Emptiness and Confusion
Writers are advised to keep a journal so that words are constantly flowing. It’s also recommended to keep much of these thoughts locked up to not expose our messiness. This is fair because much of my journaling is so awful in form. Sometimes though, one must pry out these internal thoughts to give the world a fresh perspective.
From the look of things, I have a fulfilling life. Amazing family and friends, near and far. A robust travel regiment that allows me to see new and fascinating places. I never go hungry and indulge quite often on sweet baked goods. And my materialistic impulses are fed just enough that gives my daily routine utility and joy. But I still have moments of emptiness, which hit me again during my little summer vacation in northern Germany.
I began the trip with a couple days in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. If Munich is all glitz and old aristocracy with a corporate sheen, then Hamburg is all that plus an industrial grit from its peerless Speicherstadt and harbor.
Dinner the first night was on a waterside boardwalk in the St. Pauli district and like always I went hunting for ice cream afterwards. In my continued effort to learn the German language, I do not wave off someone who asks me for directions or to consider a local petition, but rather stop and try to engage in conversation. So after turning towards a busy street a lady came up to me and said something. I did not understand her so I asked, “Hallo, wo kann ich Eis finden?” (Hello, where can I find ice cream?)
She rattles something off, and I said, “Bitte, langsam,” but my English tongue is immediately recognized and she switches to say, “What are looking for?” And I repeated in German, “Eis.”
A little more gently she says, “You know you’re in the Red-Light district?”
“Oh boy,” I said and then my eyes saw a totally different street scene and realized I was in the thick of it. She pressed on with an offer to come inside but I kindly refused and kept moving down the street. But the word was out and suddenly I was being swarmed by prostitutes saying “English, English” and poking me in the arm. I instinctively yelled, “No!”
I then avoided all eye contact and scooted away to the other side of the street for calmer waters. Just like that time last summer I found myself looking like a hitchhiker along some deserted street in Sicily, I was far away from the comforts of Brookside Boulevard or more closely now Preysingerstraße.
The next day though, with a bit more street smarts, I went back to the cagey Reeperbahn to see the pint-sized joint where the Beatles first performed. Hamburg ended up being where they spent their early years as a band that led them to stardom. I dig this city for its historical significance and all the opportunities to be on the water. My third day was spent on Lake Alster and canoeing through the neighborhoods via the shady canals.
As with any major city visit, it was go-go-go in Hamburg so I headed west for a handful of days to get some R&R on the island of Juist (“you-st”) in the North Sea. Unless you are from northern Germany, most people from Munich make the easier jaunt south to the Mediterranean or lakes of northern Italy, but I wanted to lay on a proper German beach to soak up the rays and feel that grittiness of sea water dried on my skin.
This sliver of land off the coast of Lower Saxony, and not far from The Netherlands, has its allure because of the no automobile rule. My heart was broken after seeing an electric VW sitting in front of the island’s luxury hotel and then later a tractor pulling building materials, but otherwise one gets around on foot, bike, or a horse and carriage. The absence of vehicle noise pollution meant that only the sound of waves crashing and birds chirping came through my window at night and in the morning. (This is in stark contrast to my 8th floor hostel room in Hamburg that directly overlooked a large swath of train tracks that never stopped screeching. Aber habe ich an beiden Orten gut geschlafen! But I slept well in both places!)
My Juist room was in a little redbrick B&B and provided a perfect place to write. Just outside my window were dunes covered in flowing tallgrass and bushes with a mix of magenta, white and pink flowers scattered about. These dunes were all that sat between me and the sea. There was a calm breeze on myside but traverse past these sandy strongholds and the wind was turned on at full blast and never ceased.
Now on a quiet island my mind began to wander, which eventually led me to reflecting on the male role models and mentors in my life. Oddly, feelings of frustration and emptiness emerged. This did not add up because my life has always been filled with men who have been at my side. Or as Enuma Okoro put it so succinctly in a recent Financial Times column, my mentors have “affected the way I see the world, taught me rules about life, nurtured my potential, and believed in me more than I was able to believe in myself.” The list is too long to name the gentlemen who have led me in such a way, but I was confused why this subject troubled me.
Have I been yearning for more approval of my life from these men? I certainly wouldn’t reject a positive affirmation or a helping hand from them, but I am confident in my path, or at least my resiliency is keeping me so. Therefore, there must be something else that keeps making me feel like there is a void in my life. (A quick word to the P.C. cops. I am not trying to glorify the male-specific role model, for I value the female role models in my life just as much, but as a man I seem to be more sensitive to the influences of other men.)
I was deep in the mentoring business during my commercial real estate career, both receiving and giving, but it is now nearly at zero as a writer. (One exception has been a wonderful mentoring match here in Munich through my MBA program. This reiterates that my life is far from lacking in men that have the character I respect and want to emulate.) From a role model perspective, there is also much difficulty in becoming that favorite uncle to my two nephews who live over 5,000 miles away in the Caribbean.
Sure, I could reconfigure much of my life to mentor young real estate brokers or live closer to Luke and Henry, but then the North Sea smacked me in the face and made me realize that I am without the grandest role model project of all: Being a parent. Thoughts of parenthood do not consume me because the possibility seems so distant at the moment, but it made sense that a large part of me wants to be a dad. It scares me to think about how much it would change my life, but rarely do I lack confidence and I know I would be an awesome parent.
So how do I solve for this? Naturally, I need to meet a woman, go on a date, go on lots of dates, fall in love, yada-yada-yada, have a child. Easier said than done! Or how about a surrogate? I dialed up the Google machine and checked out what that game looks like. Clearly making bold leaps in life is something I can and will do, but after reading up on the single-male surrogate path, it made me sad and far from invigorated. That was not a good idea but now I have opened this can of worms of being a dad and exposing the pitfalls of expressing my internal thoughts. Caveats must now be made to avoid being labelled as a guy who is searching for a child.
Just like my desire to live a life of autonomy, being a parent is also a desire of mine, but neither are an absolute. They are simply ideas and waiting for life to unfold. What is the closest thing to an absolute is finding someone to love, excite and figure all this out with. Which I guess brings us full circle on my emotions from this recent island escape. I am still grieving a lost love. That is really the gaping hole in my life. Divorces have become normalized in society, but they still hurt like hell and have deep cuts. It will take time and patience, but the wounds of an abandoned love will continue to heal.
It is also okay to be totally confused about our role models in life, the desire to have kids or not, and when love will reach us. Different subjects for sure but all of them affects the other. There is probably little coherence here but that is the messiness of life.
For my last night on Juist I had dinner above the dunes and was seated by two sets of families with screaming and messy kids. I have an uncanny ability to carve out most noises so after my hamburger and fries, I leaned back in full sprawl and finished off my Alkoholfrei Bier to gaze off into the horizon. As I left, with just a bit of spite, I gave the scrambling parents a wink of the eye. They probably cursed me at that moment, but I didn’t care, because it was time to go hunting for ice cream.