I am 17 years older than Maria, a lifetime in some ways, we are so close we could have been born the same hour, yet in many ways our experiences are so different. When I began my career as a writer, Maria could barely walk. Lately, I have been worrying about Maria and what might become of her if and when I die. There is no guarantee I’ll go first, of course, but the odds favor it.
Because of the divorce, recession, publishing changes, owning two farms, etc., I am not able to leave any security behind, little or no retirement and insurance, and possibly some real debts and obligations. In recent days, this has been keeping me up at night, worrying me. Maria is as ferociously independent as she is competent and she wants or asks nothing like that of me, but I am from a different generation in some ways and I feel this curious sense of obligation that men of my age were taught to feel.
I don’t want to leave a mess behind when I leave the world, surely not for Maria to clean up. I talked with a good friend yesterday from California, an author and a feminist scholar and someone I listen to, and she listens to me sometimes when she needs to talk, and I told her this was bothering me a lot lately. What do I owe someone? What are my responsibilities and obligations in the world, I have plenty of time left, I imagine, yet I have begun to think of what I might be leaving behind, what I have left to do besides writing books, e-books, blog posts and taking a million photos. Many men are prisoners of obligation, it imprisons them and weights them down sometimes, it takes their sleep and peace of mind away.
The last few years have been wonderful for us, and difficult at the same time, like so many others. That seems to be the feeling of the times, the universal experience. We are all struggling for a secure place in the world. I am trying to get to a good place with it all.
What do you think of your life?, my friend asked me. She had a cup of tea and so did I and it was nice to talk to such a smart and experienced person on the phone rather than just through e-mail. I love my life, I said. I love Maria, my daughter, the farm, my books and blog, my photos and animals, my friends. I love everything about my life. I am sorry I lost all of the money I had, but that was the way the world went, it was my choice, our choice, We both knew that would happen when we decided to get together. But I hate not being able to leave Maria anything if I go, I hate leaving her my obligations to deal with, I worry about her.
Jon, she said, in the last few minutes you’ve told me three times how much you love your life. That’s all I need to hear. That’s what you owe Maria, the joy of life, that’s what your responsibility and obligation is to her. She doesn’t need a father, that’s not what you want to be for her, you are her lover and partner. She is tough and smart, she can take care of herself and wants to take care of herself, you are giving her what you owe her, you are meeting your obligation to her. You love her and that is greatest gift you could ever give her.
I appreciated this advice, and I heard it, it was meaningful to me. I don’t want to be a father to Maria, that is not what she wants of me. Our responsibility to one another is to share in the joys of life, that is what we owe another, we are partners in the splendor and travail of the earth. I am sleeping better. The black dog is getting restless, he is waiting for a warm day, I think, to leave.