This is why I’m not a writer


I just haven’t felt like writing. The noise of life is too deafening.  The readers, few that they are, have demonstrated more interest in my co-parenting and other personal topics than in politics, which is loud, everywhere, and  therefore unavoidable. And I feel I should write about theses things,  rather than my own solipsistic mewling.

Things are crazy now. An isolated, paranoid, and vindictive child holds the keys to what he wants to make his kingdom. We watch astounded. Everyone accuses everyone else of lying, and thinks that that makes things equal. I begin to wonder if the US is a failed experiment:  If the Constitution can allow this, how can we ever make it right? Anyway, I could go on, but, as I said, you can find worry like this anywhere, and probably better written (The New Yorker has been great).

The sun is actually out, and we haven’t seen it in a while, so I think that I’ll take some sunshine over fretting.

portnoy

Another problem I’ve been having: I  have to decide who I want my audience to be? I guess the big question for every writer who has children is,  what will they think when they come across my writing one day, and am I okay with that? I’m in awe of some writers’ abilities to be brave and bold. I’m am neither. I could don’t think that I would have ever–as a child of living parents and children–had the guts to write Philip Roth’s line from Portnoy’s Complaint:

“I fucked my own family’s dinner.”

Good golly, and what great book.

 

Little Things


My son had baseball practice yesterday. Tuesdays are days when he’s scheduled to be at his mom’s, so I don’t usually plan to hear from him or his sister on those days. However, late in the afternoon, I get an unexpected phone call: “Dad? Can you come pick me up from baseball practice?” I have two  choices: say no, it’s your mother’s problem, pick him up anyway and register a complaint with the former wife; or I can just say  “Of course,” which is what I did.

Since I get to be the hero of my own stories every once in while, I will add that if the shoe were on the other foot, I’d hear no end of the recriminations for having neglected my parental duties without so much as a text message. I try not to think about that,  to shove these thoughts out of my mind. The former is never going to change, and if the past 5 years are any proof (as if I needed some), the bitterness and the recriminations will not stop until the kids are out of college. Even then, I’ll probably get the occasional text starting Hey Asshole, because yes, the mother of my children has no problem addressing me like that.

But I’m not playing those games. I get the call, I go. I’m glad he’s called me. Thrilled. Another chance to see one of my children when it wasn’t expected.

He gets in the car, and I ask, What’s the best way to celebrate the return of warm weather? I know he knows the answer: ice cream, of course.

Off we go. We make our way through the horrible early evening  traffic that this suburb has.(Framingham! All the inconveniences of a city with none of the benefits!) I’m not in a hurry, though. I’m glad just to be passing the time with my son. In two years, he’ll be gone, off to college, off to wherever, and then three more years until the daughter leaves.

What then?

We go get the ice cream. I order a small, he orders a medium. We get cones, because even though it’s hot outside, we’re willing to risk the melting for the added pleasure of having the cone. They give me a safety cone, which is not what I wanted, but I don’t care. My small comes, and it looks like two scoops. Two big scoops.

I’ll eat the whole thing anyway. We sit down on the steps outside, and start talking. We’ll mostly talk about baseball, or whatever. I had pretty much given up on baseball after the strike of 1994, but having a son changed all of that. My son’s not the kind of teenager who will talk about himself. He doesn’t like reading (though when  he was little I read him chapter books, and he couldn’t wait for the next night’s story), so we can’t talk about books. He might ask for an update on the current turmoil, but that’s pretty rare. But baseball is good enough. We find things to agree and disagree on, and there are still a few–very few–things I know that he doesn’t (like what it is to have your town’s team lose for decades on end).

So here I am, enjoying an unexpected half-hour with my son, eating an unexpected ice cream cone on the first nice, summery day in what seems a long time. He’ll have to go back to his mom’s, but we’re not rushing. We eat the cones and then continue to just sit. I could be in Peru, or Italy, or who knows where else, but I’m in Framingham, and at least for the moment, it’s just fine.

What Happens When a Child Calls a Parent by their First Name?


calvin
apololgies to Mr. Watterson for the unauthorized use of Calvin.

(Please forgive me for the use of ‘their’ as a neuter third-person singular. I just can’t fight it anymore.)

Referring to  parents by their first names. It always shocked me as a teen when I heard peers do it, and though it turned into more disturbance than shock as I grew older, I have to admit that it still sends me some sort of an unsettling signal when I hear it. I have to wonder: Do they call their parents by their first names when they are talking to them, or just about them?

There was a time when my daughter would do it with me. It was away for her to express anger. I didn’t put up with it. I’d walk away. As far as I was concerned,  it was a conversation ender. She doesn’t do it anymore. However, she does still get angry with me. Go figure.

“They may already know too much about their mother and father–nothing being more factual than divorce, where so much has to be explained and worked through intelligently (though they have tried to stay equable). I’ve noticed this is often the time when children begin calling their parents by their first names, becoming little ironists after their parents’ faults. What could be lonelier for a parent than to be criticized by his child on a first-name basis?”

― Richard Ford, The Sportswriter

Personal Stuff: Divorce + Fatherhood = The Worst, Most Painful Irony of My Life


I am sure that it is not an uncommon situation that I am in: I have two wonderful children, and an absolutely horrible ex-marriage. If I want to deal with my kids, I have to deal with this mess. Easy choice, but man, sometimes…

I’m not saying that the former wife is a horrible person, that she is x, y, or z (the variables standing for any number of derogatory adjectives or nouns that are used by divorced people all over the world to describe the other cohort in the crime of their coupling). I am willing to assert, though, that she is the ne plus ultra of the, hmmmm, how to put this, the epitome of the difficult former spouse; if in the afterlife she is to be judged by her co-parenting skills, well,  it’s going to be a tough trip through Purgatory.

Nor am I saying that I’m some perfect or even good former spouse and co-parent. I wish I were made of tougher stuff. I wish that I could always do the right thing, that I could let every insult, every attack, every pointless (except for the point of hurting me) act of revenge for G-d knows what misdeed (the misdeed of wanting a divorce?), I wish I could let them all slip by. I have thinner skin than I would like to have. I don’t know how to make it thicker. (Maybe Sean Sphincter and I should attend a class on obtaining some tougher emotional armor.)

Were there no kids? I’d be gone. I’d fly away. I’d head back to Charleston without looking over my shoulder, and there would be no sequel. But there are the children, and they are the greatest thing in the world that has ever happened to me. I feel a glow in their presence. I love doing things for them. Watching them stirs such strong feelings that even when I worry about them, even when I am mad at them, even when they are purposely difficult, there is not a part of me that doesn’t want to protect them, to love them, to make the world a better place for them. I do not know if I would ever have had this depth of feeling for anything were I never to have had children.

I wish more of my time weren’t occupied by the strife. But here I am, slipping down the backslope of my life, having to force myself not to answer hostile texts, steeling myself not to strike back at things perpetrated out of pure vindictiveness, working to keep my mind on other, more pleasant things, and most difficult of all, trying to construct a view of my life that isn’t so filled with this regret at the painful paradox of being a dad thanks to the biggest mistake in my life; all this, in order that I might just let myself be filled with the wonder and the privilege it that it is to be that dad.

The Birthday Party, Part 2: But I digress. .


 

 

So now my daughter is in fifth grade, and her birthday is almost upon us, but she has been worrying for at least a month about what we are going to do.

 

nixon birthday

This is tough. No dad wants to disappoint his children, even if when disappointment is inevitable, and even when the disappointment is good for them to boot. (No dear, we are not renting 2 stretch limos for you and your friends, and taking all of you on a whirlwind trip to Disney). Life lessons, you know. (Not that my daughter asked for that, but ya know, expectations higher than reality. Thank goodness we don’t live in Westchester County.)

Moreover, even though I’m divorced and have been living apart from my ex for over 2.5 years, this is yet another occasion where my ex’s and I  embarrassingly pitiful ineptitude  at co-parenting  will become obvious in exquisite detail to not only my children, but (alas) to anyone who ventures within shouting distance (the normal range of her communication) of my ex. Regrettably, she does not have a whispering distance,or even a discreet distance (example: my great embarrassment, with her screaming at me from across the lobby at the Middlesex County Courthouse, not to chastise me for one of my many defects, but just to relay her latest counteroffer; me, walking over,  trying to explain how the other hapless souls there were probably not all that interested in our divorce–except for the parts about Scarlett Johannson being an excellent step-mom–and that even if the others present were  somehow so bored with their own lives as to be interested in our very mundane fights, I did not feel like updating the small percentage of MA who had, impossibly, not heard my ex’s opinion of me, our marriage, our divorce, and my afore-alluded-to shortcomings as a parent, human being, etc. Meanwhile, the lawyers charge while we wait for the judge who is downstairs at, of all things,  a party, welcoming some other very average human being to the bench. So while they eat sheet cake–wait, do judges eat sheet cake, or do they get something nicer, the least he could have done was brought us up a slice, seeing as while he stuffs his cake-hole, we pay the lawyers, his little rush party costing us collectively over $1o a minute,  all the more annoying because nobody really seems to give a shit, the whole idea of containing cost is foreign to these right honourable  gentlefolk. . .)

And like most things, this party discussion will in all likelihood come down to a manner of money. My ex does not let a conversation go by without finding a way to dun me for some expense, from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, from the petty to the vengeful (Yes, I did get the house in the divorce, but you should pay for the diseased tree removal because the tree was here while you lived here and if I amortize the benefit you received from its shade, and besides that I would really like to not have to spend all the money if I can get you to shell out something).

Anyway, we weren’t going to spend a  (relative) ton of money on the birthday party this year, most of our disposable income having gone to supporting our legal system (like our health system, the best in the world!). In the end, the ex caves to the kid, and I am left with a few bad choices, the least evil of which is contributing to a birthday party I cannot afford and which even has my daughter a bit nervous due to the social complications.

SO….

Indoor water park, here we come. Or rather, there they go. After last year’s birthday fiasco, I will send my money, but not myself. I will celebrate my daughter’s birthday with her in a less populated venue, with fewer guests and fewer complications, the week before.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

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