>What Really Matters

>As I brace myself to spend my first Thanksgiving without my family, I try to think of what I’m thankful for. Kalista. My job. My health. Two dedicated parents. I am doing well by the standards of middle class America – that’s reason enough to be thankful, right?

Yes, but apparently not reason enough to make me have a happy Thanksgiving.

Try as they could, Mom and Dad could not make it down here to be with me, nor could I make it up there … and that’s killing me. In addition to the separation anxiety I am currently experiencing over them, my friends from home would have all loved to have seen me this weekend. Hell – it was just one year ago that I was sitting at A.J.’s Bar in Olean, N.Y., getting tuned up on $2.50 “Big Ass” beers with people whom I have never doubted their love for me, talking about the old days we used to have in that town. “See you in a month (for Christmas break),“ I told them as I left, chuckling over the novelty of such a thought. It pains me to think those same people are there again tonight, a year later, doing the same thing, a year later. Mom and Dad, by the same token, would love to have seen me later tonight – stumbling through the door as I would probably be, but home nonetheless. I’d wake up on the couch in the morning to a black lab named Cinder sleeping next to me on the living room floor, us both basting in the heat of the nearby fireplace.

Now what do I have?

I’ve got a job I am happy with in the field I’ve always longed to be in. I have an apartment in a city I’m not even sure I like yet; a day’s worth of driving separating me and western New York. I’ve got a daughter who’s eating Thanksgiving dinner half a day south of the town-I -kinda-like-but-don’t-despise-so-it’s-a-step-up-from-Wilmington because her mom’s infatuated with her mother’s family, who really made me sick to my stomach about my daughter’s mother’s family to begin with three years ago and is a good part of what sent me into recluse from them for so long. Does that make sense? What gives?

Somewhere along the line I’d like to start a family of my own, but I can’t do it with Kalista’s mom. We get along fine, honestly, but would drive each other insane if we had to spend more than 120 minutes together (I can’t speak for her or how she’d feel about that – I’m just talking about myself here). I am keeping myself open to the possibility of that happening, as she is a couple years younger than me and who knows what the year 2010 will bring for her in terms of relevant ambitions, motivations and passions, but I’m just saying for now … wow, I’m stuck.

On top of all that, I can’t say I ever want a child besides my beautiful baby girl. I only have so much to give – the composition of my 100 percent – that the thought of her having to share it with anyone else disheartens me, to say the least.

Still, the thought of me getting my life in full swing seems so attractive on nights like tonight. A modest home that’s a house with a fireplace, a big dinner table relatives will be seated at tomorrow, the men sitting around bloated in the living room watching the Green Bay-Detroit game after dinner, Kalista and the other kids eating at a card table in the kitchen. I have the means to attain it, but not the supporting cast. I have the car, but not the avenue to travel down.

I have no family here. That feels no more apparent to me than it does on a night like this.

Western New York is where I want them to bury me. In my entire life, try as I may, no place I’ve ventured to feels anything like it. The trees. The celebration of pumpkins once October rolls around. The smells. The invigorating temperatures. The togetherness. The simple love that’s everywhere – the awareness of and unmentioned appreciation for nature’s cloak. The nostalgia.

The happiness the season brings – the warmth amidst the coldness.

And it is also on nights like this that I feel I’ve sentenced myself to an eternity away from there, a self-inflicted sentence that is lifelong. This is not how I wanted things to turn out. This is not how I envisioned my life when I left western New York four years ago. I would cry about losing the place and having to “make it“ in southeastern North Carolina, but I’m out of tears God portioned out in me for that issue.

Love – and the prospect of attaining the life I’ve always wanted for myself – is unattainable at this point. The dream of a traditional family and all that goes with it is shattered in my mind, so existence as a sort of gypsy is a role I relegate my life to be, reluctantly.

Parents who are not together are hardest on the children, experts say. But it is also tough on the father, I conclude … especially around the holidays.

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