Sunday, May 18, 2014

Your Thoughts on My Freedom Fantasy

My kids live with me 361 days a year.  The other four days Gabbie has them, but only because I'm working in Minneapolis.

Sometimes, when I feel especially trapped in my 361-day routine, I fantasize about permanently relocating to Minnesota.  It's a glorious thought because I know no one would follow me there.  I'd have total independence and the uncompromised opportunity to create a new life entirely of my own choosing.

At other times I wonder if this fantasy is exactly that, a fantasy.  How do I know that I'd like living 2000 miles away from my kids?  How do I know I'd like living alone?  How do I know I'd like living in the Midwest?  How do I know I wouldn't be miserable during six months of Winter?  I don't.  I mean, I instinctively feel like I'd be much happier, but is that a good enough reason to make such a radical change???

If I moved, I'd have a much more fulfilling job...and the low cost of living would be a big perk...but I don't know if I'd ever feel at home.  Are friends and community easy to find in Minneapolis?  Or would I struggle there even more than I have in San Francisco?

My four days a year in Minneapolis consist of two separate weekends, six months apart.  With no kids and no work after 8pm, I have the extremely rare opportunity to do whatever I want in a city where no one knows me.  Yet, when I'm there, I find it hard to make the most of the time.

I try to pretend that I've just moved there and it's my first weekend alone.  What should I do?  Where should I go?  What can I experience that would help me feel at home?
A typical group at the Saloon.  See any white Lutherans?

One thing I've done is spend time in various gay bars.  I'm familiar with the San Francisco bar scene, how is Minneapolis different?  If I was forced to choose one bar as the focal point of my social life, which bar would it be?

In Minneapolis, I've spent a Friday night at the Eagle/Bolt, a Saturday night at the Gay 90s, a Friday night at Lush and two Saturday nights at the Saloon.  I also spent a short time, early on a Friday night, at the Jetset Bar.  I haven't been to the Brass Rail because it looked gross from the outside.  I had planned to watch the Vikings play at the neighborhood-ish 19 Bar but it was closed on the Sunday that I drove by.  There's another bar, The Town House, in St Paul, but that's kind of out of the way so I haven't been there yet.
Patrons of the Eagle/Bolt

The most surprising thing about all my Minneapolis bar visits has been how the "Minnesota nice" stereotype hasn't included BSing with strangers.  No one has been rude but the guys only seem to talk to other guys that they already know.  San Francisco bars are friendlier, which is something I didn't expect.
Gay 90s, minus the groups of 22yo straight girls

The other thing that's odd in Minneapolis is the dominance of the twenties crowd.  The Saloon, in my view, is the best bar in town, but even so, only about 10% of the patrons I've seen look to be over the age of 40.  The Eagle has a more mature, bearish crowd but on the night I was there it was dead, dead, dead.  In contrast, the mature crowd in San Francisco is large, visible and dominates quite a few bars.
Lush - Nice place, felt suburban

Because I haven't seen many age-appropriate men in Minneapolis I wonder if they don't exist or if they have largely abandoned the bars?  If they don't socialize in bars, how do they meet and how is a new arrival supposed to get connected?
Jetset.  Do people go here?

Meet-up groups??

After three trips to Minneapolis in the past year I don't feel like I've gained any pivotal insights.  That's been frustrating; I'd like to resolve my Freedom Fantasy one way or the other.  I'd like to feel, on a gut-level, that moving to Minneapolis is the right thing, OR, I'd like to be convinced that it's a terrible idea so I can stop daydreaming about it.  Because neither of those things has happened, my thoughts remain in an endless wash-and-spin cycle:

Move or stay?
Move or stay?
Move or stay?
Brass Rail.  Very tired and unappealing.

Perhaps I'm delusional, but one issue that doesn't especially concern me is whether my kids would be upset if I moved.  I mean, at first, I know they would be.  My daughter would be furious.  But it would also be her decision to move with me or stay.  If she stayed, as I expect she would, then she'd be the one making the decision for us to have a long-distance relationship, not me.  My son would be upset too, at first, but he's about to get his driver's license and he has tons of friends so, really, having me around in person isn't going to be that important to him, going forward.
19 Bar.  Wake me up when it opens.

All told, I think the kids would adapt to connecting on Skype and by phone pretty easily.  Their lives are already so technology-saturated it would probably feel pretty normal to them to maintain our bond through a pixelated screen anyway.

Because I still haven't had that "A-ha!" moment where I realize that moving is the right decision, I remain locked in my life as a single, "straight" suburban dad.   If I ever felt a strong sense of mid-life gay community in Minneapolis I'd be much more tempted to take the polar plunge.  Part of the reason I'm posting this entry if because I have this hope that at least one reader could point me in the right direction for how to do that, but maybe what I'm hoping to find in Minneapolis just doesn't exist.
The Town House in St. Paul

What are your thoughts on this matter?  Should I stay and continue to plod along or should I go and take my chances that life will be meaningfully better?


  1. I absolutely love the Twin Cities, and if I had to move anywhere from Iowa, it would be there.

    I would recommend if you have the time to take a vacation to the Cities, maybe a week and really get to see what life would be like there.

    I would also recommend getting in contact with CB at He's a wonderful resource for all things Minneapolis.

    I think it's very helpful to actually know people in the city that you're thinking about moving to. They are a great resource and can help you find your way.

    Have a great Sunday!

    1. I'm glad someone has positive things to say about MSP. Thanks for the referral to CB!

  2. But how is the restaurant scene? My partner has only had disparaging things about there...

    1. Only disparaging things? Can you elaborate?

      As near as I can tell, the restaurant scene in MSP is...well, not like San Francisco's. I'm not much of a foodie so that's not an issue for me.

  3. You can't leave the kids. That just won't work. You are the responsible parent. They need you. You'll feel badly if you leave them. Stay close to them.

    I can understand wanting a change of scenery. Why not bring the kids with you? Maybe you wait a few more years until they are done with high school? Or just do it now. They'll make new friends.

    Cost of living in the the Midwest is a big plus. It's calmer and slower paced. But you might be bored compared to SF.

    I wouldn't make the decision based on the quality of the gay bars in Minneapolis. You could meet the right one anywhere.

    1. I wouldn't make the decision based on the quality of gay bars. The bars just happen to be the easiest measure of community that I've been able to assess. On-line information can be helpful too but it really doesn't compare to meeting people in person.

      As for bringing the kids with me...they'd be welcome to come. It would be their choice to stay with Gabbie rather than move with me. I have no doubts that my son would stay in CA. My daughter's preference is questionable. The two of us are spending a 3-day weekend in MSP in June. It'll be interesting to see what she thinks about it. I took my son last summer. He hated the humidity, which really made me laugh because it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been.

      I'm not sure if I would feel bad for my kids if I moved. After all, it would be their decision not to come with me. Part of me thinks it would be good for the kids and Gabbie to be inter-dependent. Gabbie would have the opportunity to redeem herself as a decent mother and the kids would be forced to get to know her as the good person I know her to be.

      I should also say that, now that Charlie has been gone for 8 months, Gabbie is much more like her old self. She's perfectly capable of being a responsible parent. I really wouldn't fear for my kids if I moved. It wouldn't be a smooth transition for them but I think they'd all adjust reasonably well after a few months.

    2. I think you'll miss them and they will miss you. You're close to your kids....don't you want to keep it that way?

      Gabbie may find another Charlie...maybe not as bad. Is she attracted to bad boys?

    3. Sure, I'd miss them, but I'd also talk to them daily and see them frequently. It would be similar to when a kid goes out of state to college.

  4. I'm a new reader and I don't know you well. But if you and your kids are an emotionally supportive family, I would worry about your leaving them to pursue life in a new place. My own is experience is this: As a divorced dad of two, I toughed out some lonely years while my kids were growing up. When they were on their own, I began to explore my new-found freedomclose to home. But it was freedom within the boundaries I set for myself. I needed the emotional give and take that my family life allowed. I needed familiar faces around me. I needed to fully engage where I was. I think I'm a bit healthier than before for having chosen that route. I have no regrets. Should I decide to move elsewhere--and I share the same fantasy as you, to pick up and start life as a gay man somewhere fresh--I will be better emotionally prepared to do so. Maybe it would be true for you.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Adam. You've given me something to think about.

      Maybe I'm delusional but I feel like I have such a good relationship with my kids that I don't feel like I need to be physically present at all times. Unlike most divorced dads, I've had my kids all the time. I don't feel like I've missed out on any part of their lives and I don't think that would substantively change, even if I was a 3 hour plane ride away.

      Also, they're teenagers. I think teens need a reasonable degree of independence. I think we can be just as close by skype, phone and frequent visits as we can by living under the same roof.

      All that said...I still have very mixed feelings about the whole idea. More than anything I wish I could confidently make a decision one way or the other.

  5. So, a bunch of thoughts in semi-random order.

    The gay scene outside of the liberal meccas is young, because until the last 5-10 years, there wasn't really a gay scene outside the liberal meccas. I mean, SF and LA and NYC have an older gay crowd because when those guys were twenty-something, if they did what they do in SF or LA or NYC back home, they may not have lived to be 40-something. Some places are better than others and have a longer history, but the whole idea of being young, openly gay, and happy wherever you are *still* isn't possible in many places in the US. And the guys who come out at 13 (or never really had to come out) are totally different from the guys who come out at 24 or 36, just like the people who grew up using computers or cell phones simply experience them differently that the people who started using them as teens or adults. Not better, not worse. Just different, but often in a fundamental-but-not-obvious way.

    (On this last point, I have personal experience. I was out at 13 when that Wasn't Done - the only openly gay kid in a school of 3000. I actually had a boyfriend that my parents knew and liked at 16. From what I've encountered, I have some very different attitudes around "gay culture" and such from most guys my age.)

    Moving - I don't think it's Minnie that matters so much. From what I've read (studies and such), it really doesn't matter where you move to - it's moving that matters. Going somewhere new, being able to leave behind old attachments, etc. It's the "going away to college" experience, in a sense: a chance to rebuild your identity from the ground up if you want. In a very real way, that may be what you're seeking (even if you don't realize it): a chance to find out who you'd be without everyone else getting a say first.

    On the kids/Gabby: that's tougher, because I know that being a parent theoretically introduces new mental commitments that I'm not familiar with. I assume, from what you've said, that the kids wouldn't necessarily be happy living with Gabby, so that's a complication; they might feel like you were abandoning them if they had to stay with her. But they're also older, so that's perhaps less of an issue.

    And as for a fantasy, it's great to have them. They're healthy. The problem is if we start living in the fantasy instead of real life. I mean, if you can actually make your fantasy happen, awesome, but you can't spend your life dreaming. "Shit or get off the pot" eventually comes into play.

    1. Hi Austin - I understand your point about the lack of a gay scene outside of liberal meccas until the later 90s, however Minneapolis is (and has been) a liberal mecca for many years. Liberal Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale both made it to national prominence as Minnesota politicians. As for gay life, I know MSP had several active gay clubs in the 80s, and, in 2011, The Advocate named the Twin Cities as "the gayest cities" in America, in part because of their 38 (now 41) year history of having an annual Pride parade. I'm sure some 40-something gays have fled to warmer climates over the years but living as a gay man in Minneapolis in the 80s was more like living in San Francisco than Topeka.

      Re: moving, You're right that I want the chance to rebuild my identity, but I'm drawn to Minneapolis for specific, work-related reasons. It's the only place I can construct my dream job AND have the opportunity handed to me.

      Re: kids, it would be their choice to move with me - or not. They shouldn't feel abandoned if they choose to stay.

      Re: shitting or getting off the pot, yes, it does come into play eventually. My lack of conviction one way or another on this question eats at me more than the question itself. I don't like the uncertainty of being indecisive. The purpose of this post was to see if someone could say something that would help push me one direction or the other. Unfortunately that hasn't happened. Until I do make up my mind, the status quo will remain.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Reading your post, comments and your replies, it looks like you really want to go. And I think that is the right call.

    1. I lack the conviction necessary to make such a big decision. I wish I was convinced it was the right call!

  7. I think you are deluding yourself if you think the kids would take abandonment (or a move halfway across the country) very well.

    I don't know for certain, but my impression is that Grindr and friends have basically killed the gay scene in many places.

    1. I'm not abandoning them if they choose not to come with me. I'm also not abandoning them if we talk every day and I see them in person every few weeks. That said, you're right that they wouldn't take to the idea very much.

      Hook-up apps may have an affect on bars but there's more to gay life than both of those things. I've tried to learn as much as I can about the gay community in Minneapolis, but doing that online is just not the same as living there.

  8. This is your friend from across the bridge.

    Yes, you're delusional. But you already knew that I would say that if asked. ;-)

    If you present the move as a fait accompli and force your son and daughter to choose, they will see this as a second parental abandonment and an attempt to foist them on their mother, with whom your daughter, at least, has had a strained relationship.

    Why don't you raise the issue with your children and see what they think about moving? And what about waiting just a few more years till they graduate from high school?

    1. Hello friend from across the bridge -

      Contemplating a move is a multi-step process. The first step is for me to decide that *I* really want to move. That's where I am right now. I'm drawn to Minneapolis for several reasons but the pull isn't as powerful as it needs to be.

      My lack of conviction is a problem that must be resolved before I can move on to step two, which is to float the idea by the kids. If they say they're ok with it, then step three is to float the idea by Gabbie. If she freaks out because she can't cope with the kids then I'd have to stay.

      Basically, everyone has to be ok with the idea - they don't have to like it, they just need to be reasonably accepting.

      When Gabbie and I split up, my daughter would tell me almost every day that she and I should move to Minnesota. I immediately dismissed the idea but she kept persisting, which is how it got stuck in my head in the first place. Of course she's back-tracked since then and now says she doesn't want to move. She's starting high school next year. If that doesn't go well she'll be a lot more open to moving. I don't expect that to happen but it's possible.

      What's most likely to happen is that I'll have this idea stuck in my head for another four years (in addition to the three that have already passed) and I'll be so sick of trying to resolve it that I'll impulsively move after my youngest graduates, only to regret it and move back two years later.

      I really hate having this unresolved idea hanging over me.

  9. Speaking as a child of divorce, if you leave the kids to move to a new city, even with Skype and text and whatnot, they will feel that you have tossed them aside for a new life. And while everyone thinks that its the wee kids that need the most contact, I disagree teens need much parental contact and hugs. The teens act like its terrible to be hugged, but inside they adore it.

    When our boys hit their teen years, my husband backed off hugging them and within a short while we had some boys who were really acting out. I gave him the low down, hug them or lose them, and once he did, they calmed back down. Unlike the smaller set, who are quite open and demanding about wanting , climbing into laps, clinging to legs demanding to be picked up. Teens feel weird about requesting affection, because they feel they are too old for that baby stuff.

    If you feel the need to move, move the kids with you. Dont give them any choice in the matter. And if you think the kids need to know the ex better, send them to her in the summers.

    1. Hi Biki - Your point about teens and affection is excellent. Thanks for sharing it.

      I don't think I explain the crux of my problem very well. Yes, part of me wants to move, for a few reasons, and I do wonder how a move would impact my kids, but the more immediate question is do *I* want to move. My heart isn't into the idea nearly as much as it should be. Yet I can't let go of it either. It bothers me that I can't seem to resolve this question within myself. If I did decide I NEED to move, the next hurdle would to figure out the timing. The kids are an integral part of that.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.