A Fondness for Absence

Posted on October 22, 2010


My last post was two months ago.

This might be where I make excuses (or offer “explanations”).  I can say, “I’ve been busy.  Work takes a lot of time.  There’s so much to do.”  Whatever.  I’ve never been too busy to spend a few minutes writing.  The truth is I’ve allowed myself to fall into a trap.  I’ve accepted my situation without a proper understanding of what’s happened.

I’m being vague: specifically, I’m talking about cliches.  “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  It might.  I certainly feel drawn to my family while I’m away from them.  But with that comes a certain pain.  And pain is something that I shy away from.  We all do.  Turn on the stove.  Stick your hand over the flame.  See how long you can leave it there.  If you burn yourself bad enough, not only will you take your hand away from the heat, but you’ll run it under cold water to cool it down.  Pain is undesirable.  It’s a signal to the brain that something is wrong.  But emotional pain is harder to deal with than physical pain.

(And if you actually burn yourself because of my instructions, you probably need lots of help.  Like, seriously, go see a shrink…)

When you feel physical pain, you see a doctor.  He or she gives you a diagnosis and instructions for fixing the problem.  When you feel emotional pain, though, you probably won’t see a doctor.  Most people don’t.  Most people will do other things, like talk to a friend, play a game, watch TV, drink, or get lost in work.  Somemes these activities can fix the pain.  I used to talk to my pastor (a close friend) when I had problems (not so much anymore, because of the distance between us).  He’s a friend, but he’s also trained to help people with their issues.  Kinda like having a doctor friend look at a bum knee.  But sometimes our preferred methods of resolution don’t really resolve anything.  That’s where I’ve been for a while now: occupying my time with things that won’t fix my problems.

Now that I’ve made this observation, it’s time to do something about it.  This is my first step: writing.  Just as there is an absence in my life — my wife and daughter are halfway across the country — I’ve allowed myself to become absent in other areas.  I’ve been an absent writer.  I set out with a goal in mind, and I’ve laid it by the wayside.  So here is the first step to fixing that problem.  But there are others.

I’ve been an absent father.  Granted, it’s not exactly my fault, because my job requires specific commitments from me.  Yet I had a chance to go home, and when I did I discovered that a month away was enough for me to forget what it’s like to be a parent.  I had to learn things all over again.  It didn’t take me long, but there were some things about my daughter that I had to experience firsthand before I could understand them.  For example, she’s crawling now.  As a concept, I think I understand what this means.  But when I was watching her, I didn’t respond in time to stop her from eating the dog’s food.  She was okay, thankfully.  It might have been worse, though, and so I’ve learned that my absence has an impact on my ability to be a good father.  (Perhaps I mean “effective.”  It’s all so confusing…)

So does absence make the heart grow fonder?  Maybe.  I’d prefer to say that absence makes the heart ache.  Perhaps that’s what the phrase really means: my heart yearns to be with my family, and so I find myself thinking fondly of them.  That just means that I need to spend as much time with them, loving them, as I can, when I get the chance.