“I was thinking that, on Jane’s eighteenth birthday… That’s the day I stop being a dad. Of children. Officially. Like the day I just … I just become a guy. Not ‘daddy’. I just become … just some dude. And I think, on that day … I might kill myself.”
– Louis C.K.
It is the first week in December. It is 70 degrees outside. I just returned from an hour-long walk by myself–no wife, no children– just me and the Savinelli pipe that I was gifted on my recent 40th birthday. This kind of “alone time” is so scarce these days, that I had a very hard time knowing exactly what to do with myself during the hour or two that my wife gave to me on this unseasonably warm December evening. I’ve a lot of reason to be introspective these days … so much has happened in recent months, and like most parents of young children, I haven’t had the time to process a single scrap of it.
So, after much aimless wandering around the disconcertingly quiet flat, I stepped outside and walked, slowly, in the mixed up strangeness of this odd December weather. Smoking a lovely, rich English tobacco, I strolled in solitude through a still unfamiliar neighborhood I am only just getting to know. Despite its unfamiliarity, the neighborhood is a lovely one, and tonight … the strange juxtaposition of the warm breeze with the newly strung Christmas lights that began to twinkle with the early setting of the sun brought me within myself in way that I have not felt in a long time.
Life is hard to keep up with. So much has changed. I haven’t written in this blog since February. People ask me about it a lot and I miss it. It dropped from my life when the armload of personal challenges I had been accumulating became too overwhelming to hold all at once. Summarizing will be a challenge.
Seemingly out of nowhere, I turned 40 last month. Within arms reach of that 40th birthday, so many things wobbled and fell. My family moved, quickly, from our longtime home and neighborhood nestled in a community that did not survive the housing crash, into a better community that did. Before we knew it, we were moving out from under the roof where both of our children had been born. At almost exactly the same time within the complicated summer, I resigned from my position as artistic director for a small theatre company in Chicago, one that I had poured every spare ounce of love and effort and every spare moment of my crowded life into for nearly four years, all while trying to raise two spirited children and act as home front support to a selfless and very hard-working wife and mother. For most of those three plus years, our marriage had been reduced to being two ships passing in the proverbial night. So when it became clear that the challenging economic times and the state of contemplative arts in our media saturated culture was only adding more and more challenges to the sustainability of my beloved little theatre company, a decision had to be made. My family life and creative endeavors and the challenges of all of them combined became unsustainable. So, I made the decision to resign, while I still had a family to come home to and while I still had a scrap of love left for the art to which I had dedicated nearly twenty years of my adult life. And with that decision, came the decision of the board to cease operations of the theatre company. Both of them were the right decisions. But the rightness of the decisions didn’t make them any less painful, or any less life altering.
Which brings me to the quote from my favorite anti-hero, Louis CK. If you know Louis CK and his wonderful show “Louie,” then you know that the above quote is actually not about suicide. I have no such plans and neither does Louis CK, but as a 40-year-old man and father who has found his life in profound transition, I feel his point deeply. Our decision to move quickly, and my decision to resign were all done in an effort to protect the one thing that is completely our own: our family. And despite the grueling nature of contemporary parenthood, the indescribably mundane routines of the stay-at-home parent, the waning affections of growing children and the realities of the frightening world that we decided to bring them into …. despite all this, there is nothing that I love more than being a father. Even on days when I hate being a father, I love it. It gives my personal human existence immediate and tangible meaning. Even when they drive me insane, there are no human beings on earth that I love more than my children. And now, looking at the things that I have stripped away in my own life in order to be better at being around them, I am faced with the reality of the question of what becomes of me when they no longer need me.
In the light of all of these recent changes, and suddenly finding myself standing dumbstruck in what is at best the midpoint of my astonishingly short life … the question glares at me. One day, my children will no longer need me to father them. I will always be their Dad, but some day all-too-soon they will outgrow their daily need for me, and that is the day that I will become just … some dude.
As a father of young children, the life and work of a parent never ends. Until the day that it does. One day, one way or another, my children will not be children any more and they will be gone from my daily life. There is a spiritual blankness that comes with knowing this day will come. Not emptiness. Just blankness. When the day does come, what will be left in the world for this aging man to call his own?
On this particular evening, looking through the window that should not be open, as the warm December evening breeze gives way to the premature night of winter–two seasons seemingly converging in one moment–the strange weather seems to be the world’s attempt to embrace its own unpredictability, and to hold it up for me to examine. I have something to learn from it.
Even if I am not yet sure what it is.