneak those snacks).

In this sense, I have come to realize that we all have a lot to learn from dogs. Despite all our intelligence, science, critical thought, and advanced technology, it seems that we humans could take a cue from our dogs and be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and even quicker to seek forgiveness from others whom we have wronged. How wonderful would it be to become like a dog in this manner? To not ruminate over trivial offenses, to not waste precious time with loved ones by maintaining a divided relationship over some misunderstanding, or to be so filled with hateful, unhealthy pride that we avoid doing the right thing simply because we don’t want to look weak? When reflecting on all of this, I am slowly being won over by dogs.

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My cat is still my baby, though.


(This article is an excerpt from Seeing Again for the First Time: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction, available on Amazon. The book is an interactive 16-week program in exploring the impact of mindful awareness, resilience, savoring the moment, and connecting with others through activities often involving destruction of the text itself.)

23 Father’s Days, and These 7 Lessons Are All I Have to Show For It

A dozen years passed between the first time I witnessed the birth of one of my children and the last time I cut an umbilical cord. I was a mere 19 years old the first time, blissfully ignorant, arrogant, and ready to take on the world, while at 31, for my last child’s birth, I had grown, changed, and matured considerably. In fact, I was barely the same person.

This Father’s Day marks the 23rd time I’ve claimed my right to the holiday, and although my entire world changed between the first and last birth, even more has changed from the last birth until today (almost exactly a decade).

For my two oldest children, I have been promoted from parent to partner, and someday, I may even graduate to grandparent, though I still like to delude myself that I’m too young for that. For the younger pair of kids, I’m still “Daddy” though a stubbornly reluctant part of my inner self resists facing the fact that I may lose that at some point to just “Dad” (most likely uttered with a teenage sneer).

Over the last 23 years as a father, I’ve suffered more than my fair share of heartache and loss, but I’ve also savored more love and adoration than one man probably deserves. Someday, when I reach the ultimate end, and I’m mentally tallying my scorecard while reckoning the value of my existence in those last few seconds alive, I have no doubt that every last one of the bitterly painful woes that came packaged with the identity of “parent” will have been paid in full and then some by experiences ripe with the rapture of the moment.

So, when I was posed the question of why I’m thankful for my children, the answer seemed effortless.

From the moment of my eldest son’s birth, my children have defined the primary source of my personal identity, that of being a father. Their very presence bestowed upon me the right to be called “Daddy,” while 23 years of pursuing relationship with them has enriched my existence to the point of feeling worthy of being one.

Amid these relationships with my children and through traversing both the wins and the losses, they have taught me the following qualities:

  • Patience, such as when getting up for the fifth time after putting my son to bed to get him another drink of water;
  • Humility, such as when my daughter blurts out in public the “real” reason why I can’t afford to buy her that expensive toy at Target;
  • Empathy, as in moments where I see heartbreak on my son’s face over something so seemingly insignificant to me, and yet, utterly devastating to him;
  • Initiative, as I recognize that children are always watching and learning from my example, reminding me of how critically important it is for me to model the way;
  • Mindful presence, for if I’m constantly distracted by thinking about the past, the future, or some other thing or device, then I’ll miss out on what happens right in front of me;
  • Reckless abandon, such as when we skip down the aisles of the grocery store in our pajamas, singing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” while laughing hysterically; and,
  • Surrender, for when I finally began to recognize that it’s perfectly okay for me to set aside my priorities for later whenever one of my children needs my attention, because in doing so, I show them they matter more to me than anything else.

So, this Father’s Day, here’s to the children.

Here’s to their annoying whining, their incessant begging, their nonstop questions, and to all the times they changed their mind about what they wanted for a summertime snack. Here’s to every snotty “whatever,” every eye roll, every ignored demand to clean their room, and every last bloody time I’ve had to remind them to: put on deodorant, do their chores, brush their teeth, do their laundry, and put the seat down.

But also, here’s to all their rib-crushing hugs, their slobbery kisses, their gentle “I love yous” just before bed, and all the moments where we, as parents, see some of our best qualities emerge from our kids at some of the most unexpected moments. Here’s to seeing all of the heartache and frustration blossom into a young adult who fills our hearts and makes us overflow with pride.

#ThanksBaby – for all of it.

I wouldn’t be who I am today without the experiences – ALL of them.

 

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Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad  and Pampers for this promotion.

12 Dads, an 84-Mile Walk, and 53 Gallons of Blood

An Indian writer named Shakuntala Devi once stated, “Numbers have life; they’re not just symbols on paper.” The numbers in the title above represent much more than a headline designed to build a reader’s curiosity; they represent life, laughter, and above all else, life-altering opportunity.

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In early July, 2016, one dozen renowned writers and fathers from all over the United States (from the Pacific Northwest, to the heartland, to the eastern seaboard) will embark on an epic journey, leaving their home country to cross the Atlantic and heading for England. Continue reading “12 Dads, an 84-Mile Walk, and 53 Gallons of Blood”

Today

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Today, I saw a man infected with rage.
Shaking his fists with furrowed brow
Belying his cry of war.

Today, I taught my children peace.
In war, there are no victors.
Anger spreads only the disease of hatred.

Today, I heard a child curse.
Racial slurs and innuendo
Tarnishing a young mind.

Today, I taught my children respect.
There are so many ways to wrap a present,
But no matter what, they all are gifts.

Today, I saw faiths mock one another.
You’re wrong and we’re right,
Each said, one to the other.

Today, I taught my children to care.
No matter who is right, my darlings,
With love, you will never fail.

Today, I saw the depth of despair
Alone in the street, with nothing to eat,
While people passed, unaffected.

Today, I taught my children hope.
Hope for change, hope for the best,
Hope to be strong, and hope to rise.

Today, I heard touting in arrogance.
Bravado, braggadocio, and brass,
Superficial, scornful swagger.

Today, I taught my children humility.
Sometimes the strongest remain unknown.
While the greatest among us will serve.

Today, I saw a world in turmoil.
Every woman and man for themselves,
Stirring the chaotic downward spiral.

Today, I will ignore the world.
Today, I will make a difference.
Today, I will make a gift to the world.

Today will become tomorrow,
While tomorrow will become better,
For today, I have taught my children.

Chatting About Fatherhood With Masterchef’s Stephen Lee

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Stephen and Judge Gordon Ramsay in the all-new “Top 22 Compete” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, May 27 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2015 FOX Broadcasting Co.
MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Stephen and Judge Gordon Ramsay in the all-new “Top 22 Compete” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, May 27 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2015 FOX Broadcasting Co.
What is it like working with Gordon Ramsay? I always heard he is extra-coarse in front of the camera, but off-camera, one of the most compassionate and caring fathers we could hope to see. Do you get that from working around him?

Continue reading “Chatting About Fatherhood With Masterchef’s Stephen Lee”

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