Life hurts sometimes. I know that this bitter truth is no surprise to any of you reading this, that this reality affects many of those close to me in ways that are beyond my imagining. But I have long held concealed from myself the fact that such unpleasantness could sneak through the bubble of my happy-go-lucky world and darken my charmed life.
Now I know. In the past year I have become acquainted with a painful era of my life that I had assumed I would never have to meet. I have endured real hunger as a consequence of my failure at the management of of my own (and my wife’s) finances. The bitter shame of that long lean summer is gradually fading to the background as we slowly rebuild our confidence in our situation and in my ability to be in any way worthy of trust. But the knowledge that I so spectacularly failed at the responsibilities of husband and father are always with me, whether awake or asleep.
And I do not love my job, not at all. More than once in the past month I have had to stifle the sobs of panic and despair rising in my throat as approach my place of work in the morning for another ten-hour day of doing whatever it is that I do.
I am not an ambitious person, though lately I have been pretending to be so for the sake of being able to to adequately support my young family. I do not mind being the provider of the sole household income. I just wish I was better at it, that I could find work that provided us with sufficient means to live and build a future for ourselves without sucking out my soul and leaving only a weary shell of a man for my wife to live with for the all-too-few hours at the end of each day. This is not too much to ask for, and it is something I should be able to do. I just do not yet know how, or where to look for such a utopian situation.
I barely remember what it is like to spend time with friends. When I think of those I consider my intimates, I am increasingly reluctant to name them as ‘friend’ in my mind, not for anything they have done to lose my affection, but because I feel that I have abandoned them, cut myself off from the world of the living. I have rebuffed so many attempts on their part to get together over the past year that — not surprisingly — the offers have ceased to to be made. I trudge through my life, my week all but filled to the brim with work, so that what few hours are left to me are the sole claim of my wife and son.
I love being a ‘family man’. I just didn’t expect it to so utterly and completely obliterate every other aspect of my life. I knew there would be activities that would no longer be practicable — movie-going, live theatre, concerts, pub-crawling — but I really thought I would be able to hang with friends for a few hours every week or two, hoist a few beers, chat through a favourite film, even roll some polyhedral dice. But it has not proven so. This past Saturday I stopped by the Creative Electric Studio before the Lit6 show to say hi to my friend Brady. My wife was singing in the women’s choir at the Basilica, so I was not able to stay for the show, but I thought as long as I was that close I should swing up and return the copy of Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers that Brady had lent me last year, before his removal to the Red River Valley. Granted, a 26-pound toddler strapped to one’s back is a bit distracting, but the twenty minutes we spent conversing in the warm spring sunshine felt exceptionally awkward to me; it was almost as if I had forgotten how make conversation. The experience left me feeling more acutely alone than ever.
I know that marriage and children change one’s life forever, and that is great. I know that I need to work long and hard to keep food on our table and to allow us to purchase the clothing and household items that we need to survive and thrive. I know that my expenditure of time and energy outside of work is primarily the rightful claim of my beloved wife and child. These are all necessities that seem just and reasonable to me; my rational self knows that this is how things need to be. I just wish it wasn’t such a hard and lonely task to be a responsible adult.