Family Reserve - Lyle Lovett (mp3)
Seal My Fate - Belly (mp3)
Sleep deprivation can have magical powers. Between an epic battle raging between a virus and my intestines, the juggling of two vomit-laden children and one perfectly healthy infant, and the stress of a super-sized work project, I found myself on the seriously short end of the sleep stick last week. My rough guess is, even with a few Costanza naps under my desk, I churned on just under four hours of sleep a night for a week straight.
To be fair, part of this is my own doing. Were I a wiser man, I would be forcing myself into the bed the minute all my childish things were put away, sometime around 9:30 p.m. If I managed this, my nightly sleep would notch up to a much more acceptable range.
Aye, there's the rub. To sleep, perchance to dream... or to wake, perchance to savor life and solitude. (I'll let you guess which line wasn't cribbed from Shakespeare.) If I choose to hit the hay the minute I've finally rendered unconscious all of the little creatures under my roof, I abandon the one healthy stretch of time in my day that's mine mine mine all mine.
The late evening is my vampire time, when I can release the selfish monster in me. A long list of things I love to do -- some of which I need to do -- can only be done after 9:30 p.m. at night while young children slumber. Many of these nights, the wife and I actually hang out for a while, which means most of my vampiric activity is on hold until 10:30 or 11.
Sleep or satisfy my bloodlust for movies, writing, music, poker, reading, etc. Damned either way, so Choose Life, right?
My love for these debatably important activities is so powerful, it often overrides my own logical acknowledgment that they are mostly shallow pursuits. And it certainly overrides my own logical acknowledgment that decent sleep is more important.
Lately my unstable, middle-of-the-night thoughts have been on death. And why not? What better topic when denying sleep it's due?
The Grim Reaper has been especially unfriendly to me and those around me this year. The tragic and unfathomable death of a student. The recurrence and metastasizing of cancer in another student, an amazing guy, forcing him to wrestle with questions of mortality and meaning most of us will avoid altogether. He's moved next door to Death, and although he keeps trying to put his house up for sale, move to a better and safer neighborhood, the housing market slumped at just the wrong time. Here's to hoping he can sell that damn money pit and move far far away from Death for 50 or 60 years.
More than these, though, my father's death in October opened the most cobwebbed and creaky cellar doors. It's forced me to evaluate my existence as the sole birth-son to a twice-widowed mother and the reigning patriarch of my family. "Billy" and "patriarch" are not two words that should ever be used in the same sentence.
Even if he was a constant reminder of what I don't want to be as a father and husband -- Dad was a very good man, don't take this as some "Bastard Out of Carolina" confession -- the end of his existence, of his inhaling and exhaling and sitting in that La-Z-Boy watching game shows and Auburn football games, hit me hard in a symbolic manner. I had lost my primary guidepost and cautionary tale of fatherhood. This loss became somehow more haunting with the birth of my (first and only) son some three weeks later.
I never wanted a son. Can't lie. Can't candy-coat it. My two daughters were exactly what I wanted. They were fun and beautiful and brilliant (hey, permit a Daddy his moment of pride), but they were just alien enough to protect me from my own hang-ups and fears.
But a boy... a boy... I was one of those once. I'm s'posed to somehow know more about them. With his birth came the requisite passing on to him my own fucked-up sense of what it means to be the Man of the House. And when he's a teenager, when he's in college, when he's got his own family, he's gonna see me as the symbol of so much that's wrong and right with Dads. The sins of the father might not be visited upon the son, but perhaps the sins of the son -- my rush to judgment of my father -- does indeed linger into his own fatherhood.
I'm frightened of my son's judgment. My infant son, of all the freakin' things. Hell yes I should be afraid of my daughters' judgments as well. A wiser man certainly would be, but I'm just naive enough, just clueless enough about women, to hold those fears at bay.
With my daughters, I'm unreasonably proud of the father I can be.
With my son, afraid of the man I can't.
My worries about his future judgment seem inextricably tied to my sudden mortality. Never have I felt more mortal, more fragile, than I have these last six months. Maybe that's why I won't choose sleep. Our fears in the dead of night are the most selfish and vampiric hungers of them all.
"Family Reserve" is from Lyle Lovett's fourth album, Joshua Judges Ruth. "Seal My Fate" is from Belly's second (and final) album, King. Both are available on both iTunes and Amazon's MP3 site.