Has It Been That Long?

Has It Been That Long?

A friend mentioned to me recently that he likes my blog because it makes him feel better about himself. This was a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. Twenty years to be pretty exact. He said this to me at our twenty-year high school reunion this past weekend. Naturally, I was shocked and delighted that he had read my blog.

When emails and facebook posts about the reunion started going around about six months ago, I sent a reply joking that I had six months to make something of my life. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d make the deadline. But then this friend says this about my blog. Just when you think you haven’t achieved anything…

In all seriousness, it did seem like an odd thing to say to someone you haven’t seen in twenty years. I was aware that my in-person “status update” would not wow anyone at my reunion. I’ve spent a good twenty years coming to terms with that fact. Somebody has to make people feel good about themselves. I guess deep down I’ve always felt it might as well be me.

But it’s more complicated than that. For one thing, I’ve found that people like to strive for something better even more than they like to look down their noses at something worse. It’s why I read GQ and Architectural Digest. Deep down I just want –I guess– to feel shitty about my clothes and house. My wife reads a lot of garden porn.

Here’s a pic I took today of our garden…

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To put it simply, fat people read Fit. Fit people don’t read Fat.

Sure, the self-deprecating self-saboteur will put a crowd at ease, perhaps even make them laugh with a story that aptly illustrates his tough luck and grounded attitude but, in the end, when he’s standing at the door ready to walk into this twenty year high school reunion…which guy do you think he wants to be? The crowd pleaser or the crowd teaser? The everyman who reads GQ or the GQ man who leaves you wanting more?

At every single other party I’ve ever walked into I’ve wanted to be the everyman crowd pleaser. Just this once I thought it’d be nice to intimidate a few people.

I found that at the start of the night, I was leaving my response to the “so what have you been up to?” question a little vague: “I’m writing…freelance stuff mostly…I have a screenwriting partner…two kids, one on the way.” Toward the middle of the night, after a few drinks, my response grew a bit more honest: “I stay home with the kids and try to write…fiction mostly, some freelance stuff. I have a screenwriting partner.” At the end of the night, many drinks later, my response devolved some more: “Me? Oh, yeah, I make lunches. Pretty much. All meals, really. I do laundry, break up a lot of fights, pretend I’m a cat or a baby a lot. I have a screenwriting partner but he lives in San Francisco, not LA, so he’s pretty useless.”

It took awhile but other people’s stories started fraying around edges as well. Sound bytes unraveled to become things that sounded a lot like confessions. We were either getting drunk or our aged faces started to feel very familiar again. We were learning about failing marriages, problem children, old crushes…at one point, one former classmate felt comfortable enough to hand out a print of a painting she’d recently done –herself, it appeared, nude, spread eagle. “Yes!” we all said under breath, “this is why I trekked my ass all the way to my twenty-year reunion.”

Toward the end of the night, I had a conversation that stirred up some new thoughts. It was the exact sort of connecting of dots that you really hope for with a reunion.

It went sort of like this:

Him: “Yeah, one of my good buddies is a stay-at-home dad.”

Me: “Oh yeah? Well, it’s all the rage now.”

Him: “Yeah, he does consulting for a financial firm in Boston. It’s all done via skype and email so he can really be anywhere.”

Me: “So…he’s more like working from home then…”

Him: (blank look) “So, what kind of work are you doing?”

Me: “I have a blog. (pause…pause) You’ll be in it.”

(this wasn’t the enlightening part). We eventually got on the same page and he gave the response that I get from, I’d say, nine out of ten guys I tell them I’m a stay-at-home dad:

Him: “Oh, Ok. Ok. Wow, that’s cool. Man, I wish I could do that.”

Me: “Really?”

Him: “Yeah, you know, I miss my kids so much. I work late during the week and just get to hang with them really on the weekends. I’m always dying to spend more time with them.”

That’s when it hit me. I really want to miss my kids. In the five and a half years that I’ve been a dad, I’ve spent one night away from my kids. And that was the night my second kid was born. The few times that I’ve spent most of a day away from the kids, I’ve gotten the chance to remember that I actually really enjoy them. During most days, I’m not enjoying them. I’m loving them but not enjoying them. I’m spending time with them but it’s time meant to be killed. That’s the common denominator of the stay-at-home parent: killing time. We leave the playground and we check our watches. “4:30. Not bad. Killed an hour and half.” It’s a shame. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our kids. It’s just the way it goes.

Then there was the personal connecting of dots (and this gets a little personal so bear with me…or avert your eyes)… My first real relationship was a long distance one. It was 11th grade. She spent the ayear in Spain and I spent it crying and writing letters. I missed her terribly. And for a long time. At some point thereafter, love and longing became synonymous. How much I missed someone became my shorthand way of knowing how much I loved them. Maybe there’s something to it, maybe not.

What I do know is that when a fellow dad laments that he has to spend three nights in a hotel in Cleveland for work next week, I’m insanely jealous. Firstly, I would live in a hotel. Secondly, I just think about how much I’d miss the kids and how great it would be to see them again when I returned.

Maybe I just need a night away. And I suppose I’ll be getting one soon enough. June 18th or thereabouts, we’ll be having baby number three. I hope he takes a little while to come out (sorry Kate), at least long enough for me to relax and order some room service.

As for the reunion, it was a fun party. Barring the one awkward conversation above (maybe a couple more), I was really struck by how cool and down-to-earth everyone was. (and I don’t just say that because, as I learned that night, at six of my fourteen readers are former classmates). I could be my self-sabotaging everyman and feel fine about it. As far as I could tell, there was only one CEO in the bunch and he –from what I gathered– operates a plankton farm in Norway. Just about everyone else I talked to was trying to help the world in some way, through NGO’s or non-profits or as a doctor or as an…artist. Sidwell Friends may have failed me as a preparatory school for real life but I realized that night it was really only because it was a small, nurturing, Quaker school and the rest of the world…well, isn’t.

As for my first love, she didn’t make it. I’m not sure I would’ve told her my new theory on why I want to ditch my kids, but it would’ve been good to see her.

Comments

  1. Keep writing Ben.u have a wonderful way with words.and thanks for inspiring me to suck it up & go to my highschool reunion;)

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Fit people read fit

  3. I love the distinction between loving the children and enjoying them! You capture the every day reality so well.
    Good luck with the new baby!

  4. My good friend, Helen, has kindly seen to it to do some fact-checking of my post here. It turns out I have in fact spent more than one night away from my kids. She and Kate took the kids to Cape May for a night last summer. I didn’t remember it (and still don’t really –probably because I got so drunk with the hookers I had over that night). But thanks for helping out, Helen!

  5. The Other Ben at Sidwell says:

    Great post, Ben. You are an incredibly talented writer and I look forward to reading your earlier work. As for our reunion, I love reading what it was like from another person’s perspective. Now I know what was in those envelopes [NAME] handed out….And congrats on the #3.

  6. 6 classmates AND a classmate’s mom. I love this post, Ben. and you are completely intimidating.

  7. Some of those conversation snippets sound familiar….

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