I have always craved solitude. Perhaps this is a symptom of the fractious household I grew up in. Heaven meant alone time, either in front a mirror imagining myself the Garfunkel half of the duo while lip-syncing into a deodorant stick, or lying in the dark at bedtime being entertained by Bob Newhart’s standup routine threading through my cassette player.
Now I am a 44 year-old husband, a father of two children—ages 11 and 9—and the co-owner of a 1955 detached cottage which is making demands on my DIY skills that I can’t keep up with.
I am gainfully employed at a job which allows me to earn a decent wage while also being available to involve myself deeply in household chores, to coax my daughter through piano practices and stand at the sidelines during her soccer games, and be a committed volunteer at my children’s school.
I am a solid citizen.
I am an evolved male.
What do I want for Father’s Day? For it all to go away.
There is one universal truth for parents: the moment you accept the responsibility of child-rearing is the same moment you abdicate the right to absolute selfishness, forever.
There will be date nights; there may be weekends away without the kids; and there are sleepaway camps which provide a sense of freedom while they ironically also instill a sense worry and longing. Even once alone, reclined in an Adirondack, it is impossible for a parent to psychologically transcend their role. We will read two pages of John Irving; then we may spend a moment spotting shapes of mammals in the clouds; then we will ease ourselves into a shallow dream; then, inevitably, we’ll wonder how the kids are doing.
You may have gotten away, but there are no direct flights to true escapism.
We are kind and loving, but not completely selfish and free.
I miss selfish and free.
There seem to be only two of the three-hundred-and-sixty-five days per year when a parent can attempt unabashed narcissism: Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, and on his or her birthday.
Despite that greedy right, there is an aura of Romper Room circle-time celebration surrounding Parents’ Days.
It is a day of gathering.
This is especially true when your children are tweens, as mine are.
They have outgrown the ignorance of toddlerhood—when they present you with a pipe cleaner stickman, and can then be led away and distracted by sandboxes and beetles. By the time they are teenagers, you are as relevant to them as a bathing cap in the Sahara, especially on Father’s Day. They yearn to give you the gift of abstention from your household on your auspicious day; a day with Daddy is uncool.
But, tweens? They still devote significant classroom time crafting keepsakes and composing poetry they can barely stand to withhold from you until the third Sunday in June.
“I’m so excited to show you what I made for youuuuuu!”
They still want you, and they want you to want them.
“Daddy needs some alone time for Father’s Day,” is not only a bizarre and abstract concept to 9-year-olds, it is also hurtful to them. Once it’s run through the tween filter, it is received simply as, “I don’t want to be with you today.” The message is distilled into an empirical form of selfishness and rejection.
How can you want to be away from me? “Me” is love, “Me” is fun, “Me” is your children, you jerk!
But, I’m tired.
My Gen-X level of engagement and involvement is exhausting. I’m dizzy, perhaps due to too much helicopter parenting?
I want twenty-four hours of selfish unpredictability.
I want to lay on my bedroom floor and stare at the ceiling, listening to the baseboard heaters crackle until...until I don’t want to do that anymore.
I want to play half of a song on that piano I don’t play anymore, and listen to its sound echo off the walls of my empty house. Then I’ll play another half of a song, and then maybe a whole song. And I’d like to maybe play for an hour, or just for five minutes, and then maybe go back to that later.
I want to fall asleep in front of a movie—perhaps one of the Oscar nominees...any of them, really, I’ve seen none of them.
When I wake up from my nap, I want to rewind it and watch the rest without scolding myself for not having started dinner.
I want to stand in my son’s room and talk to his guinea pig in an honest way that I can’t do when people are home because they’ll think I’m crazy.
A heart-to-heart with a rodent who also has nowhere to be.
I just want time.
Time is that thing that, at 44-years-old, is in decline—certainly in terms of quality, if not quantity.
I’m in love with fatherhood. And loneliness, in a permanent state, is a tragedy. But, like a favorite dessert or a seat under a tree, solitude would trigger some necessary decompression.
I believe being a parent is a gift. But, by definition, it is a gift which requires you to give and give and give.
On Father’s Day, I just want to take one...full...day.
I’ve lost my corny imagination which convinced me I was Art Garfunkel; I’ve thrown out that Sanyo cassette player; I don’t want to also dismiss my need for solitude.
I just don’t know how to explain that to my kids without bruising their hearts just a little.
So, on Father’s Day, we’ll do something together, as the family we have worked so hard to build.
Perhaps I’ll call in sick the following Monday, and spend some time talking to that caged rodent.