It’s a weird thing to look back on, but when I was a small child I made promises to myself as an old person, if I ever got to be an old person. The most important one was the most stark: that I would never become a father.
Some of you know why already, and I won’t get into it again here. It’s enough to say that it was a kind of “the buck stops here” commitment. I’ve kept that commitment, and I have never regretted it for a second of my life. My waking life at least.
One night when I was 35, I had my one and only dream of fatherhood. Tybee Island, Georgia, a place I knew well from childhood. My grandmother Smith lived in Savannah, and I loved visiting her and I loved Savannah and I especially loved the beach a few miles down the road. In the dream I was an adult, it was early morning, and I was walking along the beach. I was blissful. And there was a child with me. My son. He was stopping every few yards to pick up handfuls of sand and sift them through his fingers. He was blissful. I started to say something super-duper profound to him as we walked, something about never taking anything, not even the sand, for granted. Suddenly he looked up and shouted excitedly: “Mom!” I looked ahead to see a beach house, a screen door, a figure behind the screen. I looked closer, curious to see who this woman was and I woke up.
I started crying violently almost immediately, for I knew this idea of being a father could never come true. My commitment was too strong, stronger than any principle or ambition I have ever had in my underachieving life. It has been my Prime Directive, the price for staying alive.
I never dreamed that dream again. At times I have wondered if it was a peek into an alternate universe or timeline where I am still me just not as damaged but I have no regrets whatsoever. It has to be this way, and I believe I have prevented suffering because of that childhood promise to myself, now.