This father’s day a friend spent some time talking to me about the graceless interplay of deception, disappointment, and responsibility that being a father and husband can be. He had actually been talking to me over the course of several weeks, but the conversation on Father’s day convinced me I should write it down. What follows is an amalgam of the various conversations. I make no declarations of accuracy, and I may have even made up some of it.
It was such a tale of heartbreak and disolusionment that I found myself later simply staring at AOD in gratitude and picturing intricate ice sculptures melted just beyond the point where one could discern what they originally depicted. I felt utterly impotent as a friend, as if I lacked the very appendage needed to attach the hand to, with which I should reach out to him.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau
I know that some of my readers know who the protagonist of today’s post is, and though he has stated this is “not really a secret”, I’m positive that connecting names to this tale would be in extremely bad taste. I will call my friend “Bob” because I always have pictured “Bob” as a comfortable friendly name.
Bob has read this over and is OK with my telling it.. He says it is far enough away from the truth that he found it amusing “in a sick way”. He also said it was close enough to the truth that he felt “surprised at how closely I had listened to him”. I am of two minds in posting this, and since two minds should be better than one at making decisions I trust I have made the best decision in posting this. Another issue I have with this post is that it is too damn long. Bob opened up to me, and then I rambled on in response. This post is, however, just what it is.
“So” says Bob to me last Sunday “I’m taking a good soak in the tub when my wife comes in to the bathroom and starts adjusting herself in the mirror. Not just the -I splashed some nasty stuff in my hair- adjusting either; real goin’-out hair and makeup stuff. She even took some of her favorite perfume and dabbed it on her cleavage.”
“Was she naked?” I asked. His wife (let’s call her Carol) is genuinely attractive.
“No” Said Bob “She was dressed kinda nice. Not to the tens, or nines, but definitely to the eights. I could see she was wearing some lacy underthings.”
So he had my attention.
“So I ask her” continued Bob “Where are you going? Then she says: to have ‘lunch with [I think I will call him Carl].’ Then I joked ‘Is this a date?’ and she said ‘Not really’. I mean what does she mean -not really-”
I began to feel a little uncomfortable about asking if Carol was naked.
“So I ask her” says Bob “’Can I go then?’ and she says: ‘Of course not’. ‘What do you mean of course not? What do you mean not –really- a date?’ I ask her, and she says ‘It’s just lunch and stuff’ So I ask ‘What kinda stuff’ and she says ‘stuff’. And then she’s done primpin’ and leaves and she is out of the house by the time I throw on some clothes and try and catch up with her”
“That sounds kinda weird, haven’t you guys been married forever?” I ask
“Yeah, like 11 years” says Bob “So three or four hours later she meets me and the kids at the park all smiles and says: ‘They had this Gay pride parade downtown and Carl was more interested in the men dancing around in thongs than he was me’ and she looks at me like I’m supposed to be pleased or something and all I’m thinking is: ‘So you wanted Carl to be all interested in you.’…”
It was clear that suggesting that Carol might have been naked had been a bad move on my part.
“So I act like it is just the best day with the kids ever while I try and figure out what has happened to my guts ‘cause it feels like they dropped out on the ground somewhere” Continues Bob “Later, when the kids have gone to bed I ask her ‘what is up with this?’ and she starts unloading about how I am an atheist and cannot understand her spiritual journey and she has this emptiness and starts telling me about all these other men who had something spiritual to give her that I could not”
“Yeah giving her the old-time spiritual thing” I said while regretting the words the moment I spoke them. I must remember the proper order of things: First think - Then talk.
He looked about ready to throw up.
“So I ask her” Said Bob “’What do you want me to do? Go to church, get baptized, get circumcised, what?’ and she says ‘It’s too late Bob, I need things you cannot give me’. I mean WTF, right? What do you say to that? Eleven years; did she just use up everything I had to offer and I just never noticed I was empty? This is how people start to get divorced, right?”
“So leave her” I say “Backstabbing, two-timing, crazy bitch gets dumped. Not the most pathetic country song I could think of. She’s being abusive. Drop the hot coal and run out of the house before it catches fire”
Once I get up to speed I give the best advice ever.
Bob continued as if he did not comprehend how perfect my wise advice truly was “So I ask her about the kids, and the stuff. ‘What about the kids? What about the stuff?’ I asked her and she says ‘We can’t get divorced right now’ so I say ‘I’m NOT OK with the whole dating men till you find Mr spiritual right while I am your husband.’ And she says ‘What about the kids?’ and then I try and say something but I don’t know anymore what to say”
I thought about AOD and AYD and realized that it would be impossible for me to make plans to separate from them, even partially. What would it be like to hear them calling someone else “Dad”? I felt sick. Of course my awesome kids are older than Bob’s so they would be surely and difficult to any new “dad” figure. Bob lacked that confidence. Looking at Bob raised the question of whether he could tell the difference between confidence and resignation. I definitely felt sick.
“I had a street-preacher yell at me about god's love, and feeling loved the whole day through, and everywhere you went” continued Bob after a pregnant pause “I walked two blocks wanting more than anything to feel that love. I thought, for a moment, that I would give anything to feel it. Then I realized that if someone really felt it they would never want to stand alone on the street with a look of desperate lies on their face and yell at strangers. Just because I am willing to perform a stupid sacrifice does not make what I sacrifice for worth it. I sacrificed a lot for this marriage and I feel like coffee spilled on dry ground, and it just looks like it ain’t done takin’ from me yet.”
Bob was concerned with being erased from his own life. He was realizing again that the place he filled in other people's lives was just jotted down in pencil.
“It was not that long ago where I felt like the stable middle-aged man with two kids and stuff was my greatest asset” Bob said airily “Now the same stuff is just proof of what a loser I have been. Carol was not three years into the marriage when she found true love with her first soul-mate spiritual partner. I even thought something was up and all at the time and asked her several times: ‘Y’know, like what’s up with this?’ She said ‘nothing’. She said he was gay. ‘Can’t I have gay friends?’ she said. Well turns out he was not gay…at all.”
Bob, of course, had not been the perfect husband. He had probably left things unsaid when it was important to say everything possible. He had probably trusted when he should have doubted. He had probably left things well enough alone when he should have muddled. After eleven years of marriage a person who could not find fault with their spouse is just not paying enough attention. As far as I know, and I know Bob quite well, he was not guilty of any of the big three: spending all the families money on stupid stuff like drugs, an affair with another woman, or deciding he was gay. On paper, at least, Bob was a real fine spouse.
Of course there is a rub. What is on paper only captures so much.
“Years of lie” said Bob, becoming a little maudlin while saying it “My life is like something out of a Philip K Dick story. The protagonist gets exonerated from his crime and is to be released from virtual reality prison. They pull the plug on him and when he ‘wakes up’ to the real world he sees that it sucks. He starts contemplating actually doing the crime he was framed for just to get out of the real world. Here I am relating with the whole plot of a story who's title I can't remember. Reality sucks! ”
Bob detailed what he had learned from Carol’s revelations. It was obvious from the list that none of the guys whose names I recognized were spiritual giants. Those that I knew appeared to care more about themselves than any philosophy. Bob had also noted this. One of the guys he knew to be an atheist “He lent me Sam Harris’s first book just after it came out!” said Bob.
It is no surprise that Carol would use the spiritual journey lie to justify her thoughts about Bob. So much that is the meat of spiritual rhetoric is finely crafted mistruth. Lies become useful when there is lying to be done. When doing anything it is advantageous to use the most expertly sharpened tools available. Unfortunately the choice of tool often guides the type of work that needs to be done. If you use a hammer to screw in a light bulb you will find the task at hand to be more accurately called cleaning up broken glass.
What I mean is that, by choosing the spiritual journey lies for justification, Carol’s task becomes “leaving Bob” not “working things out”. Instead of simply (and I know these things are not simple) “communicating better” or “developing a loving, caring, nurturing environment” he must create a pantheon of magical beings, and the supernatural laws that govern them. Worse, since Carol is on a spiritual journey, he must create the magical world of the moment, and update it when needed.
Carol is deluded, not dumb. Even if Bob was able to hit upon a guru or theology that could stabilize the spiritual split there would never be a time when Carol could not look into his eyes and know that he was lying. There is no way to create this bridge at this stage of their marriage unless Carol is willing to give up on some of her deluded notions. It is impossible to ever get to the real issues if the spiritual problems must be solved first. But at what point could Bob look into Carol’s eyes and not know she was lying about her re-prioritization. Actually Bob is kinda gullible, so the whole deceiving Bob thing might not be that much of an issue.
I was talking with Bob, but Carol surely had a viewpoint that most likely was different from Bob’s. I would not be speaking to Carol about this anytime soon. When I picture a likely conversation with Carol the topic always tended towards intense spiritual principals and how I might be able to help her get wrapped around them.
Bob spoke of many things. He suggested joining a Buddhist monastery so he could get in touch with universal love. He suggested medications because “if he was not depressed about this something was seriously wrong with him”.
He discussed what types of surgery would be useful: “Lobotomy? Colonectomy? ‘something’s missing in there, and I keep having diarrhea.’”
“What I really want” said Bob “Is Pinocchio’s blue angel to climb into bed with me at night, and put her arms around me. I want to feel the warmth of her skin through the diaphanous blue angel cloth. I want to feel her heart beating against the pulse of my fingers. I want her to whisper in my ear ‘you are a real boy’.”
Who, in a situation like this, would not want invisible magic enablers. Co-dependency is best practiced by those who have nothing to lose themselves. Who better than angels? Many angels are simultaneously incredibly powerful magical entities, utterly imaginary, and already dead; they have so little to lose.
Of course it is the whole “being a real person” thing that is the problem for Bob. I’m sure that if he could convince himself that stepping off the reality merry-go-round was a good idea then he would. If he could come up with a good plan for stepping off then I’m sure a bunch of us would go with him if we could.
Bob is not going to abandon the life he has created, not tomorrow at least. His kids will have a father, even if he will be a somewhat diminished father. The mortgage company will get paid on time.
Tomorrow Bob will wake up and deal with something in his life. Perhaps he will try something to solidify his stools; maybe something to solidify his resolve. Perhaps he will try and ignore something too painful to be aware of; maybe he will try and fix something he has neglected. Bob will get up tomorrow and do something to change his life, and probably go to sleep thinking that what he did was insignificant.
“Blue fairy Bob” I said “Pinocchio had a blue fairy, not a blue angel. The blue angels are fighter pilots who do aerial acrobatics in jets.”
“Whatever” said Bob
“Whatever” is Bob’s current plan for life. I could not really think of a better one.
I know we all wish Bob finds a whole crayon box of angels. I hope none of them has magical powers and that they are incapable of disappearing into a cloud of fairy sparkles. I hope that someday, real soon, Bob feels like the world is dripping with love and that he is a part of it; because he is.