Magic and Loss

I’ve never hidden from my story. Eleven years ago, the course of my life laid out before and after me with a series of mileposts and road signs:

Lawyer and Husband lay behind me. The signs  ahead of me read Father, Grandfather, maybe Judge, maybe Author.

And then the signs revealed themselves to be misleading.

Five percent. That was the exact numerical value of my virility as I then understood it. Ten percent normal production; of that fraction, only fifty percent had normal motility.

Suddenly the signs that said Father Ahead now read Five Percent of a Man.

After my dad died, new signs appeared, ones entirely of my own making. Murderer. Patricide.

The my marriage collapsed under the weight of my self-loathing and a not-too-small amount of differing expectations.

Divorcée. Failure. Drunk. Fuckup. Crazy.

When I began recovering, the sheer tonnage of these road signs trapped me. Pinned under all these labels I had assigned myself, immobilized by the wreckage that lay above me, I fell deeper and deeper into despair.

For years, the tension in my chest threatened to suck me into itself, what little sanity I could muster desperately struggling against the event horizon.

Until one day, the weight was a little less. I didn’t even notice it at first, but I was a little better.

That’s the miracle of recovery — as long as I do my part, eventually sanity returns.

Every day got a little better. I stopped blaming myself for my father’s passing. I came to see my divorce not as a failure but as a necessary part of both our stories. (Indeed, my ex-wife remains one of my dearest friends, and though we are not spouses, I maintain we have a far more successful relationship than many supposedly happy marriages.)

One of the hardest pieces to accept, however, was my inability to father a child. I adore kids, and learned the meaning of good fatherhood at the feet of my father. He took parenting to be his single most important job, and he sacrificed so that we could have a better life.

He was my role model. I wanted a family, not for me, but for them.

Then one day, not too very long ago, I made peace with that. I would never be a father, that was okay.

Man plans, God laughs.

Five percent seems like a small number, but it only takes one. I was finally going to be a dad, to have the kid that had for so long eluded me.

We talked about the possibility that a child might happen, but not for very long. Neither entirely planned, nor unforeseen.

Suddenly, the long discarded Father sign became relevant again. Joy washed over me. We were still very early on, we wouldn’t be making any big public pronouncements until after the third trimester, we wouldn’t make any big decisions on things for a while.

The elation quickly gave way to panic as several of the old road sign asserted themselves. I don’t exactly have a stellar track record of caring for myself — how could I possibly care for a child?

And we didn’t live in the same area — would I be moving? Would she? The uncertainty of where I would be in a year made living in the now difficult.

In my calmer moments, I came to see that I am ready for this. That I had a very good person to model myself after, and that I would be a good father.

No matter what happened, I would not be an every-other-weekend dad. I would be a coach the team dad, a tuck them in dad, a read them to sleep dad.

Wherever my child happened to live, I would be there.

“When is a good time to talk?”

When I received the text, I knew what happened.

Infection… emergency room… D&C….

I am sad, not devastated. I wish I could be there for her, but the defining characteristic of long distance relationships is distance.

I don’t fully understand how to feel what I am feeling. Is this… grief? Loss? The physical distance made the experience somewhat unusual.

I don’t know how many other chances I will have at parenthood, but I would have been a good dad.

There’s a bit of magic in everything
And then some loss to even things out

Based on an actual conversation

“You know what your problem is?”

“Mostly, I’m just flattered you used the singular.”

“Your problem is that you don’t cast yourself as the hero in your life. You’re not even the villain. You play the jester.”

“And that’s a problem?”

“Of course, it’s a problem! You don’t go after things!”

“Well, people who go after things are douchebags.”

The pause that followed was a beat too long. She shouldn’t play poker.

“Pursuing things you want isn’t douchey.”

“Then why do so many douchebags do it?”

Pause. Poker.

“And what happens if you never pursue what you want?”

“You never get disappointed. You never hear the horror and outrage that people send your way when you dare to want something.”


“I hate your mother.”

“I get that.”

Ten years on, I still miss him

Ten years ago today, my dad died.
For years I bore a heavy burden of guilt and self-loathing — at his last doctor’s appointment, I told him it was okay to be done with treatment. My asshole brain turned that around on me into me killing him, somehow responsible for cancer.
This is not a post about that. I’m healed from that now. I don’t blame myself anymore. I helped him transition. I gave him the gift of choice.
This is a post about a man who was always there for me, even when I didn’t deserve it. Who was always smarter than he let on, who was genuinely kind and loved by all. Who shared his love for 50s and 60s rock and roll with me, and taught me to love music from well before my time.
He was never an angry man (except when he was angry, then watch the fuck out).
I look in the mirror and I see his face, his eyes, his smile. Which is his mother’s face, and her mother’s face.

Somewhere, one of my friends has video of my dad at a wedding, holding forth in a stupor about being the Singapore Sling Champion of Newark, NJ for 1964. He loved to laugh, he loved to joke, he loved to carry on, not always appropriately — this apple didn’t fall far from the tree, you see.
So let me pay homage to the best man I ever knew, warts and all. Love you and miss you dad. I hope you are raising a ruckus somewhere.