Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The profound loneliness of parenthood

I usually think more about how lucky I am to live with my two best friends, both of whom can bring a smile to me when I simply picture their faces.

But with Mama's departure for Brussels tonight, my mind has turned again to the separations that come between us and the voids they hollow out within me.

I don't recall many details, but I do recall that after Dad died, I felt that I might never recover from his absence. I also recall thinking that nothing could ever hurt so much. As I got older, I thought that this might have been a self-fulfilling prophecy, that the weight of the hurt had crushed whatever it was in me that sensed loneliness.

Had the prophecy only been true, it would have been the thinnest of silver linings in the darkest and largest of clouds to pass through my life.

It might be the case that the aching void that filled me when I had to leave 3B and Mama to return to work after 3B was born was not so painful or consuming as what I felt after Dad died. After all, I was coming back to them at the end of the day, right?

But 3B didn't know that, and I wasn't thinking of myself--otherwise I would have been dancing to work where I could sit through meetings, eat leftover birthday cake in the kitchen, and drink all the coffee I wanted without having to make any--I was thinking of how 3B must have felt, wondering where his father was, not knowing if I'd ever return.

And that thought just about crushed me.

It still does, although it's gotten somewhat better since 3B understands that I'll be back at the end of the day, even if he's not happy about the arrangement.

But then a longer trip like this comes along and the loneliness fills me again. Sure, I understand that Mama's coming back after her time in Brussels--we'll ignore for now my nagging, illogical, Rain-Man-like worries about Mama flying off alone--but does 3B know that she's coming back?

Even if he does, I see him acting out of the absence he's feeling, with a greater need for cuddles, more breakdowns, and a greater propensity to hit out of frustration, fatigue or hunger.

It reminds me of myself after Dad died.

And I think of Mama, who has only been away from 3B for a few days here and there since he was born, and how she must be feeling, looking out her airborne porthole down onto the slate face of the ocean at dawn as she descends into a foreign land.

I try to remind myself that it only hurts so much because we love so much, which is the thickest of silver linings, which envelops the cloud it sails through the sky with.

I also remember a quiet poem about a separated father and son written by Michael Hogan while he was in prison that I loved long before I knew what it was to have a son:

Legends overstate the fact.

A good cowboy told my son:
if ever lost and dying of thirst in the desert,
there was water in the barrel cactus.
But imagine the child actually lost someday.
Imagine him alone, dying of thirst,
when he comes to the plant: squat and stout,
branchless and dusty in the Arizona sun.
To get a drink he first beheads the plant:
a task repugnant and dangerous,
bristling as it is with vicious spines which
Papagoes and Pimas use still for fish hooks.
Then he mashes the pulp inside:
long, perspiring work that yields
only a thick, unpleasant liquid.
He will lose as much as he gets or more.
And what he has gained if he survives
is not to expect too much or believe too strongly.

If he survives.

Parenthood is profoundly lonely.

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  1. Anonymous10:05 PM

    For me it's been a lonely business because I don't know what the hell I'm doing half the time, and so I'm left alone in my confusion to muddle through. (Notwithstanding Anthropapa's help, but he's in the same position, of course.)

    And yeah, it hurts because we care. They say the opposite of love is indifference, and so we love and miss them when they're gone.

  2. Yes, there is that part too...the not knowing what the hell I'm doing. I assume that everyone who reads this blog understands by now that I have no idea what I'm doing.

  3. You're in good company: most days, I shrug my shoulders and wonder how the hell I came to be here, too. I still feel like I'm playing at the parenthood thing.

    As ever, you write so eloquently about the conflicting feelings that come with being a child of someone, a spouse of another, and a parent. Thanks for this.

  4. Ah thanks. I'm just trying to get some of it down half right before the next game of chase or bike ride or snack or bath time comes along.