Then on January 2nd, life returns to normal. The day after New Years the lights and colored balls come off the tree and the tree winds up at curbside waiting to be turned into mulch. The weeks in January and February reflect that reality. It is a grey time of year once you remove the color, brightness and gaiety of the holiday
As I drove into the office this morning (early so I could write this entry) I thought of the parallel of the post holiday season to the loss of desire for sex. When the excitement, sensuality and passion of sex is gone from our lives, a certain dull ache replaces it. It is not that dissimilar to the post Christmas January doldrums.
I also thought of a parallel in nature to this January condition. I thought of a favorite tidal inlet that I used to go to on the coast of Maine when we lived in Maine in the 70’s. This inlet was the idealized vision of coastal bucolic splendor. It had clear blue Atlantic waters, with rocks strewn along the shore and out into the water in a delightful arrangement as if some Zen master gardener had placed them with great thought and attention. In between the rocks on the shore and extending back from the rocks there was the whitest purest sand I had ever seen. The beach of this inlet was a curving one mile long crescent that ended in a lighthouse on the tip of a promontory of land that punctuated the end of the beach. The sand extended back into a lush green forest that was comprised of massive pine, maple and beech trees; those trees were so large I expected that they had been there for ages in that place gazing out to sea.
When the sun rose over this inlet it cast a sparkling glitter over the water as it seemed to rise only over this spot and no other. It was as if the sun existed only to shine on this charmed place. It was magical to witness; we used to get up early with a thermos of hot coffee and two chairs just to sit there and watch the sun rise. But this charmed place was complicated …it wasn’t always beautiful. If you were to come to the very spot that we were sitting several hours past sunrise the vista that would greet you would be entirely different. The tide would be out and where the sparkling water stood it would be replaced by mud flats which would have a collection of rotted old barges, tires and detritus of human history sticking up through the mud. The silted bird dung and seaweed that lay in the mud would warm with the suns attention causing a stench that would jolt a sanitation worker.
I was halfway to work and was in the midst of the suburbs when I hit the first traffic light. It is a long traffic light so I had time to think.
I thought of the other things that this somewhat depressing season brought. I thought of a co worker who I met between the holidays who told me he was leaving his wife after New Years; that depressed me, it still depresses me when I think of it now. I pulled my car into the parking lot behind my office and shut it off. I sat in the quiet darkness with the snow falling and melting on my windshield. For some reason I thought of a depressing experience I had with my oldest daughter years ago.
I have a special relationship with my oldest. There is something about fathers and their first born daughters. My daughter Kay (not her real name) was this little delicate beautiful doll when she was born. She was truly beautiful at birth and maintained her striking looks during every growth phase that little girls go through. She was never awkward. As she grew she was the most engaging child at home but conversely she was challenged as she tried to socialize and fit in with her peers outside of the home. She was this delightful, insightful and perceptive little flower at home but in the world outside she didn’t fit in, and she was treated like a weed.
From the time she was very little, my lap became a safe place to cuddle and work out her issues in the world. Some of those issues broke my heart as I listened to them. At one point we had to pull her out of school and home school her for 3 years; she could not cope with school. It is worth noting that at 5 years old she was reading at a 10th grade level.
Somehow we made it through the adolescent years and she grew from a pretty little girl into a beautiful young woman, who at 16 was turning the heads of boys she met. She was doing better, but still she found it really hard to relate to her peers.
When she hit eighteen the time came to go off to college; she and I traveled to the various schools she had chosen; we had lengthy discussions about the virtues of each school in the car as we drove. We would come back from these trips and fill her mother in on what we saw. Mom had to stay back with two younger ones who were both now in school. It was on those half dozen college trips that I really got to know Kay as a young adult. She was absolutely the brightest and most interesting young person I ever met. She was insightful, sensitive (too sensitive) and very smart. I was proud to attend these college interviews with her. She was impressive in conversation with the adults in admissions ofiices. She impressed each institution, they all wanted her.
She chose a school in spring of 1996 and when fall came, she went off one warm September morning. She blossomed in her first year of college. She was a linguistics major who by the end of her freshman year was fluent in 4 languages. She was already fluent in French and Spanish when she entered college. She picked up German and Italian in two semesters.
In mid November of 1997, when she was 20 years old (during her second year) she called me at work. She said that it was important that she talk to me in person …I needed to come down to school today. I panicked and my heart sank. “What was wrong?” I asked. She wouldn’t tell me but she did say that there no danger and that she was fine but it was important that I come down, alone with no mom. She assured me that she was ok several times I called my wife before I left and told her what happened, she did not take it as calmly as I did and she began to guess what was wrong; each of her guesses freaked her out more and more. I assured her just like Kay had assured me but my assurance was hollow; in truth I had no idea what I was going to be dealing with.
I left work early and made the 3 hour drive down there, I arrived just before dinner. It was 4:30 PM when I got there.
I called her from my mobile phone when I got close to campus; she said that she would meet me outside her dorm. When I pulled up to the building looking for her I saw a bunch of people milling around at the entrance to the building. One of them came towards my car; I had no idea who it was. When the person got closer I gasped in shock. The person was my daughter Kay. Her long blond hair was gone, replaced by a crew cut. She was wearing a frumpy flannel shirt and looked pale and wan; her perfect beautiful smooth skin was broken out and red. She climbed into the car. I tried hard to look nonchalant as I gave her my normal daddy squeeze and I am glad to see you peck on the cheek. I was glad my wife wasn’t here she would be freaking out. She was abnormally quiet en route to the restaurant.
We drove to a quiet little place a few miles from campus and found a secluded booth in a dark corner. She had chosen this place deliberately. We hadn’t been sitting more than few minutes when she burst into tears. In the litany of misery she unloaded an emotional torrent on me. She admitted that she was gay, she was having real identity issues she wasn’t sure if she was male or female, she hated school and wanted to drop out and she was afraid to come home and face her mother and she had no where to go. On top of that she had stopped going to classes and the college was threatening to pull her full academic and room and board scholarship (worth about $36,000/ year). I took a deep breath and listened …my heart sinking as the torrent continued unabated.
When it was over, I took a deep breath steadied my nerves and slid around to her in the booth and gave her a daddy understands hug without saying anything. She collapsed onto my shoulder sobbing. After she calmed down we left the restaurant. Neither one of us had an appetite; we couldn’t eat anything. I left a $5 bill on the empty table and we left. We wound up talking out in the car for two hours. What follows is my best recollection of what I said to her that afternoon in the car.
“Life is never easy”, I said. It comes replete with all kinds of problems, some big and some small. I have learned to dispatch the small problems every day with little effort. But sometimes big ones came along; problems that are so big that they threaten to overwhelm me. I said that early in my career I had several of these monsters that I couldn’t get my arms around to understand them, yet alone figure out how to solve them. I told her that after years of experience I finally learned how to understand and solve seemingly irresolvable problems. I came to the realization that these big problems were like onions.
Each onion has layers and layers to it. To get in the onion you have to peel away the layers. The outside layer is the most important layer to get through, but it is also the toughest. You can’t get into the onion until you address that outside layer. Onions have developed this hard, slick outer skin to protect the vulnerable layers inside. The soil is a treacherous place to be and that is where onions spend most of their time. It is not surprising that the outermost layer of the onion is hardened and resistant; it has evolved this protection to resist being pierced, cut or opened or hurt. Even a sharp knife won’t get through it easily. It takes patience, strength and determination to get through that hardened outermost layer. But force is not enough; you need to understand the nature of onion skin and onions so that the hard smooth out layer doesn’t deflect your attempt to get through it. However once you get through that layer the softer ones underneath yield themselves easily.
Finding the critical (outside layer) of an onion is easy, because it makes an onion look like an onion, the outer layer is readily apparent. Finding the critical issue (outer layer) in human problems is not easy, there are often a lot of issues and problems. Human problems have alot of layers just like an onion. You have to sort through the issues and layers and find the one that defines the problem. Once you find it dealing with it opening and removing it can be even harder.
People are like onions, we are good at protecting themselves; we also hide the issues and won't face them. Just as the soil can be a hostile place, the world we people live in can be equally hostile to us.
To identify the critical outer layer of a problem, objective and critical analysis is necessary. Self reflection is an important step in that analysis. Once the analysis identifies the problem, willingness to address it must follow. Trust is key in openness to address a problem. Trust involves exposing your vulnerability to people that care about you and allowing them to help you.
Self reflection and trust are difficult to achieve especially if the reflection is honest and the trust makes you vulnerable to criticism from others. I then said to her: “but even harder than criticism by others is self criticism. Being honest with yourself is the hardest thing to do. But you have to do it. You need to be honest with yourself to find that outside layer, the one that gives the problem life and defines the problem in its essence”.
I followed by saying: “You have to remove the hardened outside layer carefully as to not destroy the underlying person (you) in the process. Then with that one gone other layers can be removed one by one. The process of addressing the issues layer by layer is like peeling an onion, it may make you cry. There are things you can do to minimize the tears: running water, a slice of bread in the mouth etc. But you have to face it when you peel an onion (or solve a big problem) there will be tears. The good news is that the more layers of problems you remove the easier it gets, because the layers (issues) get smaller and smaller.
You will know that you are done and the problem is solved when you get to the smallest layer and open it up and there is nothing there.
I told her as we sat in the car with the sun setting that sexuality and sex is something that makes our life exciting and worthwhile. It would be boring without it. It is like Christmas in the winter. I said that due to the stigma that society puts on sex it has become an onion skin that has to be dealt with. The difficulty that she was having with her sexuality was an onion skin that needed to be peeled.
If you avoid sexuality in your life or deny it, what you lose is the color and excitement of Christmas. What you are left with is the grey, cold dark month of January. The loss of sexuality leaves you like the long grey winter, longing for warmth and beauty. That is a painful place to be and if you care about yourself or anyone else who is experiencing that condition your first responsibility should be to get out of that place or help them get out of that place.
What you need to do is rediscover the joy that was part of the season leading up to Christmas and infuse it in your life now. Rediscover who you are sexually by trusting your instincts and trusting those around you to help you and support you to break through. But you can’t do anything until you start pealing away the layers of the onion and tackle the problems head on.
I told her that her mother and I loved her unconditionally and that we would always be there for her.
That was 12 years ago. She is now 32 years old. She graduated from college (different one) with her degree in linguistics and fluency in 6 languages. It took her 7 years to graduate because there were many layers of onion to peal, but she pealed them herself.
She is just as beautiful as she always was, maybe more so in her maturity. She is comfortable with her sexuality as a mature gay woman. Her hair grew out a long time ago and she looks incredible. She had the strength and self reliance to prevail and we provided the understanding and support to help her deal with all of the issues she had. Key though was the fact that she wanted to tackle the problems and wrestle her own alligators. No one could do it for her. She prevailed and she came out of it a stronger person.
She lives in her own apartment, 40 minutes away from us. She has a very responsible job as an administrator for a large non profit organization. Everyone loves her as do we. This last year she came over and decorated our Christmas tree for us, she is now an expert in finding joy and beauty in her life and she helps us find beauty in our own. She is a delight to be with. Yet, at 32 she is not beyond curling up on the couch with me, putting her head on my shoulder and telling me how her life is going. I am happy to be there to listen, I always will be
I get out of my car and I walk up the stairs to my office. The sky is lightening a little. It is grey and cold. It is January I know that it is cold but I also know that it will pass. I have faith that I will get through January and it will get light and get warm again. The sexless cold and frigid air will give way to warm and sensual spring. The warmth and wonder of lush sensuality will return. I will patiently wait and do everything I can to help it return. When it comes back I will celebrate.
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