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Learning To Listen

by Oscar A. Rombola


It is Monday morning and my alarm clock has not yet gone off, but I am already up, busy and preparing for the day.

As I dress, I become aware of the subtle difference between my shaving cream and the deodorant.... But I have to hurry. The kids are still in bed and I haven't started breakfast.

I find myself shouting from the kitchen incoherent messages about "socks," "under the bed," "ask your mother," and all kinds of early-morning slang born from busy parents in the 90s.

While my son is talking about the ninja turtles, I am thinking about the twelve o'clock meeting and the deal with that client going sour. My daughter is telling me she is not going to school today, or ever for that matter, to which I reply, "You have only one option, dear...."

Checking myself in the mirror I see myself half presentable and, grabbing my briefcase, coffee mug and two knapsacks, I, as well as our two precious children, load the family van with our bodies, minds, things, and ideas.

We travel the road to school with the glorious outlook of the perfect family on a Monday morning, each of us with our own preoccupations-ninjas, the office meetings, the lunch recess.

The simple events of daily life, I realize, become the means, ultimately, for improving ourselves as human beings and unfolding unlimited possibilities.

I turn around, I see my kids, and I remember something my wife told me about some crackers and apples in the fridge. That's it! I forgot the kids' lunch at home! What seems to be a scene from the National Lampoon, becomes a scene from my own family.

It often happens that I find myself determined to be a super dad, providing for everyone, so perfect in every way, that I find myself all wrapped up in my own world, my own preoccupations, all the things I have to do to make things go right. What was it that my son was saying? The ninja turtles are happy because their friends always listen to them. And my daughter's comment? She doesn't want to go to school because she wants to see daddy at night, and he comes home late, and she is too tired to tell him about her day. And what was it my wife was trying to tell me? You have been doing a great job organizing the job and all the school activities of the kids, and by the way, the crackers and apples are ready for their lunches....

It suddenly strikes me as clear as a bell: I have been missing something here! I talk to my family, they talk to me, we tell each other things, but, am I really listening? Am I really present? How is it that I run through my morning routine, not noticing what I am doing? Where have my thoughts been? I should be shaving when I am shaving, preparing lunches when I am doing them, listening to my son when he needs to talk to me, at his level; opening myself to the fact that my daughter is not pulling a trick on me but she needs me to be around more; acknowledging my wife's presence, support and contribution. The signals are all around me, but am I there to hear them?

What would happen if, for one day, I offer the gift of actually paying full attention to what surrounds me? How would my life be different if, when I am at home, I leave all my other preoccupations outside the door, and I am really present to each member of my family?

All these questions make me realize that I am learning. I have so much to learn, and I acknowledge how much I have learned from those who have been close to me. I learned from my grandmother to enjoy life, I learned from my parents about responsibility; I am learning from my kids about listening and dialogue and from my wife that paying attention and being aware of the simple things in life are the foundation for a better communication and consciousness. The simple events of daily life, I realize, become the means, ultimately, for improving ourselves as human beings and unfolding unlimited possibilities.

And then we jumped to 2015. Where did life go? I thought I was just trying to make sense of a whole bunch of things and busy schedules. What really happened? Well, life has happened—this wonderful kaleidoscope of experiences and situations that seem to engulf us in a whirlwind of emotions. The days don’t seem long enough, and months pass and then years.

I do not make lunch boxes any more or drive the kids to their activities. I do not make arrangements for play dates or spend endless hours at swimming meets or basketball tournaments. My wife and I don’t deal with unruly teenagers experimenting with their freedom, that sweet, sweet perceived freedom. The little ones are not so little any more, they are beautiful human beings and we are proud of them. They finished university, they moved away. Where did the time go?

We experienced the “empty nest” syndrome, we longed for times past, we grabbed onto the known. We tried to make room for the new generation. The question is: Do they still need to get their emotional “lunch boxes packed”? Of course they do, and of course we need them as much as they need us, but now our relationship is based on a different set of rules. We have grown together, as parents, as children, and as the son of a mother who is no longer with us. Life continues, it moves in spirals, we unfold. Mindfulness.

New children will populate our home, hopefully the children of our children will come soon. We listen, we observe, we connect.

Every minute is precious, everyone and everything has a gift, from the small microcosm of a growing family to the passage of time. We look back, it is done and over with—the future we make today. The present is right now as you read this humble appreciation of my life. I am present in this world, in this city, in this family, and sitting in front of my computer I say:

"Be engaged with your surroundings, give yourself fully, participate and never forget to listen, really listen—that alone will change the world. As someone said: ‘Get up and dance!’ " 


Oscar lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife, Gitta, and Khali, the cat. Julia lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and is becoming a teacher. Lucas lives in Montreal, Quebec and, after graduating from University, he works for an international corporation.