OFTEN, we experience our lives as leaves blown by the wind. Instead of feeling in charge of our experiences, we sense ourselves becoming victims of events around us. However, we are in charge of how we choose to respond and what we choose to feel.

I had the opportunity to put the power of intention into practice with my own father. My dad and I had a pretty discordant relationship for decades. I talked about happiness being a choice; he proposed that genetics and the environment were impor­tant ingredients to consider. I suggested we could change ourselves in big ways quickly and without pain; he argued (rather angrily) that we are how we are, with only limited abilities to change, and my simplistic ideas indicated disrespect for the complexity of the human condition.

Clearly, he seemed closer and more comfortable with my siblings, who shared many of his perspectives. Thus, he surprised me one Sunday morning when he and my stepmother, Rosie (who I love dearly), called to solicit my help-provided I would not share the conversation with my siblings. I agreed rather tentatively.

My father told me he had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer that had spread throughout his abdominal area. He wanted my help in deciding what to do. I kept thinking as he spoke that although he had difficulty relating to me for years, he must have decided I could be helpful to him. I leaned back, thought quietly about what he just related, and considered how I wanted to respond. In effect, I considered my intentions. I decided to fully be myself. I would do whatever it took to love him and serve him. After years and years of floundering, I had in a matter of a few seconds grounded myself with a clear purpose in my unfolding rela­tionship with my father.

I leaned forward into the phone and said, “Pop, I am so excited for you. Sounds like you are about to begin one of the great adventures of your life.”

After some silence, my father laughed out loud and said to Rosie, who had been listening, “You see, Rosie, that’s why we called him. Listen to his attitude.”

I began a deep and tender journey with my father on that Sunday morning. It was a journey guided by clear intentions-by clarity of purpose. One afternoon many months later, I asked if I could hold his hand as I sat in a chair beside him. He smiled and took my hand, permitting a texture of contact and love that we had never shared before. He was 85. I was approaching my mid-50’s. Father and son holding hands. I could not recall ever doing that with him, even when I was a child.

Each time we were together, I would always ask myself, “What is my intention?” And so when any siblings experienced much pain and distress as any father faced his escalat­ing challenges, I found myself feeling warmth, love, and gratitude for a benevolent universe that had provided both of us with one last chance to heal our differences and celebrate what we came to enjoy and respect in each other.

The event didn’t provide the opportunity. Clear intentions, from the very start, made it possible. Instead of being a leaf blown in the wind, I experience much of my life being guided by those intentions. No, I cannot dictate the events around me or the actions of other people, but I can decide, even in advance, how I choose to be and what I choose to feel.

By Barry Neil Kaufman


  • Barry Neil Kaufman's newest book, No Regrets: Last Chance for a Father and Son, is the inspirational true story of Kaufman's reconciliation with his father. Kaufman is the co-founder of The Option Institute, a nonprofit organization located in Sheffield. Massachusetts, where he and his staff counsel individuals. couples. families. and groups on methods of self-ernpowerment. For more information visit www.option.org.

    Over 200 colleges and universities have used Kaufman's books as required or recommended reading. His screenplay of Son-Rise, the story of his family's extraordinary work bringing their son completely out of autism, became an award-winning NBC-TV movie, viewed by over 300 million people worldwide.

    Kaufman has been featured in national magazines from People to Family Circle, and in leading newspapers such as The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and The Los Angeles Times. He has been featured on major talk shows such as Good Morning America, First Person with Maria Shriver, and Phil Donahue. Kaufman has also been interviewed twice by Oprah Winfrey.

    Barry Neil Kaufman is the recipient of the Humanitas Prize, as well as twice recipient of the Christopher Award.