My younger daughter randomly pronounces “I’ll miss you, papa,” or “I’ll miss you, daddy.” We could be doing anything: folding laundry, driving to the store, watching a video about geysers. It tears me apart every time.
My daughter stays with me three nights a week, which has been the arrangement with my ex-wife for the three years we have lived apart. We live blocks from each other, so I have seen my daughter between times as well. In a few weeks, I will move three hours away, and our comfortable schedule will change. We will spend weeks and months together throughout the year, and manage weekends, but I will not be the nearly daily presence I am now.
So why move? Why tear the central chamber of my heart to shreds? I don’t see myself as a horribly selfish man, which kind of negates the entire, “I’m doing this to be happy” argument—or belies it. Maybe I am a selfish man. Wear that feather in your cap for a bit, and feel how heavy the crown really gets.
“You can’t let yourself think that way,” I will be, have been, told. And that’s fine, but when Socrates trots out “The unexamined life is not worth living,” this is the kind of thing one is meant to examine—not every sandy beach in the Caribbean or every dive bar in Baltimore. Saddle up for self-examination, or get off the trail. And yeah, keep your eye on the trail, greenhorn. See them rocks over there? That’s ambivalence, and we’re here to fill your packs with it. Get digging!
So many things—too many things? –pull in opposite directions. Half of life seems a paradox, and the other half I just can’t make my mind up about which direction it’s headed. And I don’t simply throw my hands up and say, “Oh well.” I wrestle, intently, with the angel of ambivalence. In “The Waking” Theodore Roethke states, “This shaking keeps me steady.” Damn right.
I don’t hold with those who don’t engage ambivalence—being of two minds about things. People who insist “you’re either with me or you’re against me” give me a serious pain. People who say such things and then claim, “It’s okay if we disagree,” help me find my way to the exit tout suite. You cannot claim an absolute and then say it doesn’t matter—or vice versa. Be afraid of those who claim an open mind while harboring a stone heart.
I cannot claim that this is an easy path. I think a reasonable amount of comfort and privilege makes it possible. I have walked away from the comfortable certainty of doctrine, in large part, because I felt that a life without doctrine would be neither dark nor disastrous. I knew that the monsters hidden in the chaos were as deeply entrenched within the staunchly defended halls. Beowulf never had to go far beyond the mead hall to find adversaries as deadly as Grendel.
While I understood what Obama was getting at when he talked about economic insecurity driving people to cling, I knew that there were plenty of secure people who traffic in certainties and verities. Maybe that’s what helped make them secure. Or maybe there’s something else at work—a digression for another time.
As for me, now, this decision, to leave my secure and certain life, has immediate repercussions. I may have reasons, and good ones, to move. But I know that I am unwinding the steadiest relationship in my life for uncertainty. Of course, it is not as uncertain—my daughter and I have a firm bond. And a happier father will, in the end, be a better father. Or so I hope. Nonetheless I make this move with a serving of ambivalence, and perhaps, that will be enough to keep us steady.