For distinct periods of time as a boy, I can remember my father waking up before dawn, and sometimes his very presence would urge me out of bed. I don’t exactly remember why I knew I had to wake up, or what I thought I would do, but I would go visit him out on the porch or patio, and he never turned me away. Dad seemed, from the outside view, to be descended from a species of night owl, but his job doing morning radio and who knows what else, compelled him to wake up early. He began to enjoy waking up before everyone instead of going to asleep after the rest of us. And on those few occasions I joined him for the breaking of dawn, we connected in ways we never could during the middling hours.
We spoke about a diverse range of topics. Some ridiculous, some important. Fart jokes sometimes quietly slipped out or we talked about my brother. He was very quiet, resembling a still life portrait: a coffee mug in his hand, and a hot chocolate (when possible) in mine. Dad almost appeared to want the silence to inform him. My father, for all his extroversion, would hit intense periods of introversion and self-doubt. Phantom pains. I can’t help but wonder if those mornings were debates or meditations.
Now, I’m sitting on a listing ship, awake in the wee hours before my son has finished wrestling his blankets, and watching the skyline as we gently make way towards shore. The vacuum of necessity and responsibilities in the small minutes before it all begins again is filled with questions. Happiness. Is it a currency? A measurement of weight? A ruler by which all else should be measured? My answer has changed so much now after having kids, and I can only give the answer in the form of a Jeopardy question, not the quaint preamble by Alex Trebek where he seems to know the inner workings of the universe. “What is happiness?”
I guess what I’m saying is my happiness now comes from a balance between two gigantic forces of need and want. But like tectonic plates inside a California fault line, it takes more stress to balance it out. Work and life both have more demands, so the vibrations and pressure release seem more dramatic. I also didn’t have a male example of a breadwinner growing up. No model for what a man must do for his family. My mother did all the heavy lifting. She taught me about work ethic, striving for more, and creativity meeting commerce. But as a man, I have to find a way to set a new example for my sons, whether they choose to work in the home, or out of one.
Maybe I’ll just press on, and hope they’ll join me for some morning quiet time. Then, one of us could fart and make jokes to relieve the pressure of it all.