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Dad Can't Talk to Kids for Three Years

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Why? He shares his story with momlogic.

Bill McMichael

In December of 2010, airline pilot Bill McMichael will go on a Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Arizona where he cannot speak for 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days. He has two kids -- ages 7 and 9 -- and will not be able to speak to them, either. We sat down with Bill to find out what inspired him to go on this journey.

Momlogic: Why did you decide to go on this retreat?

Bill: It's been a long time in the making. I was introduced to Tibetan Buddhism in college, and graduated in 1988 from the University of Virginia. There, I took a couple of courses in Buddhism, and some of it really got my attention. In my late 30s, I really started to get into it. I guess I've known for about three years that I wanted to do the retreat.

ML: How old are your kids?

Bill: I've got two kids -- Will is 9 and Claire is 7. It's going to be very hard leaving my kids and leaving my job. This is what triggered my divorce, essentially. The toughest thing is definitely leaving my kids. But the goal is going to be more valuable than anything I could give them in the next three years.

ML: What is the goal?

Bill: To be able to grasp the direct perception of emptiness. Once it's all said and done, I hope I'll learn enough to teach my kids to do it themselves. It's possible to reach heaven before you die. In Tibetan Buddhism, we call this enlightenment. If I can accomplish that and give them that, that's way more than being able to play baseball with them, etc.

ML: How does your ex feel about this?

Bill: Well, like I said, it triggered my divorce. But my ex-wife is a great mother. And that is a huge part of the reason I can do this -- my kids have got enough money, and they've got a great mother. I'm in a great position to do this. I'm not guaranteed a tomorrow -- none of us are. The time is now.

ML: Do your kids understand why you are doing this?

Bill: We talk about the philosophy all the time at home. They understand karma. But when I dropped Claire off at school the other day, I told her 'I'm going to miss you,' and she said, 'You're not going to leave on your three-year retreat, are you?' I assured her that when I do leave, it will be a much bigger deal than that!

ML: Has it been a hard decision for you to do this?

Bill: About two and a half years ago, I was sitting in class and realized that I was going to do it. Since then, I never wavered. Yes, it's been difficult. I basically had to dismantle a life -- nice wife, nice job, great kids. But I know the sacrifice will be worth it.

ML: So you're quitting your job?

Bill: I'll ask for a leave of absence when the time comes, but I may have to quit. I am using my retirement money to fund child support for three years. When I get out, I may be able to teach.

ML: How often will you be able to see your kids on the retreat?

Bill: The problem is that when you're communicating with people on the outside, your mind is leaving the retreat. It's distracting from the meditation goals you're trying to achieve inside the retreat. There has to be a minimum amount of communication. Two to three times a year, they will be able to come visit. We won't be able to really talk. The only time you can speak on the retreat is to say prayers. But they will be able to talk to me.

ML: Do you do mini-retreats to practice?

Bill: I do retreats in my apartment in Chicago and elsewhere. When I'm in retreat in Chicago, my kids talk to me and I write them back notes. I just finished up my sixth retreat a few weeks ago. The retreats last from 10 days to a month. It's exactly like training for an athletic event.

ML: Does your family support this?

Bill: I don't know if my parents really understand it. It's too different, too new to this country. I wouldn't really say they support it.

ML: What about your ex-wife?

Bill: I wouldn't say she's supportive of it, but we have a good functional relationship. There's no drama there -- we didn't really fight. As I got more into Tibetan Buddhism, we grew farther and farther apart. She's Roman Catholic. But I'm very happy for my kids to go to church on Sundays. It's not like you have to give up Christ to study Buddhism.

ML: Thanks for sharing your story, Bill. Do you have any final thoughts to add?

Bill: During the Iraq war, there was a point where over a four-year period, the average soldier had been away from home for two-and-a-half years. Our country does support parents leaving their children for long periods of time if they believe in the cause. I've just got a different cause.

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21 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mariela October 9, 2009, 4:19 AM

(Sorry for my grammar english is not my first language)

When I was reading, I was kind of shock to know that he will not talk to his kids for soooo long, but then I said, I need to respect his belive, that is what our contry is about…. He almost get it me.

His last response, when he comparate himself with the troops is just gross. The troops leave their families behind doing a mayor sacrifices in the name of our contry. They are heros, who we have the moral oblogation to support as society in any aspect that we can. Mens and Womens in the forces give their lifes for us. Comporate this divorce loser whith them is just plain wrong.

We suppor our troop because they actually are doing something usefull insed of you having a midlife tantrum

Jill October 9, 2009, 7:50 AM

What a selfish jerk. I’m sure that God (or whoever you belive in) would like you to ignore your children.

Jet October 9, 2009, 8:27 AM

That’s one of the most self serving things I’ve ever heard. His children will be damamged beyond repair, know their dad prized his “self-actualization” more than their precious growing-up years. What a moron!

Jenny October 9, 2009, 8:55 AM

I think he is brave to do such a thing. If this is his calling from God, he has to follow it. His kids will learn that we have to put GOD first. That’s the best lesson to teach your children.

Anonymous October 9, 2009, 9:06 AM

I respect his feeling that he needs to do this…but can’t he wait until the children are grown? They will both change so much from the ages of 7 to 10, and from 9 to 12. If he waited a decade or so, he could do this while they’re off at college - and I think it wouldn’t be nearly as traumatic for his kids. I don’t see his desire for doing this as being selfish, I see his desire for doing it RIGHT NOW as being selfish.

Kristen October 9, 2009, 9:24 AM

Wow, he gave up his entire life and TORE HIS FAMILY APART so that he can become enlightened. I think he is selfish. I am also APPALLED that he is comparing himself with troops. When my husband goes away on a military deployment he stays in CONTACT with his family. He goes the extra mile to send our children cards/letters and small gifts. This guy is extremely selfish given the fact that he just got off of his 6th retreat(those lasted anywhere from a week to a month). He seems to be becoming an addict of sorts. What is his next step complete isolation in the tibetan mountains for the rest of his life, never speaking to his children again.

KateCake October 9, 2009, 9:36 AM

This man is a sick person. If this is what his religion requires of him, it is a sick religion.

kathryn October 9, 2009, 11:00 AM

I love that he thinks being a father means playing baseball with his kids. WOW. He definitely needs to be enlightened but not in the way he’s thinking.

michelle October 9, 2009, 11:08 AM

Wow, what a selfish ba**ard. I actually know a little about Tibetan Buddhism, and I guarantee you that it does not advocate neglecting your own children for 3 years. Enlightenment can be pursued at any time in your life. This guy obviously has issues that go way beyond whatever he happened to choose as his religious crutch. But BTW, I think his comparison to the Iraq war is actually spot on. I don’t support parents leaving their kids to go to Iraq either. In fact, that’s worse because they can actually be killed, fighting for a “cause” that is pointless, that has nothing to do with the security of the US, and that none of them can actually define.

MommaTucker October 9, 2009, 11:11 AM

I’m finding it amazing that so many are proving to be close minded when it comes to other religions. It’s ok to teach our children that they’re going to hell for breaking some “commandment” and scaring the crap out of them with eternity in hell, but it’s not ok to become more spiritual with a 3 year retreat. It’s 3 years, not 30! And maybe his kids will actually learn something from him-to be themselves and try to find their own path in life without following so many hypocrites. The beauty of Buddhism and Hinduism is that they teach understanding and acceptance. More could learn from a Buddhist retreat.

traylady October 9, 2009, 11:20 AM

gee, I bet his kids will really respect his religion when they are crying and missing him and dealing with an overworked and overwhelmed mom. NOT. this guy is a selfish jerk. he couldn’t wait till they are grown? At least he’ll be around for their teenage years — then they can really have something to hate him for!

kim - mommyknows October 9, 2009, 11:41 AM

He says, the experience will be more valuable than anything he could give them.

He’s probably right. He sounds like a self centered a$$.

Soup October 9, 2009, 11:52 AM

Truly admirable! His courage and selflessness are really inspiring. Human beings can withstand a great deal of hardship, there are people who survived the holocaust! To say that his kids will be damaged beyond repair is silly. I think everyone involved will be better for it!

Anonymous October 9, 2009, 2:34 PM

He doesnt deserve to have those children what good father would choose to be away from his children for so long what exactly is he trying to teach them besides abandonment and for what some bazar cult something or other. What a loser!

Dani October 9, 2009, 4:17 PM

It’s just wrong. He can do it when his kids grow up. He is being selfish. He claims he has to do it now cuz no one is guarenteed a tomorrow but what happens if while he is gone for 3 years one or both of his kids die? (Godforbid!) Car accident? swine flu? Then how will he feel that he missed precious moments with them and they died knowing he chose to be selfish and put his wants before them? Hi boy is 8, that is an age when a boy needs his father most, when he comes back this kid will be a teen and want nothing to do with him. He is stirring the pot of resentment. He better get used to the solitude and lonliness cuz when he gets back he will be just that. If that ex wife and those kids have any sense of self preservation that will “divorce” him of visitation on grounds of abandonment. He can continue paying child support because he created them but he sure as hell has no right to see them! What a dirtbag!

dining table October 9, 2009, 7:50 PM

Why not choose to be with your children? Three years is long enough for your children. I mean, many dads are also far away from their children but they are allowed to talk.

N October 11, 2009, 12:18 AM

he is probably doing it to avoid child support. i can’t imagine any women staying with a man who intended to do this. what an a$$, hopefully by the time he comes back she will have moved on and the kids will have a real father and he will know what he lost

betty October 11, 2009, 7:42 AM

N, He says above he is using his retirement money to pay child support for three years. He has taken care of everything. This is his spiritual calling. I commend him for it.

Kristin October 11, 2009, 7:50 AM

I have to wonder if any of you would say the same of this man if he were a Christian.

I think this a fabulous. He is sacrificing everything so that we can bring something more important home to his children. Am I saying it won’t be hard for the kids? Of course it will be hard for them…but look what they are getting in return. I just hope that they can appreciate it when they’re older and not come out sounding like this lot of people.

Good luck, man.

Cheryl October 12, 2009, 5:39 AM

My reaction would be exactly the same if he were Christian. According to the bible, your first ministry is in your own home. That would mean that you take care of your children. This man is extremely selfish, and I think that he will discover that what he missed out on alot that can never be replaced.

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