(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, January 13, 2017)
SOMEWHERE OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN – I love my work.
In fact, at the airport this morning a stranger approached me and said, “Excuse me. Are you the guy who writes about fatherhood stuff? I appreciate that so much. But really, how do you do it? Your kids, so well adjusted. Your wife, so remarkably hot. You, always on the mark. You’re one lucky dude!”
Or maybe he said, “Excuse me. Are you the guy who left this baggage trolley here? Can you please move it out of the bloody way? Yes you, dude!”
The two greetings sound so similar, you know?
Regardless, I was at the airport this morning and am now writing from a favourite spot, 40,000 feet in the air. My former university home in Uganda has asked me to return for a stretch to teach American Literature: some Hemingway and Fitzgerald and such.
So I’m the flying father. The missing father. The alone and border-crossing father in this saison de la liberté, a spacious time to consider our entanglements of the moment, that is our New Year’s resolutions
But for me (as Ugandans are fond of saying) I think I’m meant for more. For bigger things. I think it’s time to be a fully-equipped advice columnist. Like Dear Abby or Dear Prudence or Dear Miss Manners. Just send your inquiries to “Dear Daily Dad.” I resolve it.
Publishers, for sure, will now pursue me with vigour. “Mr. Froese, we’d like to publish the best of your best advice. We’ll fly you over the ocean. Over the deserts. Over the mountains. We’ll fly you to Lichtenstein.”
They’ll instruct me to talk to husbands everywhere. To hundreds. Thousands. “Find what men want in family life. What they really want. Then we’ll publish your work as “The Secret Lives of Husbands: Going the Distance in Marriage and Family Life.” “
Of course, I’ll accept the offer. I’ll talk to truckers and fishers and men in various stations in life, men living away from their wives and children for long periods. And what do they want?
Many simply want to support their families financially. In 2018, worldwide, it’s projected that wage-earners working out-of-country (mostly, by not exclusively fathers) will send about half-a-trillion dollars home through cross-border remittances. Bypassing corruption of international aid, it’s a remarkably reliable source of revenue for developing nations.
I’ve previously met some of these faithful fathers, some of the world’s 200 million people living outside their countries of birth. Low-income Indian and Pakistani cabbies in oil-rich Dubai, with their sharply-pressed pants and crisply-starched shirts, are particularly memorable.
Or consider Duncan, my neighbour, a retired engineer who often flew for longer stays to places like South America and South Africa. Or John. “I have a misplaced husband” explained his wife, a regular at the Y whirlpool, later telling me, “I’d rather have a husband for half-a-year than be a widow.” John flies to the warmth of Chile for months at a time, to both share his professional skills and save his health.
Yes, a coffee-table book on lost husbands and flying fathers. Why not? Along with my advice. Naturally, it’s about flying. It’s also what my eldest daughter has on her bedroom wall. It’s this. “Be brave.” This is it. When you fly alone, be brave. When you’re left behind, don’t be afraid either. Be brave in all of it.
Family time apart isn’t uncommon, especially globally. It can even do a world of good if it helps you recalibrate to appreciate loved ones more. Enough research shows this, that, usually, absence does make the heart grow fonder.
Also, it’s a myth that women in particular crave marriage to be some never-ending oasis of pure intimacy. Many crave chocolate more. And, in my observation, couples who can’t spend time apart are among the most boring and hopeless people around.
Their delusion, that all their needs be met in each other, is a trip to misery. Many would do better to put on a blindfold, walk to a world map, stick a pin on it, and buy a ticket to the Island of Wherever. Alone. For perspective.
There are worse things to do in life. Running away from time alone is one of them.