New Year, New Questions

Having a four-year-old is an adventure. I love it. Sure, not everyone needs or wants children. I can both understand and respect that. But I do love being a dad and both teaching and learning from my son.

We just finished our New Year’s celebrations. Here in Japan, that includes a visit to a shrine for he first prayer of the the year. We’ve done hatsumode in the past with our boy, but it felt a little different this year. This year he seemed more aware and active in the event. Even last year, when he was three, he took part but he was still so young that there was no real connection. He was aware, of course, but somehow disconnected.

This year, even as he was being taught about what was about to happen he was still playing an active part. It wasn’t enough that we were going to throw the money in the prayer box, he needed to make sure we all had an equal share and that his little sister, asleep in her stroller, was included. He had more questions and was just general more interested in what was going on around him.

Now, I’ll admit, since we did have the stroller with us we did do things backwards. The stroller accessible path took us first to the line for praying. After that we swung back to towards the cleansing area. Hopefully the spirits will understand that when you are moving a baby through a crowded space, sometimes you need to take direct paths instead of making multiple loops.

During the prayer he was with his mom. Even though it was the 2nd, the crowd was thick enough that she stayed focused on him and I maneuvered the stroller. We didn’t really separate, but we were’t close enough to be able to chat easily.

When we swung back around to do the traditional hand washing (again, we did things backwards) I ended up being the one to teach him the proper way to wash his hands and mouth.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was just teaching my son another little aspect of life. But later, when I looked at the photos, I was hit by a feeling that almost felt like spiritual vertigo.

I am 38 years old. Until I was 23 I lived in the southern states of the USA. I am a product of a liberal household and protestant churches. But for the last fifteen years I have lived in Japan. I am seeped in that culture now so much that teaching my child the proper way to clean and pray at a shrine is just another part of life.

I recently had a talk with a friend about identity. It was spiraling and muddy as some talks ought to be. I had to confess that I never imagined I would feel more confused about my own identity at 38 than I did at 18. I’m American. But I don’t feel connected to many of the aspects of modern America. And I can’t say I’m Japanese. But, in a weird way, I no longer feel like I’m not Japanese, even if I don’t feel like I am.

I’m no longer really sure what I am.

Maybe that is for the best. Maybe a label just confuses the issue? Maybe instead of trying to figure out the best way to describe myself, I should just focus on being the best me that I can be.

Maybe that is good enough for now.

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