Next week I’m going to Iceland for a wedding. The sun will be up for 24 straight hours, which is considered an auspicious day to get married on. In a few months I’m taking a trip to Antarctica, the complete opposite side of the planet. I’m going there for business (who does business in Antarctica, one might ask, but I’ll do that post when I get back). But even when I go someplace on business it’s also for friendship. Else I wouldn’t go. I don’t like to travel. So to get me to move more than ten feet from my house takes effort.
In the same way, I didn’t want to be a father. All through my 20s, girlfriends had broken up with me because I swore I would never have kids. When I got engaged to my first wife I said, “I definitely do not want to have kids.” I felt kids would drain my creativity. I felt they would put a leash on my freedom. We came to a compromise which somehow ended up with me having two kids. Ultimatums don’t work once you are engaged. Now we’re divorced but I still have the two kids.
When the first kid was born I was very unhappy. I left kid and mom at the hospital and went through two sets of locked doors with video cameras to play poker at a private club in Manhattan. At first Ingrid, the girl behind the second door, wouldn’t let me in. “Go back to your wife,” she said.
“She’s out cold on morphine or whatever they do to women they rip open and pull a living human being out of.” “Ok.” Ingrid let me in and they even made me a nice dinner while I played all night.
Just a day earlier I had been hoping the baby would be born dead even while my ex-wife was in labor. Just to selfishly save me from 20 years of what I thought would be horror. I could say, “that’s how selfish I was” and maybe that would be true but it was more like I was scared. I couldn’t imagine that suddenly there would be this new US citizen living in my apartment who was one foot tall, didn’t speak English, shat on the floor, slept on my bed crying that I could roll over and crush if I drank too much, and in general would require so much of my attention it would take up all the molecules in my brain. I never quite dealt with it. Children change everything.
But when I got divorced the first thing that occurred to me was: I won’t be there when she has nightmares in the middle of the night. I cried thinking about that. I felt the same depth of sadness I felt when my dad died. One time when she was six I showed her a beautiful animated movie about Hiroshima called “Barefoot Gen”. It was too much. In the middle of the night I heard her crying. She was still asleep but she was up in her bed crying, hitting her pillow and yelling, “no no no”. It was too much for her and I felt bad. I kissed her and woke her and hugged her and calmed her down. Once I was divorced I wouldn’t get a chance to do that anymore. Or the chances would get much less. And now that she’s a teenager, there’s an extra shell of hormones swimming around in her pretty head that I have to get through.By the time I get through them on the weekends she has to go back home.
I hate Fathers Day. Probably because I’m not a very good father. But also because I hate how we’re so willing to believe its a day that should be special. The day was popularized by the Associated Men’s Wear Retailers Association in the 1930s. They wanted a special day set aside so people would feel obligated to buy millions of men some more clothes in the middle of the Depression. We all have enough clothes. Enough with the clothes already. But like almost every holiday in America, there has to be a way to drain people of their hard-earned money and Congress is always eager to legislate money from the rest of us. So now we have Father’s Day. Not really for my kids to appreciate what a great dad I might be. Although they are planning on taking me for breakfast. Maybe every day should be father’s day.
I try to do one thing really well as a father. Since I can’t be there every day for them. Or take them to all of their events. Or arrange their schooling or playdates or anything like that. So now that I’ve learned to love them more than I thought humanly possible I try to do one thing very well.
When they are here, I listen to them. I set aside “office hours” so each kid can talk to me and tell me whatever they want without me judging or fixing or making comments. If they want my comments I will give them. Otherwise they can drone on for hours and I will listen. I’m not a fun dad. I don’t take them to parks or play soccer or baseball with them. I like to read all day so I encourage them to do the same when they are here. But I will always listen to them. And, at their ages, I know that friendship is at least as important as having great parents so I always say “yes” if they want to go out with friends, even if it further limits my time with them. It also allows me to get rid of them so I can be alone more. Bliss.
And for the other, the ten year old, she wrote a poem summarizing my philosophy perfectly. She writes better than me. I’ve just taken 1000 words to get here and she can do it in just a few words:
Let It Go, by Mollie Altucher, age 10
Let it go
Don't let it suffocate
Let it breathe
Don't drown its word
Let it talk
Don't doubt its wisdom
Let it think
But when its time, just let it flow
And let it go
I wish I had written that. It’s simple and gets the point across and closes beautifully. And somehow, it summarizes my own personal philosophy. I told Mollie about my trip to Iceland and how the day was considered lucky for weddings. She asked, “what happens if you get married when it’s dark in Iceland for 24 straight hours?” I can only hope she explores the world one day and finds out all of these questions for herself. For once I’d like to lie down, close my eyes, and let her tell me all of the answers. Just so I could listen to her beautiful voice.