A Hermit or a Family Man: My Life of Extremes

DSC_1068“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” –Douglas Adams

Hello friend,

Have you ever had a moment when you wanted the life that was exactly the OPPOSITE of yours? Maybe you met someone who embodied everything you wish you were. Maybe you had a crisis moment when you realized for the first time that all of the decisions you have ever made were to please someone else, and you ended up feeling trapped by those decisions, living a life that seemed not at all your own. Maybe it was a promotion or job opportunity—maybe even a marriage proposal or pregnancy news—that you knew was supposed to feel like a dream come true but somehow felt like a nightmare instead. Maybe it was just an ordinary day when you looked in the mirror and finally admitted that none of your surroundings—your home, your career, even your people—are what you would choose them to be if you could start from scratch. You considered this body and this life you inhabit and thought, “No, this isn’t me at all. How did I get here?” It is a classic case of mistaken identity. And the identity is yours. But, which one is the mistake: the life you are living or the one you imagine you should be living, the opposite life? Sometimes I wonder….

When I was in my mid-to-late twenties, my parents gave me the most amazing gift. They allowed me to come home and just do the things I was passionate about. Even though I am sure they wondered what the heck had become of their once-promising son, and would he ever get his act together—I am afraid they are still wondering—they didn’t press. They didn’t demand that I pay rent or get a job or be out by the end of the year or any of that stuff. They simply allowed me to go through my process.

As it turned out, that was the period of my greatest and most lasting growth as a human being (see my post “The Year That Changed Everything” to understand more about this period). It was during that time that my spiritual overhaul was completed. I found a level of Bliss that I hadn’t known before, and its legacy has been uninterrupted happiness ever since. I was also reading at the pace of a book per week and filling up several pages in my journals every day, loading and unloading my mind at a breakneck pace. It was the most amazing time. Like a dream come true, really.

Interestingly, I spent most of that period alone. Sure, I lived in the same house as my parents, but I passed the days without much in the way of human interaction. Though I traveled frequently during this period, I very rarely left the house when I was in town. I wasn’t hiding from anyone; I simply preferred to be alone. God and my journal were my companions, and that seemed like plenty. Those who knew me teased me that I had become a hermit. I accepted the label; it did not offend me in the least. If you had offered me a furnished cabin in the mountains of Montana and enough money to sustain myself for life so that I could continue my reading and writing, with the two conditions being that I could never have a girlfriend/wife and never have children, I would have taken you up on it without a second thought. I had no interest in the wife or the kids. I loved kids and thoroughly enjoyed being an uncle, but I just didn’t want my own. Same with the wife. I had other fish to fry. I wanted to write books and change the world. Hermithood suited me just fine. I was downright blissful and couldn’t imagine a better way for me to live.

Then I met a girl.

Isn’t that how everyone’s story changes? That is definitely how mine changed. Even though I was deeply in love, for the first several months I was sure that she was making a huge mistake being with me, because I could not possibly be the one to be a husband and a father to her future kids. I felt guilty for allowing someone to fall in love with me. I didn’t want that burden. I wanted her to release me so as to not break her heart down the road when her biological clock was ticking and she finally had to accept that I was never going to be that guy. Because I wasn’t. Really. I mean it!

Fast forward fifteen years: “Hello. My name is William, and this is my wife and our two children.” I am exactly the guy who I was sure I could never be! Exactly! I live in suburbia and have a job and a mortgage. I spend every possible moment with my kids and keep strict boundaries around my time so as to be absolutely available to them. I am your basic husband and father. Not much more or less.

How the heck did that happen??? More importantly, how can I sit with that, knowing what I just told you about my years of hermithood and self-focused personal development? Am I a fraud now, or was I a fraud then? Is it possible that I was being authentic then and authentic now, that my Truth somehow changed over the years? Am I just in denial now because it would be too difficult to face the truth and my betrayal of who I really am? If this is a charade, can I pull it off for the next fifteen years or so until my kids are out of here, at which time I can resume my life of enrichment that was so rudely interrupted by Love? Am I the hermit, or am I the family man?

The truth is this: it’s complicated. I love this family life. I really do. My wife and kids mean everything to me. Fatherhood has brought a completely new meaning to my existence, and I am so honored and humbled to be called upon to perform the role for my two angels. They bless me in every moment, and I am thoroughly grateful. I can hardly imagine a world without them in it.

And yet, if you made me imagine it, I would picture that quiet cabin in Montana, with me—and only me—inside, hammering away at my latest book. Solitude. Hermithood. It is weird to think that I could go from this extreme of doting Daddy to complete solitude in one fell swoop. But honestly, I could. I have a few times done the thought experiment where I wonder what I would be doing if my wife and kids somehow magically disappeared from existence. Nothing gruesome or anything that would involve mourning their loss—it is just a thought experiment—but just what if they were not here? One of the big questions of the experiment is, obviously, “What would I be doing differently than I am now?” That question is probably left for a different post. It is the other big question of the experiment that is probably more relevant to today’s topic, and that is: “Since these guys are everything to me and so enriching, would I get married and/or have children AGAIN if they disappeared now?” 

The revealing answer is: Absolutely NOT. I wouldn’t. I feel like I have so many other things I want to do to follow my passions. Even though my heart is so full every day with my family, I could not be convinced to do it again. As truly happy and fulfilled as I feel in fatherhood, one pair is enough. One wife is enough. The itch has been scratched. I will pass on the second chance.

Does this make my current setup a fraud? Does admitting that I wouldn’t do it again somehow devalue my present life? I don’t think so. I think it is just an admission that I failed at doing every one of my passions at the same time. I went from one blissful and fulfilling existence directly into another very different but no less blissful and fulfilling existence. I think I can be blamed for not keeping my writing plans on track and for getting too far from Nature, but some of the rest is simply the way the Universe has its own plans for us despite our best intentions. I felt completely authentic before I met my wife and kids, and I definitely was not looking for them. I was open, though, open to what the Universe might put in front of me. In them, I have been treated to a life that is so indescribably beautiful, and I am deeply grateful for that. And yet, I don’t feel like it is a betrayal of them or our beautiful life to admit that I wouldn’t look for replacements if they were no longer with me. My hermithood was amazing, too, but in a totally different way.

So, as it turns out, Life is not so cut-and-dried. We are extraordinarily complex creatures, not cartoons that can be portrayed with a few brushstrokes that never change. Each of our paths is unique and meant to be traversed by our own guiding lights. In my case, it appears that I can be both fiercely solitary and incredibly family-centric in the same lifetime. I will be the best father and husband I can be, and I will try not to be at war with my solitary side. I will give myself these moments late at night in my basement, writing letters to you. They will have to suffice for now, because both my soul and my family call me to be here in the people world for them. I can only be me, in whatever form that takes. My Truth shall set me free.

How about you? What is your true state of being, and how does that mesh with your current lifestyle? Open up your journal and try to distill yourself to your purest form. What do you see? In your vision of The Real You, what kind of work do you do? Does your vision have a spouse? Children? What stirs the heart of your true self? How does that vision spend its time? Is it solitary or social? Now look at how you live your current, “real” life. In what ways is it different from your vision of your true essence? Are the differences merely window dressing—subtle things that don’t stray far from your vision—or is there a real, stark disparity between who you believe you are and the life you have constructed in this world? How far apart are you and your vision? Far enough apart to be alarmed at the disparity? Do you feel like a phony because of it? Do you think this exercise will cause you to make some real changes in your life in order to more closely align with your vision, to “right the ship,” so to speak? What would you start with? Are we really as complex as I am suggesting—able to be truly happy and fulfilled while living very different lives from what we thought was our essence—or am I in total denial? Can we really compartmentalize large aspects of our being for long periods without negative results? What part of your true nature are you keeping at arm’s length? Leave me a reply and let me know: How closely does your lifestyle reflect your true nature?

Be unapologetically you,

William

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