I have in other places  written seriously and scripturally about the purposes and obligation to fast on the Day of Atonement. That said, my own observance of the Day of Atonement began at the age of four, and the best that I can gather it was begun in imitation of my family, of which I was the oldest child. At the age of four, a child, especially from my own background, does not really understand such issues as reconciliation and justice that are important themes of this festival, and there was no one in my family who had any ability of setting a good example of how to go about such matters, even if there had been any inclination to do so. So, in my own case (and perhaps that of many others), the pattern and habit of fasting for the Day of Atonement began long before the meaning of the day, and the particularly poignant aspect of themes being present in this day that are so deep a problem in life, for while a four year old does not intellectually understand the meanings of the day, the aspect of our dependence and suffering apart from God was obvious from the beginning.
Thirty years ago, in fact, I had my first fast. It is hard to think that so much time has gone by. Once I successfully managed to go without any food or liquids for twenty-four hours, a feat of endurance that few four year olds could be expected to master, not least by their own volition, there was no going back. After all, having demonstrated my tenacity to obeying the command of God to afflict my soul from sunset to sunset, it was manifestly obvious that I had the capacity to endure such affliction from there on out, and so I did. If there is one unwanted skill I mastered early in life and have continued to practice, it is the ability to suffer well. Surely, it is a skill for which I was trained, whether consciously or not, from the very beginning of life, to such an extent that few people would be able to recognize the extent of suffering in my life if I did not leave a written record of it, since it largely seems to go on without the attention of others, or the desire to do something worthwhile and practical about it. After all, the Day of Atonement is about a short afflicting of the soul with the goal of eternal glory, while the suffering of life is mostly interminable in length, without much glory or honor attached to it.
As an adult, it is hard to look at my own life and find others who could relate to the stubbornness of my young self in fasting at such a tender age. My tendency to be implacable and unmovable from my plans and intentions has generally been viewed by others on a continuum that ranges from concern to outright and sheer panic, but it is generally a tendency towards seeking self-mastery rather than the desire to dominate or control others. My childhood gave me a lasting horror at domination and oppression, and a total disinclination to lord it over others or to accept with equanimity and acceptance those who wished to lord it over me. This festival, one of restoration, one of freedom, and one of reconciliation, is a promise that the corrupt authorities of this present age are on a time limit, and that their rule will not last forever, but that God is just and His justice will not sleep forever, but will be executed against the ungodly. This is not something that I understood as a little child when I first began fasting, but it would have been a comfort for my dark heart at the time, and it is certainly a comfort now in the face of those who refuse to turn from their wicked ways and cease from their hostility to the ways and people of God.
We do not fast to induce God to take our side in quarrels, nor do we fast to gain advantage in our own struggles. Yet we cannot be reconciled to God unless we wish to be reconciled to others, a wish that is not as common as it ought to be, and a wish that even if held is difficult to bring to fruition because of awkwardness and discomfort. Ultimately, though, in celebrating the reconciliation between God and man, and the righting of wrongs and the wiping clean of the slate and the provision of a fresh start  that take place on this day, we are faced with the truth that we have a lot of work that remains undone, and much that has not even begun, when it comes to reconciliation in our own lives. I do not seek to cast stones at anyone else—I speak from what I see when I look in the mirror through the shards of my own broken relationships with others. If fasting is not the habit of many four year olds that I have seen, and is comparatively rare even among those twice that age, I was surely not anymore a normal child than I am a normal adult of my age. In many ways, this day only points out the wide gulf between the way life is and the way it should be. How are we to bridge that gulf, so that life as a whole is less of an affliction that has to be suffered well?
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