But we don't always realize that.
One day while dusting I happened to notice a little blotch of ink on my wife’s white desk-blotter—and immediately saw it as an island. Putting the dust rag down I began doodling with a ballpoint pen, naming the bays and peninsulas in tiny print, imagining us walking the island’s forested hills and surf-washed beaches. For a time I was lost in that most common of fantasies indulged in by busy parents: just the two of us, alone and free in some far-off place, with all the time in the world to catch up to our own hearts. I could almost hear cruiseship-commercial music in the background.
How good it felt to escape the constant demands of being somebody’s father (that is, the sometimes-overwhelmed father of three very intelligent and energetic young somebodies)—and to escape with the one I love! So in my waking dream the two of us hiked, and swam, and made passionate love, and read books without being interrupted to change band-aids or make sandwiches, and slept deep, unbroken sleep. And the ripe fruit just tumbled from the trees.
A week later, dusting near the blotter again, I saw that my wife had added her own doodles, sketching in a house on the island, a library, a swimming pool. So I contributed a few more touches of my own. Without exchanging a word, we’d entered a secret world together.
Week by week the dream-game continued. The surprising thing, though, was that even though we were together in our fantasy, we gradually grew lonely—just as our love in the real world created a kind of loneliness in our early married life. As dreams do when they’re taken seriously, our blotter-island reverie slowly became more realistic and practical. The island seemed empty without our kids playing in its breakers, or running its trails, or flinging mud at each other with plastic sand-shovels—so we’d soon added a tree-house, a play center, and a stable. Eventually we penciled a beautiful, bustling city onto the mainland coast, then built a wonderful school just across the channel from our dock—only noticing then that our tranquil island fantasy had begun to resemble the close-quartered, high-tempo, demanding life we’re currently living in the real world (except that in the fantasy, of course, we had lots of cash).
What happened to the two lovers reading beneath a tree or sleeping naked in the afternoon sun? The same thing that happened in reality: Our love blossomed—it overflowed. Sitting at the desk with pen in hand one cleaning-day morning, I realized that we’d fantasized ourselves right smack into the middle of the lives we’d wanted to escape from.
Romance is far too powerful and beautiful a force to be limited to two people. It could never be accurately represented only by roses, candlelit dinners, gifts of jewelry, and the pleasures of the body. Romance stirs through the world like wind, and through our own bodies and hearts, a great waking of lives, a lord of the air bringing profound sweetness and imperious commands. All our human smallness bends before it; not even a woman’s “evil-twin” PMS or a man’s constant lustful-coyote howling can keep its deeper powers at bay. And it teaches a profound lesson: that beyond sex and passionate expressions of love, the most romantic thing of all is simply to be there for each other, to be good to each other, to lovingly share our lives.
So here we are in this life of ours, lovers disguised as Mom and Dad, with jobs, a car, a house, kids to look after and fuss with and all the rest. And this, we know, is the true life of romance, however unlikely that may seem.
Still, that doesn’t keep me from whispering a line from Yeats in her ear, as we’re folding the day’s last basket of laundry:
To an isle in the water
With her I would go...
This article is an excerpt from Tim Myer's Glad to Be Dad.