In Transition

I’m in a weird place and it’s been brewing for a while. At least 6 months.

I’ve been fighting off a lingering apathy. I’ve been sinking into routine. I’ve found myself driving to work on a Tuesday not looking forward to it at all. Then I’ve been on my way home Friday and feeling the same lack of enthusiasm towards the weekend.

My routine each night is semi-deadening. This is where it is the worst. After dinner Shani and I go sit on our bed while the kids go through their routine of showers, reading, lights out. During that time we play Candy Crush or scroll through Facebook, waiting for 9:15 to finally arrive so Shani and I can go downstairs, watch a show, and have a glass of wine. Yet half the time it’s not really until 9:30 that Jack’s in bed. Shani often declares she’s too tired to go downstairs. Plus even when we do make it down, most of the shows we watch (Breaking Bad, Homeland) have so much adult language and content that we don’t want Jack to hear. So we end up awkwardly waiting in semi-silence until Jack finally falls asleep. The whole time I look at the clock, add an hour for the show, and let the idea of waking up early to go to the gym slip away. I’m heavier than I’ve been in 12 years.

Weekends are strange and filled with dead, misplaced time. I’ll have plans to build a rack with Alex for our camping gear. Shani and I will have discussed going to Jersey Java as a family to play Bananagrams. But then Alex will put off getting dressed to watch a show on the iPad. Jack calls his friends and when they can’t hang out he retreats to his room to pore over baseball stats and says he doesn’t feel like going to the coffee shop. Then we’ve got Alex’s basketball game. We have to go to a party that night so once again we’re up late and I guess I’m not going to the gym yet again. Sunday I’m teaching at church. Shani has an appointment that afternoon. More Candy Crush for me while I wait for Alex to finish lunch. Shani and I will cook dinner together Sunday and have a glass of wine while we do. The monthly goals I set for myself go untouched as the weekend comes to a close.

In truth all of us seem off except Alex. He remains unrelentingly sweet. He wants to snuggle and watch Justice League on the couch, and honestly sometimes I feel like just blowing through all 24 episodes of season 3 with him and letting the whole weekend go by with him nuzzled against my left side.

And the cause has dawned on me: we are in transition. That time has come and it is deeply sad to me. My oldest son doesn’t want me anymore. Or at least not as much; it is sliding away.

This is natural. It is healthy. It is good. We have worked to help him get here. He wants to do his own things. He wants to be with his friends. His favorite thing to do is no longer be in my presence. I am losing my status as the most wonderful thing in the world.

But I’ve spent 10 years attacking fatherhood. I’ve tried to soak in every bit of it. That has been my primary occupation. That’s been priority #1. I’m not Mike anymore, at least not first. My foremost identity and purpose is Jack and Alex’s dad. My priority is him. Yet Jack’s priority is to orchestrate a sleepover. My energy and love and effort is less and less needed. In fact it is often not welcomed.

And this is leaving me purposeless and without direction. I wander and grope through my day. It leaves me and Shani disconnected and distracted from each other. I can’t seem to get started on anything or conjure the energy to take on the projects I let sit.

The transition is on me like a raincloud, like a spell of dementia, like that cranky ache in my lower back. I’ve done my job and my son is becoming the driving force in his own life — and he is leaving me behind to sink softly into the couch.

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15 thoughts on “In Transition

  1. Bob Gallagher

    Just wait. This is temporary and natural, but the foundation you built is strong and real. Eventually, Jack ( and Alex when it is his turn) will turn once again to his Dad for advise, comfort, support anf friendship. Hopefully, that time will be far longer than the 10 years of laying the groundwork. I envy you your future.
    Love,
    Bob

  2. Derek Wininger

    If you’ve done your parenting job right, this is exactly what should happen. It fills you with equal parts pride and devastation when you’re no longer the center of your baby’s world. But don’t be fooled… he needs you as much as ever, even if he’s too cool to admit it. Great article. Great kids.

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for almost a year. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry – this time I cried. I have a 10 year old boy and all the things you talk about in this blog ring so true for me. It is so hard for me not to be the most wonderful thing in his life anymore. I know what every one says – it is healthy, it is normal, its natural. I get that, but it is still hard and it still stinks. Thanks for letting me know that I am not alone

  4. Charlie

    Mike, I know the feeling, however, Charlie and I still have baseball. No matter if he is nose deep in his phone texting his friends (or girls…yuck) as soon as I say lets go hit balls or have a catch he jumps up to play. We were hitting balls in the snow the other day. I know this is fleeting as well but at least we still have that.

  5. Lisa

    Wow, I haven’t read your stuff for a while, and I’m glad that I chose this one to be the one I come back to. Thank you for letting us all in to these feelings, as I’m sure we’ll all be there soon. I bet you will find some relief now that you’ve named it and find more of you again, more of what you want to do with your time, and less time waiting and killing time. I bet it’s time to start remembering who Mike is apart from a father. Just my two cents. Congratulations on raising a lovely, yet independent kid.

  6. Eileen

    You have given Jack wings which he is just starting to use. This is what it’s all about. Keep doing your great job and prepare for the sometimes bumpy road ahead and remember he will always need you by his side, literally and figuratively.

  7. Coddy

    Dear Sweet Lou,

    Rites of passage – there will be several in your life. Lisa’s comment on rediscovering yourself is major. Now the “who am I and what am I supposed to do now?” questions challenge you again. Approach this time as you have approached parenting – with optimism, curiosity, humor and the intent to do the best you can. And don’t worry about the boys not needing you anymore. They’re going to need your money, your car, your time, your patience, a cell phone (Oh yeah, Jack already has one!) and your example of how to honestly grapple with how to spend your three score and ten.
    Love – Coddy

  8. Gelby Gelbtuch

    Really beautiful Mike. In the small amount of time that I have spent with the boys, I can attest to their wonderfulness. I hope to have a family as wonderful as yours someday. Your emotional turmoil reminds me of something I studied in my religion classes called liminality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality). Historically, cultures have had hard times dealing with the disorientation cased by being in between and have invented different symbols and rituals to deal with explain this in-betweeness.

  9. Tony

    Great article Mike, your post reminds me of Ben Folds song, “Still Fighting It”

    I bet writing this blog brings you happiness though.

  10. Mary

    Suppose I should chime in here. As a mom of two hairy, tattooed, grown men, I’ve been down this road. But don’t do what I did when I felt that loss. Dear god, don’t do it. When sons were 8 & 10, I got swept up in the hare-brained idea of riding a bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles–457 miles–in six days for AIDSRide 2. Blisters on my lady parts…’nuf said. Then I fell deeper off the deep end of the deep pool and went back to get my master’s degree. Holy thesis, Batman. This led to my teaching job, which I never expected, and that still brings me joy. Not as much joy as being the world to my boys, but close.

    But wait! Maybe I stumbled on a solution to your sense of loss. Find yourself again.

  11. Herb

    Hey Mike,

    I sat on the couch for a while, deflated, when I realized I simply had to let my kid figure out a life lesson on their own. No way would she allow me to help her acquire a skill that I would have gladly (today) accepted assistance with.

    Our kids have their own skin and their own minds. When they were babies and toddlers, they were always so close that they seem a part of us, and we, a part of them. When our thoughts diverge, then our emotions, we are growing apart and growing up.

    You are not alone.

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