The New 60: Melancholic Holidays
Fucking Holidays! I have never been a bah-humbugger, but this year I realized that something had changed. I was surprisingly melancholic: Why? I was childless (not new), parentless (not new), and partnerless (new). I have begun to notice that when childless, single clients of a certain age lose their last parent, there is often a seismic shift in their world. Not everyone feels these things. I hadn’t expected to be one who does. Wrong again. I feel somewhat unmoored. Siblings and nieces and nephews and friends fill the void, but there is still that biological/karmic hole, no blood relation immediately above or below.
My father, the amazing Lou, died just before Thanksgiving five years ago. My brothers and my extended family have been ever-present, before and after. However, this was my first Thanksgiving without my ex. In the past, we had trekked to Jersey, the Upper West Side, Salt Lake City. This year he was working and I was with a delightful gathering of friends in Brooklyn. I missed him ... I missed us.
My mood wasn’t helped by Thanksgiving being the anniversary of the death of a beloved once-upon-a-time lover, or that my ex’s aunt who died mysteriously this past summer always hosted Thanksgiving (we went to her before going to my family). Loss. Getting older does include continuing losses.
In the last year, a new grandniece was born, two of my nieces have been engaged, and there is a grandnephew in utero. Gains!
I have written about being newly single. I do expect to have another partner and all that that will bring. Being childless is a bigger issue I realize, as it is not something that is likely to change.
I remember when I came out to my mother. The first words out of her mouth: “You would’ve been such a wonderful father!” My response: “I don’t preclude having children.”
“Oh, you might adopt,” she said.
“Or have my own ... ” I immediately rejoindered to her immense surprise.
Having a child was not something I was going to give up just because I was gay. I was in my 20s, so I didn’t have to figure it out right away. Today, it would be a no-brainer: adoption, surrogacy, egg donor, whatever. We weren’t so sophisticated in the '70s. By the time I was ready to seriously consider fatherhood, AIDS had entered the picture. I mourned losing the chance to be a biological father because of my HIV-positive status (again, today, it would be doable). I also hesitated to imagine adopting, as my own lifespan was so particularly unpredictable. Now both my brothers are grandfathers, and I’m not that much younger than they. I’d like to just skip to being a grandfather!
Being childless is not a gay issue. It is also not necessarily a default position. I know happily married heterosexual couples in their 70s and 40s and 30s who have chosen not to have children. Let us not forget that there are too many people on this planet.
Besides, when the wishful parent talks about having a child, they are usually imagining healthy, well-adjusted children who bring joy and satisfaction. We don’t usually sign on for the hard realities that often come with parenthood. Some of my friends joke ruefully about it — “What was I thinking?” — as they struggle with the emotional and financial drain of troubled adult children. In most cases, aging parents are no picnic either.
My other brother is particularly adept at staying in touch as well. And I have truly extraordinary friends! In a sense I am well taken care of. I just lack those grandkids ...
In the midst of writing this, I went to have dinner with one of my cool nieces. We were discussing being parentless (which she is not) and childless (which she currently is). We talked about the possibility of her having a child on her own, if Mr. Right doesn’t come along in the next few years. As she discussed her concern about her support system for single motherhood, I found myself given the opportunity to really look at being a "grandparent" to her not-yet-conceived child, a full-out commitment of time and resources. I offered this as an option. I fully expect that she will meet the father of her children, but you never know ...
As often happens, when I let myself explore my sadness or feelings of lack, I find myself buoyed by all that I do have, all the possibilities ... A wise friend taught me that the glass is neither half full nor half empty, it is both. Life is full and empty. Light and shadow. Love and suffering. I am singular and part of a family. I live alone and I have community.
Living and loving fully allow us to be delighted and dismayed all at once: The New 60!