Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sports, Scrabble and "Oh Shit!"

My oldest kid, Conrad, is a few months away from turning 17. He's never been a great student and he's often hyper and annoying, which until high school, made it difficult for him to keep friends.

He's always been the same kind of kid, from pre-school onward; the teachers have always had the same frustrations and complaints.

When Kindergarten wasn't going well for him I began to worry that all the negative feedback was going to permanently put his self-image at risk. I worried that he'd become the bad kid everyone told him he was. To keep that from happening, I felt that I had to find him something he was good at, something that he would have a passion for, that would keep him from falling into an unending vicious-cycle of negativity and problems.

I was an unathletic kid, for which I blame my parents. It seems to me that not-so athletic kids are more likely to become athletic if they are exposed to sports at a young age. The longer you wait to start, the harder it is for the kid to feel competent. Therefore for Conrad, sports were a must.

In pre-school I tried soccer. That was a bust - he could never follow directions. In first grade I tried Little League. That went ok. The coaches were patient and most of the kids were new to the game.

In second grade I signed him up for Little League again but the head coach for that team was an ass. Gabbie and I decided to pull Conrad off the team during the second week of the season, after we found out that he'd spent most of a practice hiding from everyone. Why was he hiding? He didn't want everyone to yell at him.

Around this same time he played football at school during recess and lunch. Because I took him to school and picked him up, we'd always talk about his day. Some football days were good, most were not.

Eventually I realized that Conrad needed to play an individual sport, nothing with teams. Tennis required too much patience. I thought about swimming but then someone told me that karate is good for kids with ADHD. I decided to give that a shot. I knew there were many different styles. Which one would be best for Conrad?

I spent a week visiting six different karate schools. Some were nearby, the furthest was 20 minutes away. The school I eventually picked was run by a woman who looked as butch as any woman ever could, however, the amount of attention she paid to each student was extremely impressive.

Enrolling Conrad in that karate school is, unquestionably, the very best decision I've ever made as a parent. The woman who runs it has a real gift for motivating all kids, but difficult ones in particular. She specializes in instructing kids with Downs Syndrome and ADHD.

One of the many great things about the school is that each belt must be earned. There's no such thing as social promotion. If you don't come to class, if tons of other kids pass you up because you don't try, no one feels sorry for you and hands you a new belt.

Conrad has been at the school for more than eight years. During that time he has mostly attended five or six days a week. In his ninth year he'll finally earn his black belt and that will be the first black belt anyone under the age of 18 has earned at that school in nine or ten years.

Believe it or not, the pride and sense of achievement Conrad will feel when he earns his black belt will be secondary to his love for the school and his fellow students. The positive atmosphere created and maintained by the instructor has helped turn Conrad, a kid who felt like he could never do anything right, into a happy, confident, positive teenager. The karate school mostly caters to kids but even between the kids and the few adults, there is an extremely strong "family" bond. Lots of the kids have literally grown up together and when two of the oldest kids left for college this past September it was a very sad day for all of them.

As fantastic as this karate school has been for Conrad, it's been a nightmare for me. It was the furthest school away when I did my original due diligence. Conrad's schedule has changed over the years but for a long time I had to leave work at 3pm four days a week just to take him to karate. The travel time is so much that it was not worth driving him to karate and then driving back to home or work. So in his first year, I used to sit in on most classes. That was good to do. I learned a lot about karate and I got to know all of the kids. This has proved invaluable in later years because when I pick him up now all he does is yammer about one kid or another and sometimes the adults. I know all of the long-term students and a few of the newer, young students.

Conrad's damn karate schedule could put a serious cramp in any future dating life I might have. By the time we get home from karate, make and clean up dinner, it's 8pm. And God forbid that Gabbie should take him or pick him up. She's way too busy!

Someday, either when he graduates from high school or when he gets a 3.0 for a semester, I will let Conrad start driver's training. Eventually there will come a day when the kid can drive himself to karate. Then, and only then, will Conrad's karate schedule not be a major part of my life.

Knowing that that day is coming sooner rather later gives me hope.

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A few blogger friends have advised me to find some local gay friends. They say that if I end up single, it would really help to have some local support as I begin a new life. I think that's sound advice but I do have some reservations. First, how can I build new friendships when my time is limited and I have to do it on the sly? Second, finding gay friends means that I have to come out of the closet, at least a little.

I've been wracking my brain to try to think of ways to find gay friends. Yes, I live near San Francisco so that means there are plenty of queers around. But why, I ask myself, would any of them want to bother with a closeted married guy who may remain married to a woman for the next 40 years?

A month ago I thought I hit pay dirt when a guy near my age posted an ad in the Strictly Platonic section of Craigslist. He was looking to get a group of gay men together for a casual game of Scrabble. Perfect! I loved the idea of an activity combined with a social event, in a small group setting.

The guy set up a game the following week, but I couldn't attend. That damn karate schedule was only one of several reasons.

The guy tried to get a Monopoly game going two weeks later but I guess that fizzled.

Finally, I saw that the guy posted for Scrabble again early last week. No matter what, I decided, I'd find a way to go. Luckily, he picked Friday night for the game, which is normally ideal. Gabbie is usually out on Friday nights and I'm just hanging out with the kids.

There were some last-minute hiccups that made me think I was going to have to cancel, but they worked themselves out. The biggest problem was that, even though I had checked with Gabbie earlier in the week and she said otherwise, it turned out that she expected us to go out together that Friday. So it was an "oh fuck" moment when I told my wife I couldn't go. Gay Scrabble > Night Out with Wife = Not Good for Marriage.

I'm repeating a chunk of my last post, so I apologize, but I'm setting the scene.

As the hour for the game approached, I was getting increasingly nervous. Yet I also felt dumb. It's not like I was doing anything naughty. Scrabble? With fags? That's probably many guys' idea of Hell. But whatever - it was a social event, a way to meet non-partier types.

By the time I rang the bell to the host's apartment, I was relatively calm. The place was located just two short blocks past the heart of the seminal gay neighborhood in San Francisco, the Castro. I expected parking to be a bitch, but it wasn't. Most of the neighborhood consists of 1910ish Victorians but this building was 1960s modern.

Frank, the host, greeted me as I made it to his apartment. We had traded pictures a month before. He looked pleasant and normal enough in the picture but now that I saw him in person the photo was clearly old. Old photos on Craigslist? What a shock. It didn't matter much, however; I wasn't there to fuck him.

I was the first to arrive. Frank told me to expect three more people, a couple and a single guy. Fifteen minutes later, the couple arrived. Max and Travis. I later learned that Max is 50 and Travis is 43. I also learned that they had been together for 17 years, and that they had moved from my part of the Bay Area three years before. After waiting another fifteen minutes for the last guy to arrive, Frank checked his email and found out that the guy had flaked. Ok. My big gay social night out: a couple and a somewhat odd host.

We chatted both one-to-one and as a group for a while and that was interesting. Max is an RN who works at a clinic for low income children. Travis is an expert on learning and behavioral disorders in children. He works for one of the outlying Bay Area counties. I found both of them to be very likable and unpretentious. Travis was slightly feminine, but not irritatingly so.

Travis and I introduced ourselves to each other and talked for about five minutes, then he began the "you look familiar" game.

One of my biggest fears about 'outing' myself at a dorky event like a gay Scrabble game was that I would run into someone who already knew me and Gabbie. Specifically, Gabbie has two gay friends from college, both partnered, who are part of our main social group. They've thrown a few parties where they invite all their friends so we've met quite a few of their gay friends. When Travis began the "you look familiar" game I freaked out a little. But as I looked at him, I was certain he was not one of our friends' friends. In fact, I was certain I had never met him before. He went through a few questions, trying to place me, but nothing clicked, so he dropped the subject. Thankfully.

The one subject that was most on my mind was my situation. In my original email to Frank a month before I had told him about my situation. I wanted to be sure that I'd be welcome, as a closeted married guy. Because Frank had not brought the subject up when we first met and were alone, I knew he had forgotten. This meant that I had to bring the subject up myself, or, wait until I was asked a question that would require me to out myself as living a straight, married life.

After three enjoyable hours I realized that none of my Scrabble partners had any clue that I was married with three kids at home. Finally, the subject of children came up so I took the opportunity to disclose that I had some.

Frank practically injured himself when he jumped in surprise. "What?! You have a child? How old??"

"Actually, I have three. Almost 17, almost 13 and 11."

"And you've been divorced how long?"

"I'm not divorced. I'm in the closet."

Gasps from all three men.

I felt like I was an interrogation room, with bright lights shining in my eyes as Frank, mostly, fired question after question at me. I answered each one truthfully and matter of factly. When Frank ended his parade of questions I said, "This night is actually a big deal for me. I haven't done anything that was 'out' for 18 years."

Max jumped at that and asked, "Did you not know how you felt when you were married?"

"No, I knew." I then told them how when Gabbie first asked me if I was gay, I lied to her because I thought we'd never get serious and because her two previous boyfriends had also been gay.

Finally, Travis spoke up, "I know that I know you from somewhere...." He was concentrating, hard, trying to place me. I don't know why he was so insistent. I know I didn't recognize him.

"Did you ever work at any of the stores on Fourth Street? You know, down at the end near Five Tigers Karate?"

As soon as he said the name of the karate school, I had my "oh shit!" moment. It turned out he was right, he did recognize me. Travis went to the same karate school as Conrad. They had classes together, kick boxed against each other, and were "friends" the same way everyone who goes there becomes friends over time.

It was only a fraction of a second after I made the connection, that Travis did too. I think he was as shocked and embarrassed as I was.

My very first instinct was to run. But what would that do? Prove I'm an ass. He knows my secret, he knows my kid, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Except to thank the-God-I-don't-believe-in that he had stopped going to that karate school when he moved to San Francisco three years ago.

The next 30 minutes were weird. Max and Frank weren't as shocked as Travis and I, but they sensed our mutual embarrassment. Somewhat at a loss for what to say next, Travis started to talk about how much he liked the school and in particular the head instructor, the lesbian I wrote about above. Soon he was asking about every person he remembered and telling me what a pain-in-the-ass my kid could be.

Actually, he was very kind. By asking about different people and taking the focus off of me, he showed me that he wasn't one of those gays who despise closeted men. Max and Frank were supportive too, although I think they were annoyed that Travis and I spent a long time talking about people they didn't know.

By this time it was 11pm and I wanted to be home no later than 11:30. I told them I had to go but Frank suddenly got distracted by his own thoughts of fatherhood and offered up an emotional ode to his recently passed father. After letting him vent for a good fifteen minutes, I apologized again and said I had to go. Max and Travis said they needed to go also.

I was panicked about being so late; I knew the kids would be home alone. I didn't want to be rude and run out of the apartment but I definitely was anxious to go. As I said my goodbyes and my sincere "this was fun, let's do it agains" I saw that Travis was writing on a small piece of paper. As I said goodbye to him, he handed me the paper which had his email address on it. "Email us if we can be of any help." More than anything, that gesture made me feel good about my decision to attend.

I got home at 12:05am and all three kids were wide awake; there was no mention or sign of Gabbie, which is usual. I got the kids to bed, then crashed myself.

I woke up around 2, no Gabbie. Around 3:30 again, no Gabbie.

For her to be out that late was not unusual. She stays out late to sober up before coming home.

At 4:30am, which is late for her, she came home. "How was your thing, sweetie?" she asked.

"Fine, good." I had earlier told her that I was meeting friends related to volunteer work I do.

She crawled into bed and laid there for a little while. Then she said a few random, unimportant things that I don't remember. Although she had been drinking she seemed relatively sober to me. Finally she said, "No matter how many times he asks me to marry him, I'm never going to do it." The 'he' she was talking about was Charlie, the drunk she she hangs out with.

I don't know why she says things like that to me. Is that supposed to make me feel better? Or worse? Or was she really just talking to herself?

Later that morning she got up around 9am. She asked me again how my night was and I gave her the same answer, "Fine, good."

"I'm glad."

Then before she wandered away to do something she said, "No one could ever be better to me than you."

And as proof that I'm now very cynical, I thought, It's like she knows I was out looking for a new life.

Somehow she knows what to say and when to say it, just so she can fuck with my head and reel me back in.


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I emailed Frank and Travis the next day to say thanks, I was glad to meet them, I had fun.

Travis replied, in part, "you're a fun guy to hang out with, chat with, and play games with -- did we ever finish that game of Scrabble?!? So yes, we'd love to see you again and do something. Dinner, movie, drinks, whatever."

In general, Gabbie has been noticeably more attentive and affectionate recently. Now I have new gay friends, a first step in what could be the process of coming out.

I'm being pulled in opposite directions at the same time. How long can that go on before something snaps?

5 comments:

  1. Glad you went to gay scrabble night. I think it's awesome that Travis gave you his email address. Now you have your first official gay friends. I can related to the interrogation that happens when a group of gay men learn that you have a wife/kid(s).

    Not sure how to decode Gabbie's remarks after coming home - especially the part about Charlie wanting to get married. But I think you're right about her comment "no one could be better to me than you".

    I hope Frank schedules another scrabble night soon.

    -nl

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  2. I am so glad you did this night out and also you shared all the details with us about Conrad and the night of scrabble itself. It makes me appreciate how hard it is for you to cut free both timewise and mentally. You are clearly so detached from Gabbie and she is from you to stay out like this and then toss of a line like that. Build those new friendships you so deserve to have. I did not intend to be glib today in my retort to you on my own blog, and sincerely believe you can do this, gradually construct a better life and maybe, even as a bonus, a new man will come into your life for more than just scrabble pleasure.

    But for now, keep going out all you can.

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  3. Wow.....what a small world. Amazing that you would run into someone so close to you at this random meeting.

    It's great that you are so committed to your kids and trying to make sure they have a good childhood.

    Sounds like the cruise has worn off?

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  4. As a newcomer to you blog, I hardly feel qualified to leave a comment, but I will nonetheless (being unqualified has never stopped me from shooting my mouth off before, so why start now??)

    It baffles me that you allow your wife to have a boyfriend, but don't allow yourself one. At the very least allowing yourself gay friends seems like a token equality.

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  5. Welcome to the comments section Jack!

    If there are qualifications required to leave blog comments then I have violated blog protocol on a multitude of occasions. There are certainly no qualifications here.

    I've allowed myself hook ups and FWBs galore in the past. I have evolved to the point where the only sexual relationship with a man that will satisfy me is a full-time emotional and sexual relationship. Men are all or nothing for me.

    Well, all, nothing or gay Scrabble.

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