Thursday, August 09, 2012

Many Hats

I wear many hats. Some I have worn since birth and others are more recent acquisitions. The most recent came just less than a month ago when I became a husband to my beautiful bride. With that hat came another significant addition to my repertoire; I am now the stepfather to two young boys. I have been a husband before and, technically, I have been a stepfather before, but in reality my eldest son is in every other respect just that, my eldest son. I have been his father and his only father since he was just more than two years old. He, his two younger brothers and I are all on the same page - that will never change. The short-lived previous marriage died an ugly death more than 20 years ago, and with it, my role of husband vanished; however, my father hat (and for most of the time, as a single parent) has been with me now for more than 25 years - it is probably my most important role in life even though my boys are now men. My role of husband is also sacred and I take my role of stepfather seriously, but I do not view this as an opportunity to do fatherhood over or to snuff out the memory of a past marriage gone wrong. This is all new and to look at it any other way is to do a disservice not only to myself, but also to my wife, my stepsons and my own three children.

Prior to meeting my wife almost two years ago, I was happy. My life was full and I was (and continue to be) successful. But there was something missing. I knew it, and I knew more or less what it was. While I wouldn’t exactly call it “empty nest syndrome,” aspects of it were present. My boys either were (or were soon going to be) off to start lives on their own and although my life was going places I never dreamed possible, I believe what I felt was an odd combination of loneliness and selfishness, despite not ever really feeling lonely or by any measure acting selfishly. My father was the best man at my wedding and in his toast he might have put it best, that what was missing was a partner to share my life with. To be perfectly honest I was not actively seeking such a person, but it has become all too clear in recent years that these things are difficult to plan or predict. Indeed, if I were to have scripted the course of my life myself, I would have sold myself woefully short.

So I am married and the magic is all new. Not new again – new. It is nothing like it was before. Every aspect is different. Although some of my hats may bear the same names, the styles have changed significantly in 20 plus years. While it is still too soon to see how my new role of stepfather plays out, there is an eerie similarity to my prior experience, however, stepping into the lives of eight year-old and 13 year-old boys is necessarily different than being there from the beginning. Adding to that is the further complication of being 2,200 miles away from my family (both old and new) for a significant portion of the year. Fortunately, my wife has worn her single mother’s hat for many years. She would say that being married and in a secure home helps that hat fit better, but the fact remains that our once long-distance relationship is now a long-distance marriage – a positive nuance to be sure, but still a difficult situation. Dealing with the day-to-day requirements of raising children is a heavy hat for anyone, under all circumstances; doing it alone only adds weight.

Finally, the other half of that long-distance marriage is about to fly back to Baton Rouge for another semester of graduate study at LSU. My workload, between my own studies and my teaching, will soon be back to the insane proportions. Additionally, maintaining a home here in Fair Oaks and an apartment in Baton Rouge is expensive, but the payoff will come soon enough. Of course, “soon enough” is open to interpretation – four semesters (or, a little less than two calendar years) of remaining coursework may not sound like a long time, and in the big picture it is not, but living in it can often feel like an eternity. We are not unique or special and many have it much worse (members of our military put up with much longer separations from their loved ones in much worse places without the ability to communicate as my wife and I can), but knowing we have it better than others only helps so much.

Putting the distance and the hardship that it creates aside, I am returning to do what I love doing and despite missing my being home, my wife fully supports my goals. It’s a balancing act that I’d like to say I am getting better at, but I am not sure that is possible. We have a year of experience and that helps, but to say it will be easier now is probably not true. I am torn between looking forward to being back in school and leaving home again. It is truly a case where I wish I could be in two places at once. But these difficulties my wife and I are facing are without a doubt the kind of “quality problems” that come with success and they are a far cry from the sort of problems we have left behind. If nothing else, this past year has taught me yet again that love is an exceeding strong entity, perhaps the most powerful force known, and if we allow it to, it will indeed conquer all. Love makes every hat fit like a glove.