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Montecristo Captain Quixote


The World Line of the Horizon Star

Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world

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Montecristo Captain Quixote

Confusion never stops, closing walls and ticking clocks

I was back-reading my eloquent and pensive friend emmabovary's journal today and stumbled upon a rather thought provoking entry. She was contemplating the end of her child-bearing years. I thought that there was a certain poignancy about the entry. She claims an acceptance of the fact, which is always wise, facts being what they are, but it got me wondering whether men or women have it easier, being single at my age. The ex just delivered a baby boy three weeks ago and she's 38. Heh, more power to her, if she's happy, but the idea just seems strange to me, like she's trying to cobble together some sort of Franken-family out of a vague need of hers, and her boyfriend's. I don't know. I guess the proof will be in the pudding. She's either digging a foundation or a grave, and only she'll know for certain which she's made, a few years from now.

It has been said that women do not have it easy, going into middle age. They come up against a hard limit -- the physical end of their ability to have more children. I suspect that this is quite a hard reminder of their mortality, the day that biological clock alarm goes off and announces "time is up." On the other hand, there is a certain security in having the issue decided objectively for you. If you're a woman, and menopause happens, there's no point in considering whether you could afford or want to carry another child or not -- you just can't, and that is a fact which is to be accepted, rather than a decision to be considered.

There is no doubt that men in the same situation, single and about to start their fifth decade in life, face a different road than women do. To be sure, for men, it is a decision of which course to pursue; not a fact of nature, to be accepted, for the most part. To me, that seems somewhat harder. There is of course, another typical difference in circumstances as well, between men and women who are middle-aged and single. The woman usually takes her family with her, when she divorces. The man is left, not just single, but solitary, and faced with the decision of whether he wants to "fall in with someone" whose life and family present him with an "in media res" situation, or whether he wants to build something new, again, and face the same risks and dangers he had before, with no guarantees that this time he will "get it right."

I'm not sure that it is possible to recover something like the family that I had, or if I would really want to "start over" as it were, if it were possible. In the absence of someone who would render this question immediately relevant though, I'm not sure if my suppositions have any validity at all. I do know that there will never be another "first time" for me to start a family, and if I did end up in the position of building something new with someone, I come to the exercise from the other side of a gulf of experience which may, for all I know, be unbridgeable. I'm no longer the young man, fresh out of college and unknowing of what family and fatherhood will be like, full of apprehensions and anticipations and "green-ness." If I did end up in that situation, there is a certain "jaded" quality to the experience I would bring to the endeavor -- I already know what it's like, and try as I might, I will never have that "newness" about me. It's a wonderful and enriching thing, to build a family, but some of the "drama and suspense" of it would not be there, if I were to start again. It's not that I don't think the experience wouldn't be wonderful, beautiful, and thrilling, but I wonder what a potential partner would think of this experience gap. Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen" comes to mind, disturbingly. Both of us being on the same footing in attempting to create a family will not be an experience that I can share with anyone again. Experience is often times a valuable thing, but really, would a woman still in her twenties or thirties (the wise Ms classytart says half your age plus seven years, as a rule of thumb) really want a guy who's "been there, done that, and got the T-shirt?"

On the other hand, my daughters went to live with their mother, and I am left being "a weekend father" to them, at best, and seem to be watching their lives unfold as opposed to participating in them. This is a hard thing with which to deal. I miss my old role. At best, it feels grotesquely attenuated, like a botched amputation, but... I don't know. Is it really gone, for the rest of my life? I'm not in my daughters' lives, to the extent I once was. They do not spend their days with me, and their weeks, any longer. From my perspective, it is almost as if they have already left home to seek their adult lives and fortunes, even though Jackie is barely a teenager. That's certainly one thing upon which I have gotten the jump on the ex -- dealing with an "empty nest." The ex has finally gotten what she's wanted and for which she's fought for a long time, to be damned near the sole and unquestioned parental decision-maker in the family. I wonder what kind of a role is still left for me in what remains of my family. Sometimes, especially when my daughters have not been to visit in awhile, it gives me a weird feeling similar to what it must be like if they and the ex had instead died. They're just gone in manner I find hard to identify or describe. Somehow, even the idea of being a grandfather to my daughters' potential offspring feels really weird, contemplating that role without the benefit of a grandmother-partner with whom to share it. Our legal system structures divorces as a sop to the foolish egalitarian sensibilities of the populace, but it has no clue what is being wrought in the families its prescriptions impact. Sometimes I am convinced that guys get the short end of the stick in divorce, unless of course, they are the commitment-phobic skirt-chasers who are already adherents of a dissipative philosophy of life. Certainly, the women who would put up with being stripped of their children and effectively cut-out of their families the way the average guy is are in a minority.

Then there is the other route...Why don't I pick on someone my own age. Heh. Well, there's something to be said for that. Certainly it would mean that I end up with a partner who is of the same generation and cohort as me, with a better chance of sharing the same life and cultural experiences that I have, although gen-X theoretically runs from '61 to '81, which is still a broad range. I just happen to be on the front end of my generation. Women my age have an admirable self-knowledge and a beautiful self-confidence about them -- they know who they are, even if they too, are trying to figure out life and what it is they want out of it. That is a somewhat different interaction for me. I've never had anything lasting with a woman older than me. The only experience I've had with that scenario was when I was a young and foolish smitten pup. Heh, after being married to or living with the ex for the last twenty years, that seems like eons ago.

It would certainly be an unusual experience, hooking up with some woman who already had a life and family of her own, though. There would be a lot of experiences we would never have shared. It would be like starting a novel in the middle, where the reader misses where the author introduces and describes the character. There wouldn't have been the long carefree courtship/relationship that happens before children come. There wouldn't be any experience of suffering through the "marriage jitters" together, or going to LaMaze classes, or sitting up with sick children and helping them with homework and reading bedtime stories or going on family picnics together. There would be a world of inside jokes and intimate experiences missing from that scenario, those experiences which are part of the mortar which holds a family foundation together. The ex-wife's squeeze toy may ooze all of the sincere friendship, familial fondness, and fatherly delusions he can muster for my daughters, but he wasn't there in the days when the phrases, "Yah, Moodle!" and "Hi guys! What doin'?" were coined. He is an alien to those experiences -- an interloper into relationships he did not have a hand in bringing into the world. Yes, it's weird to contemplate such situations, with potential companions who already have lives, especially in the case where there would be children involved. If there were, well, that introduces a whole different dynamic and kettle of fish in itself. I have no idea how that dynamic plays out. Definitely in that circumstance, a man is not just dating a woman, but kind of paying court to a group of people, each of whom would have a different perception of him, not all of those perceptions sanguine, possibly. In a lot of ways, this scenario would be stranger than the "starting over" scenario.

I guess not knowing what I want to get into is one of the subsidiary reasons for burying myself in my work, and not bothering to go out and meet people. I guess I just don't have a good handle on where I want to go yet, although single-ness is not all it is cracked up to be, either. I don't know. Maybe solitude needs to be a bit more wearying or acutely painful, before I will take up the issue seriously. Heh heh, my problem is that I am so damned self-contained anyway, that being solitary doesn't really trouble me all that much or that often, no matter how it needles me painfully every once in awhile, in the presence of certain reminders of what I'm "missing." I don't know. Perhaps a bit more time and distance will give me some perspective.

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The promotion of the single life and dams that they are building

Wow, that's a content heavy entry. Blended families do seem to be considered normal nowadays. In many cases people bond with and nurture their step kids, in other news-making cases, they become horrible crime statistics. I've often wished that there was more support from society to keep marriages committed.
Regarding the baby thing, I often wish that I'd had more.

One more thing that this comment wouldn't be complete without: this enquiring reader would be open to seeing the "foolish smitten pup" story some time.

Re: The promotion of the single life and dams that they are building

Yes, I guess they are considered the norm now. People are, all things considered, remarkably resilient and adaptable, with a remarkable talent for bonding into new relationships with one another. It just seems unusual to me, and to this point in my life, outside the range of my experience.

1) This is a phenomenal essay which I've added to my memories. There are few posts which are capable of provoking tears for me; this was one of them. Thank you for writing so eloquently on the consequences of divorce from a man's point of view.

2) Marry me.

Re #1: Oh no! Don't tear up -- you'll expose my weakness for lovely women crying! Not fair!

Re #2: What?! You tease. You mean you'd say that without me even having to complete your standard test of worthiness, the arduous Herculean quest of procuring for you a genuine box of Frosted Lucky Charms, which has cost so many other worthy amorous gentlemen life and limb? The howls of outraged jealousy from the male contingent of your readers will be deafening if this gets out.

Let them eat cake, I say.

The last French woman who bandied those words lost her head...

My family is generationally backwards: my parents are still happily married to each other, but my grandparents are not.

I never knew Dad's Dad, which possibly made it seem more normal, but when I was little I had three grandmother figures, a great grandmother, and Grandpa. Mum's parents divorced at some point many years BL (Before Liz), and Grandpa married Jean, who I didn't really like, but he did. That he and Grannie were separate entities never affected my closeness as a grand-child to either. I just got separate christmas presents from them. And Grannie and Grandpa (and Nannie and my Great Grandma who lived next door to her) were for different things: Grannie is generous and financially well off, and had a great farmhouse, and is a wonderful cook of savoury dishes. Grandpa is mad as a brush and was for adventures around the borders. (Nannie was for romping in the woods with, and making cakes, Dina was the odd old lady I used to chat with while eating said cakes).

Gosh that's wordy. The short of it is that while you might not be able to imagine your place in the lives of your daughters' future children, there will be one. That you're not married to their grannie will doubtless make no difference to them at all. People are good at adjusting, and as these children aren't even considered yet they will not miss you and your ex being together.

Your daughters will miss that, I am sure, but you have to find your new place. And you will.

The hermetic way of life

Let's just run off together and be hermits. Oh, right. Ok, well we can have caves next door to one another so when we remember what we're "missing", we won't have far to go.

This was pretty moving actually, and rather insightful. As a single, childless woman in my early thirties, I can only speak for myself when I say that I have personally decided I don't need to have children, more as a circumstance of life than necessarily a choice. There was a time when I wanted children, and twice when I had them planned. I would be willing to bet that the right man, in the right circumstance, could cajole me into having one at some point. Or even, the right man, in the right circumstance, may find himself being cajoled by me to have one at some point. I don't know.

I've been through a lot of relationships since my divorce, too many really, but I keep jumping in. Three of them had kids, and there is a lot of truth to what you say about the clash of the family titans, for lack of a better description. I actually have not been involved with those children, as the relationships didn't work out that way, but they were a constant factor, certainly. Then, this one time, at band camp, I nearly got married in my early twenties to a man with an ex-wife and two children. That was really hard, mainly because of the woman. The kids themselves didn't bother me so much, though there was always that feeling of loss on my end, especially when we discussed having children of our own. I always felt "well, it won't be as special, as amazing, as new and exciting because you've 'been there, done that'." I guess your post proved me right.

Anyway, the longest I ever spent with one person was 5 years and 4 months, and that was with my ex-husband, from the day we met until the day I left. I give anyone credit that can manage a life with someone for 20-odd years. I hope I have that someday.

Thanks for making me think.

Re: The hermetic way of life

Ooh, trendy matching tract-caves, how novel!

<voice character="Mr. Rogers">
I have always wanted have a neighbor,
Just like you...

Re: The hermetic way of life

I always felt "well, it won't be as special, as amazing, as new and exciting because you've 'been there, done that'." I guess your post proved me right.

No, it just proves that we both think along the same lines on this issue. I was worrying that someone with whom I could potentially end up could end up feeling deprived because she perceived that was no longer a "parenthood virgin". From what you said, you worried that a guy who was not a "parenthood virgin" was jaded and no longer moved or excited by the experience. If anything, what you said makes my point, not the other way around. I worried about previous experience counting against me, because I couldn't pretend an apprehension of the unknown after having been through the experience with someone twice before. I said that I think that I'd bring a certain jaded quality to the endeavor -- I'm not a parenthood virgin -- not that I actually am jaded. See the difference?

I think that any guy who needed too much cajoling from a woman he cares about has no idea what he's missing. I think that there's an extra powerful intensity to sex for the express purpose of procreation. It's difficult to explain, but I have felt tempted upon occasion to try posting an explanation of that difference.

Re: The hermetic way of life

Well there would be a difference, wouldn't there? Personal gratification versus creation of life. Just seeing that in the same sentence illicits an intense emotional response.

As for cajoling, I would like to think that if I found someone I could actually consider sharing a lifetime with, that they would not need any cajoling if the baby fever ever hit. I just think that as you get older, and especially if you are with a man who has "been there, done that", the window of opportunity closes a little bit more with each passing day, biological clock or not. I mean, really, would you, a guy in your forties with two older children, really want to be changing diapers again? Really, really? Probably not, unless she was one hell of a woman.

Ah, now therein lies the question...

"The diaper issue" is certainly an interesting question. The ex spent much more time than I with such "homey details," simply because I worked outside the house, and she didn't. Nevertheless, I have pulled my shifts at this job. I may not have done as much changing as the ex, but I certainly did some and I was the one who dealt with the garbage and helped with the other gruesome forms of cleaning that babies bring to the party. Diaper pails are uniquely grotesque household fixtures, in my book. Yes, it's work. Children impose a certain kind of discipline upon you that you don't have otherwise as a single adult, but I believe the rewards are worth much more than that which you have to give up to have them. I wouldn't trade my daughters or fatherhood for any other kind of life, had I the sole say in the matter.

My biggest fear about having another family is, what if it comes apart again? I got a lot of satisfaction out of my place in life, out of having a family of my own, about coming home to them, and being with them every day. It's gone now. I worry about putting in another decade or two trying to build something like I had before and then subsequently losing that. It was a very wrenching experience to lose my "place in the sun", and I'm only just now getting to a point where I'm again used to being by myself most of the time. I haven't been single since college, and that was awhile ago. I don't worry about wanting a family or not -- I know myself well enough to know that such a life is very fulfilling for me. I worry about putting in all the work to have something like that again and then possibly having to deal with losing it again.

Re: Ah, now therein lies the question...

I fully understand. Fully. Unfortunately, life doesn't come with any guarantees, all we can do is give it our best shot and hope for the best. Someone said to me recently "If you don't take a chance, no matter the risk of being hurt, as scary and uncertain as that is, you'll be safe, even a little happy from time to time, but you'll never really live."

It's very true.

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