Dad's Annual Weekend Away
Imagine three consecutive nights of uninterrupted slumber. I experienced it not too long ago. No one's nightmares, bed-wetting, asthma attacks, coughing fits or inability to "get comf'able" brought me swimming up from deep sleep.
I was in New Orleans with three of my old high school classmates enjoying our seventh annual guys-only weekend. (Don't worry about my lovely wife; she gets away when she needs to.)
Two of the boys live in St. Petersburg, Fla., and another lives in Arizona. We often convene in St. Pete and other times we rendezvous elsewhere.
|"...here I was, reduced to enjoying the friendship of guys vicariously..."|
Sometimes I feel like a bum leaving my family in order to go do nothing more urgent than go hang around with the guys.
This feeling was reinforced by my father, who always regarded these guys as "hoodlums" anyway. Dad was fairly healthy in the early years of the guys' weekend tradition, and he'd ask me, "Are you sure you should take the time off from work?" and he'd tell me, "You should pay more attention to your family." Since then, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's have hit him pretty hard and he'll go weeks at a time without saying anything I can understand. But I can still get a coherent rise out of him by saying, "Hey, Dad, I'm going to New Orleans with Doug and Russ and Tommy." He'll raise his objections with vigor and clarity that recall better days.
|"It has to do with continuing old friendships and maintaining an identity that has nothing to do with being anyone's father..."|
So why do I go?
I need to.
I depart eagerly and I return eagerly.
At first, I was the only one of the guys who had children. But three years ago, Doug had a son. From Arizona, Doug announced: "No more Guys-Only Weekend. From now on it'll be Family Weekend."
"I get that 51 weekends a year, and it's enough," I said. But he would not be parted from little Dylan. At one point, he suggested that because Dylan is technically a guy, he is eligible to come along on guys' weekend. He was out of his mind, and guys' weekends were suspended pending Doug's recovery.
After a year with no rendezvous, I was watching one of the "Lethal Weapon" movies on DVD, and realized that what I liked about it was the buddy aspect – the friendship between the cops played by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. I was accustomed to watching movies for the safe second-hand experience of sex and violence. And here I was, reduced to enjoying the friendship of guys vicariously – something I used to be able to accomplish for myself. Pathetic.
The next day, I began a series of e-mails to Russ and Tommy working out the details of a get-together for a particular November weekend in Charleston, S.C., a place that would be perfect for the mellow strollings and quiet relaxercizing of the boys and me. When it was all set up, I called Doug and invited him to meet us there. "What's this about? I wasn't consulted," he said, bewildered.
"You didn't seem to be up to planning anything. So we planned it, and we want you to come," I said. "But we'll understand if you can't," I lied. Doug, struggled briefly, mustered his emotional forces, and rolled right into my scheme. The tradition was restored.
We did Charleston last year and New Orleans this year. We don't do anything too wild. We divide our time between museums and taverns, and do a lot of walking and talking. Beyond the refreshment provided by getting a break from responsibility and the fun inherent in disobeying my father (some things never lose their zing), there's another reason I need the boys' weekend.
It has to do with continuing old friendships and maintaining an identity that has nothing to do with being anyone's father – things I'll be needing as my kids grow up and need me less. Things that would otherwise get crowded out by the absorbing experience of raising kids.
That's why, at midnight one Saturday, four somewhat overweight middle-aged men, two of us smoking cigars and one holding a drink, approached the little swimming pool of the Hotel St. Pierre. Although the sign said, "Pool closes at 10 p.m," we quietly eased our bulks into the cool water, chatting quietly. We were stealing a swim the way we used to 25 years ago back home at the country club to which none of us belonged. It was reassuring to find ourselves still agile enough to break a rule, the hoodlums and me.