I think I mentioned in a post some time ago that if there is anything we should have figured out by now, it’s a thing or two that we need to figure out. What am I good at and what do I like? You get all that frenetic searching underway as a teenager, and years later you’re really just a well-spoken version of that teenager if you haven’t found somewhere to plant your flag. I think that’s what politicians are – erudite and well-dressed teenagers. Of course, what teenagers, politicians, and the guys in the IT department haven’t quite figured out, is that no matter what the Indie Film Channels tell you, there’s no actual romance in lazy misanthropy.
In fact, so much of what people call romantic is only romantic because it isn’t them. Do you find something romantic about Hemingway or Steve McQueen? Not if you had to live with them, I wager.
Somebody has to live with me. I’ve done that to her, made her live with me from now until she can’t stand it any more. And in a situation like this, the most romantic thing to do is to make myself useful. It’s a thing I touched on a while back, with the usual condescending jab at what I figured to be the opposite of making myself useful, which is making myself happy. Well, just like husbands, there’s a problem with that: You’re no damn good to anybody if you’re miserable.
What am I good at and what do I like? I like to write, but don’t think I get to say whether I am good at it. Nowadays it’s all the rage, of course, for an individual to decide he gets to establish his talents by decree as opposed to demonstration, and often in spite of piles of evidence refuting him. I don’t feel much like going that road. I do know how I feel when I go and read the things I write, and I know how some of you feel when you read them, and it’s a nice little time around the campfire. A man can do much worse than to look back on his life and say he had a few good friends who liked what he did with them.
Then I wake up one middling hour of the night, not sure if I am closer to when I went down or when I’ll be frying the bacon, and am faced with knowing that now there’s more to the campfire crew than a few good friends – I have an entire family. The Real Thing. That’s a revelation of the highest order. A sort of gradual epiphany. Sometime between flunking High School Algebra and adding dependents to my health insurance, I got good enough at being a man that I was allowed to earn the eternal payday: A family. No kidding. Now I chuff like a new train from the three year old daughter’s room where she reads me a book at bedtime – “You read it first, papa, so I know the pictures” – to the couch where my wife has already fallen asleep nursing the three week old son. I have to ferry them both to the bedroom so we can settle in to be completely unsettled by his infant needs throughout the night. It all adds a little credibility and a lot gravity to the crowd around the campfire. Like playing the guitar at your 5th grade talent show and seeing Jimi Hendrix plop down in the front row in the middle of your slapstick version of Purple Haze. Sure, a fella’ll fatfinger a chord or two under that kind of pressure, but the only wrong choice is to put the guitar down completely.
You can do a lot of screwing up of a thing that you’ll never be able to fix if you spend your life avoiding it afterwards. The family life takes a lot of doing. A lot of doing will always come with at least a little wrong doing, and a guy can pretty easily catch himself making too long a list of things to give up in order to minimize his mistakes. Moreover, because it is a weary and smelly and expensive lot of doing, most times the clear romance is gone from it. But it’s genuine work, and genuine work is always romantic, if a little less mirthfully lit than some of the other kinds.
So I work at it until the romance is self-evident, then I take a moment to be proud of it, and with the four of us at the dinner table or jostling each other on the shrinking couch, I celebrate it.