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When the youngest of my four children were eight and eleven, their mother moved them to a city 120 miles away so she could be closer to a man she met online. We had been divorced about five years.
Our oldest two children were old enough to be on their own, so her move affected them less, but for the younger two, it became a major factor in their lives.
In the first years after the divorce, the younger two spent Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday night into Sunday morning, with me. The baby was three when she observed, “the T-days and S-days were Daddy Days.” I hadn’t even noticed that detail.
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Being 120 miles away, we could no longer do that. Instead, every other weekend I would drive an hour to the only town that was even somewhat midway between us to pick them up and later, return them to their mother. I hated the need for the trip, but decided to make it quality time for us.
Instead of listening to the radio or CDs, in addition to chatting about their lives, I told them stories.
Stories have been, since the human race began, a source, if not the primary source, of education. My grandmothers told me stories from her childhood. The prophets and messengers of God, whose teachings have raised up great civilizations, have used stories as their method of instruction, and that continues today in the writings and teachings of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith. He wrote to an individual advising “Call ye to mind the story of Noah and Canaan.”
Baha’u’llah himself told stories to illustrate a point, to instruct morally and spiritually, and to transmit the great symbolism and power of belief. In one mystical tablet on spiritual growth called The Four Valleys, he began, “The story is told of a mystic knower, who went on a journey with a learned grammarian as his companion.”
In a letter addressed collectively to the kings and rulers of the world admonishing them for failing to establish global peace and harmony, Baha’u’llah said, “Relate unto them, O Servant, the story of Ali (the Bab) …” The Bab, Baha’u’llah’s herald and forerunner, was oppressed, persecuted, and finally executed for teaching his Faith.
In his treatise on societal progress, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Abdu’l-Baha followed this instruction by saying, “We shall here relate a story that will serve as an example to all,” recounting a fable about a tyrannical king who, because of the hospitality and courtesy of a commoner, became a follower of Christ.
So, in those two hours of driving time every other week, I tried to follow the examples of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha by telling my children stories. I told them family stories I had been told, stories from my own experiences, stories about progress of the Baha’i community in different parts of the world, and stories from Baha’i history. These stories helped them become grounded in who they were, the progress that has happened despite the chaos around them, and gave them confidence that they, too, could one day do something that others would find worth telling about.
They loved the stories, even a simple one such as my experience when I was a very little boy, probably two or three years old, when I would go out to play after a rain. The driveway was gravel, but in the corners where it met the road, there was less gravel or none at all. In the depressions made by the turning tires, the dirt was very fine which, after a rain, became a special kind of mud. I would walk into that mud in my bare feet and watch this special mud ooze up between my tiny toes. I stood there and watched that mud in fascination. There was nothing else in my world that I could walk on that could do that! That mud was amazing! My children never had that experience – they had always lived in town with cement everywhere. That mundane experience of mine became an interesting story for them.
So was a story my grandmother told me that demonstrates the progress of civilization and how our family was affected. When she was a child, a neighbor came over to her farm and taught her father how to build an outhouse. They had no bathroom at all before that. Bathing was done in front of the warm kitchen stove where they heated water. Life was very different on an immigrant farm at the beginning of the 20th century. My children were fascinated, as my grandchildren are now.
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I wish I could have shared such stories with my two older children, but the opportunity had never come up. These stories brought the three of us together and united us with others who populated the stories.
I continued telling these stories until each of them graduated from high school. Those stories, and the time we spent together in the car on those little country highways, have served as a foundation for our lives that continues today.
All of this storytelling has fulfilled the role of stories as advised by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, when he wrote to a person who asked about writing as a career: “What you could do, and should do, is to use your stories to become a source of inspiration and guidance for those who read them.” Stories, myths, and tales have always inspired and guided humanity – though our lives will end, our stories never will.
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