A Father's Burden

 It is a sunny day in Los Angeles. Endless blue skies and snow covered mountaintops fight for your attention. The streets are filled with the usual assortment of cars, convertibles, SUVs, Hondas and assorted others jockey for the right to be the lead car on a street that won't allow for speeds exceeding 35 MPH.

The boys and I are seated outside, cups of coffee in hand, sunglasses protecting our eyes from the glare. It is late morning and we have gathered to engage in our unofficial support group. Because you know that as men none of us want to admit that we need help. We don't ask for directions and we don't ask for a shoulder to cry on, even though we all want it. So we amuse ourselves with this clever fairytale that it is just friends getting together to talk.

That is a bit of an exaggeration. We are all forty somethings now. Every last one of us a father. Twenty years ago the conversations were different. They may have borne some resemblance to the current ones, in which we talk about women, but they were different.

Back then there wasn't any talk about divorce. No comments about custody or concerns about dating as a single parent. No worries about how to pay for private school or rants about having to pay for summer camp during winter time.

And there most certainly weren't comments about how bad the economy is or how we have become casualties of a situation that we can't control.

No one talked about how to tell their children that mommy and daddy can't afford to pay the mortgage anymore. No one had any thoughts or concerns that they might have to move back in with their parents. There wasn't any thought that after having been a productive member of society for years they would fear having nothing to show for it.

Back then no one had the burden of supporting a family. It was only us and no one cared if your apartment was a dump and your furniture was worn out.

The sunglasses help to maintain the poker face that we wear. It is part of our suit of armor. A useful tool those sunglasses. Back in the day they helped provide cover to check out the pretty girl. Now they help to hide the look of fear and exhaustion that I see in the back of our eyes.

I throw out the idea of the new business and talk about taking control of our destiny. I say that now is the perfect time to take a stand and make something because no one else is going to help us. We don't trust the government or expect our parents to save us.

We throw out movie quotes and laugh. More stories and ideas are shared. One confesses that he and his soon to be ex wife are sleeping together again. They have no intention of getting back together, but it is easier because they don't have to worry about when to introduce the new person to the kids.

He laughs and says that his wife stopped giving head 13 years ago, right after their eldest child was born.  But now that they are friends with benefits it is a regular course on the menu. No one tells him that no one liked her or that we expected that one day they would split.

I thank him for giving me nightmares and he says I should talk. I ask him what he is referring to and he tells me that he walked in on me in college. I give him a puzzled look and he tells me about some party he remembers from 1987. I still don't know what he is talking about and ask him if he is certain it was me.

From across the table there are a couple of loud guffaws and our buddy says that if I can't remember she certainly won't. I smile and tell him that I am sure that he is right. Thank G-d that I have kids to prove my manhood. I must have figured out how to do it right a few times.

For a moment there is silence. It is sort of a melancholy silence. Good memories intermixed with painful realities. More stories are exchanged and suggestions offered. I tell them about the things that I find most challenging and give an outline for my plan.

I am optimistic, but a bit frustrated. I feel like I am in a tunnel.I can see daylight, but can't quite get there. There are no road maps. It feels a bit like Let's Make a Deal. I know what I have in hand. It might do what I need it to. It might be possible to make it all happen.

But the possibility of what could lie behind door number one nag at me. Little whispers suggest that it is time to  make a bigger move and to take a risk. But I am not certain yet and there is no Monty Hall to push me to choose now.

So I shrug my shoulders and decide to walk a bit further down this road and see what happens. The party is breaking up. It is time for us to get back to reality. There is work to be done and projects to attend to. We stand up, shake hands and walk to our cars.

The warmth of the sun on my back makes me smile. It has restorative powers. Hard to believe that somewhere across the country people are trudging through snow. Harder yet to believe that the pot of gold we seek isn't located somewhere beneath these endless blue skies. All we have to do is find it.


Anonymous said...

What a moving post... You just have to be grateful for the little things. And trust your instincts with those ideas.

SuperRaizy said...

This really spoke to me. The feelings that you expressed are a lot like the feelings that many women our age feel too, although certain aspects of the conversation are admittedly different!

Real Dads Hangout said...

Totally relate to this. The conversations with buddies stir many things. Good memories or no recollection at all of others memories..lol...and the ability to leave the past behind and be thankful for the present...NICE JOB!

Jack Steiner said...

Hi Leslee,

Thanks for coming by. I do believe in trusting my instincts, but sometimes it is hard.

Hi Raizy,

I'd be surprised if your conversations were the same, ;) But I am not surprised to hear that there are similar feelings.


Thanks for coming by. It is important to be able to appreciate the past, but live in the present.

Heather at My Coupon Coop said...

Beautiful post, Jack! You did such a wonderful job of describing middle age and how it changes us. And middle age in a bad economy - yeow! Disappearing choices, reduced expectations, our worlds seeming to narrow as our wisdom expands. Never seemed quite fair to me.

Jack Steiner said...

our worlds seeming to narrow as our wisdom expands.

Hi Heather,

That is a great way of expressing it. Just as you start to really get a handle on some things your ability to leverage that knowledge is handcuffed.

The question is how to break those shackles.

Captain Dumbass said...

That was as fantastic post, Jack. As an unemployed dad it really hits home.

Jack Steiner said...

Hi Captain,

Here is my salute. It is a rough time for a lot of people which is why the boys and I are working hard to help each other through.

Glad that you liked it.

Privilege of Parenting said...

Hey there,

I found my way to your blog from a comment you left at Ivy League Insecurities... I had just been lamenting that so few men seem willing to admit feelings, get real or truly connect. Even though I love my guy friends, I see that it's really rare to find a way to be vulnerable and connected and not have everyone squirming at the threat to their masculine identities.

As we make our way into a more evolved world, I'm hoping that authentic just might become the new cool.


Jack Steiner said...


Welcome to the blog. I think that within the blogosphere it is more common to find men who are willing to share their thoughts and feelings. It is a bit safer this way.

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