138. Internal Rewards

Note: My apologies! This post should have appeared last week. I believe I scheduled it incorrectly. 

I considered myself mostly above the external rewards that career is about: more salary, more publications, more fame, more to place in my LinkedIn profile.

It was nice to see my work in magazines and books, but I believed that I worked mainly for the internal rewards. But really, I had no idea what internal rewards were.

As a father, I now understand what internal rewards are. No one pats me on the back for pulling my son out of the way of an oncoming car. No one said, "Good job!" because my kids know so much English because I have spoken and read to them over these couple of years.

OK, I admit my wife may say I did a good job, but usually only when we fight and she takes care to acknowledge my work. It does feel good to hear it.

It is still difficult to judge whether I have done well or not because I need to continuously observe other people, consider history, and most of all listen to my instinct. I must be my own boss.

However, I don't know if I'll ever be able to let go of external rewards. I like the love and attention. 

137. The Samurai and the Swiss Farmer

There are vast differences between how my mother and my mother-in-law view life. I was often confused about why my mother-in-law would often bring up farmers as an ideal model for how to live life. For example, teaching a child to sleep is a big theme among modern families. She would say, On the farm, when families had ten kids, every kid slept through the night. Nobody had a choice because they worked and played hard outside.

Growing up in a suburb, I was never taught to see the countryside as an attractive place to live. What was there besides nothing? My father once said, "It's a good thing our family moved from the country to Tokyo." Only cities offered opportunity after WWII.

In contrast, I was taught that the samurai offered an ideal model for how to live life. The samurai was urban, dedicated to a lifetime of service in a profession, learned in the letters and the arts, such as the tea ceremony.

As professional soldiers, samurai lived within the means of their lord, who lived off of taxes reaped from farmers, crafts people, and business people (shinokōshō). During peaceful periods, such as the Edo period, they came to be seen as a drain upon the economy because they didn't produce anything. The Meiji Revolution is a repudiation of the feudal system, including the destruction of the old samurai caste.

When lords were required to live alternating years in Edo (old Tokyo), the city and region naturally became the center of culture and economy. Hence it was called the Edo period. I think Tokyo is like a bit like Paris: it is the undisputed center of the country.

My mother-in-law, who grew up in Switzerland, sees the Swiss farmers as an ideal of humanity. They are self sufficient, produce vital food products, and are fiercely proud and independent people, most at home in the Alps. 

Switzerland is a collection of cantons, of "semi-sovereign states." The Alps divided and protected micro regions of people, allowing varied cultures to flourish. There is no particular center. The country has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. It's no wonder they declared themselves neutral during WWII; they would have gone schizophrenic in deciding whom to support.

About once a year, when my family and I stay and travel through the Swiss Alps and learn more about the culture and people, I grow to understand my mother-in-law's background more and more, and hence grow closer to her. Perhaps she can one day travel more in the US and in Japan, to learn more about where I come from.

136. Mr. Shigeru Ban

Shigeru Ban is the anti-starchitect, but he just won the Pritzker Prize.

He has the heart of an artist and engineer, and it is not possible to tell where one ends and the other begins. My sensei at Tohoku University told me this was the ultimate goal in becoming an architect.

He is known, and is being honored for, his work with temporary housing for disaster victims using cardboard structures and local, readily available materials. His work is hence the antithesis of what architecture has become--a worship of monument, money, and technology. His work is about the people who need his work. Everything serves this purpose.

I deeply wish I had done more work like his because his goals resonated so deeply with me. I applied to his office in New York but the economy was so bad at the time no one was hiring. I wish i had been brave like him and just did what I wanted to, and opened my own firm. I was using the idea that I needed clients with at least some wealth as an excuse to not go for it. 

Now I see clients are everywhere in the world. I just did not see them as Mr. Ban did. He has a purer heart than mine because he just wants to make people happy with his buildings. And if he achived this, he would be happy. I wanted to make myself happy with my buildings. 

135. 9/11 Memorial Visit

I took Emi to the 9/11 Memorial, that my former supervisor WL worked on. She was a very good kid, even though the subway, crowds, traffic were all new and very intense.

With the aid of a bronze sculpture that depicted the event, I told her the story of what happened. I hoped she understood:
Bad men took over these planes. They flew the planes into the two big towers and destroyed them. Many, many people died. The names on these metal plates are the names of those who died, so we will never forget them.
Since security asked Emi not to lean on the nameplates that surround the pools, I took her onto my shoulders so she could see the roaring waterfalls better. I thought about how to explain the significance of the memorial to Emi, and I finally told her:
The water flowing from the names are tears from those people who had died, and all those tears flowed into the earth to nourish it. The trees grow from those tears. When we see the trees we are reminded of how important taking care of living things is.
Later she recounted the whole story back to Sara in German. Instead of "die" she said verschwinden, which means "disappear" or "go away."

I realized at that moment she understood what death meant.

134. Emi and Thomas Drawings

This is a birthday card for Oma, the most detailed drawing Emi has ever made. See my notes to understand what she has drawn. Translations:

Kette = necklace
Buch = book
Boot = boat
Gurtel = belt
Leute im Haus = people in a house
Blitz = lightning
Treppe = stair

I sat with her when she drew this and encouraged her to include details. The only thing I drew were circles for heads so she had enough space to draw the bodies. It's a technique I learned from Oma.

This is by Thomas, also for Oma. I didn't sit with him at all. He is finally learning how to grip the pencil hard enough to make real lines.

Immediately after Emi finished with the first card, I had her draw another card for my father. Notice Emi's figure (she wrote her own name below her figure). I watched her very intentionally draw her own figure rotated relative to the other figures. I wonder why?

133. Fear, tenderness

They'd been trained to identify emotional repression as the essence of manliness. Men who broke down, or cried, or admitted to feeling fear, were sissies, weaklings, failures... 
Fear, tenderness—these emotions were so despised that they could be admitted into consciousness only at the cost of redefining what it meant to be a man...
His patients might be encouraged to acknowledge their fears, their horror of the war—but they were still expected to do their duty and return [to the war.] It was [the doctor's] conviction that those who had learned to know themselves, and to accept their emotions, were less likely to break down again. 
-Pat Barker, Regeneration

In my Reader Berlin writing class we read passages from a book about the rehabilitation of soldiers suffering from shell shock during WWI. The above really hit me.

Note I will not compare WWI with childraising.

I do however see exactly what happened to myself in this passage: when I became a house dad, I had to deal with a very emotional, traumatic series of events over the span of two years: I quit my job to raise my kids, moved to a foreign country where there was no culture of parents staying at home, hence was very lonely before building a community, learned a new language, and so forth. All of it flew in the face of nearly everything my parents had taught me.

The best way for me to understand these events was to acknowledge and come to terms exactly those two emotions: fear and tenderness. 

Now I understand that facing fear and being tender is the beginning of building strength, to keep going every day, because children will not wait.

When I repressed those feelings, I only created the illusion of strength.

And even though my mother voiced great doubt about my becoming a house dad, I respect her even more after learning what I have. 

132. Inspired by our Sitter

Our babysitter MJ is from Virginia. She was born in the Philippines and immigrated with her family to the US when she was almost ten years old. So her situation is like mine: a child of immigrants, raised between two cultures, now adopting to some extent another culture.

Like myself she speaks three languages: English, her parents' mother tongue, German. Thomas loves her; Emi was rather wary of her until MJ got a job at Emi's kindergarten. Now Emi accepts her.

I have explained to her how challenging it is to raise bilingual children, much less with a third language. Before I was afraid Emi would simply brush off English, but I am gaining more confidence in her with every trip to the US. We are trying to go every 18 months at least.

I fear that my children will grow up having no appreciation of American or Japanese culture. It would break my heart. Yet it is exhausting to keep telling them, with literally every question where they want something from me, and therefore gives me leverage, that they must speak English. And that is the tip of the foreign language iceberg. 

MJ takes it in better stride: she has more enthusiasm for her adopted country than I do, even though it's her second adopted country, and it's only my first. Perhaps because she's ten years younger: she did not tear up the roots of career and home that I had established from a decade of life in New York.

She encourages me to open my heart to the country by demonstrating that friendships can be boundless: her fashion club already has members from Berlin and Magdeburg.

I should learn from her. I should relax and have fun with teaching the kids my own language and cultures, because as soon as it becomes a burden for them, they will shun it all, and the more they shun it, the more I will feel inclined to push it upon them, and we'll end up miserable.

As in so many things in parenting, I need to let go more, to achieve those things that are dear to me.