Masochist. That’s what she called me. Oddly enough, the candor, and precision with which she had placed that label on me, for the first time in a long time, stung. And we all know why and when labels sting: when they’re true.
My new friend came to our little suburban enclave only last year. She’s a transplant like I am, but, as is the case in many circumstances when people come together for the first time, at least three months went by before we recognized, and appreciated how nuts each of us was, and how well we related to each other.
She’s also a writer. She’s also…frustrated – for lack of a more accurate word – by full-time parenting.
We love our kids. We both made conscious decisions to put our careers on proverbial shelves for the sake of having one parent at the beck and call of each family’s children. But now that our youngest kids are old enough to not need us so much – at least not on a minute-by-minute basis – we have both found ourselves looking around wondering how to a) fill the void left from all of that requisite running around little children demand, b) fill the void left from the realization that we have not been defined by a career for some time.
These voids are not something that all people experience.
I felt the void of my diminished pursuit of a career almost as soon as I had taken the role of stay-at-home father. I would like to chalk my reaction up to gender differences, but I wonder if those gender differences are because of nature or nurture: was I hard wired this way, or socialized?
Regardless of what happened, or how I got there, I found myself looking at these little guys, loving them, marveling at them, and feeling terribly trapped. So when my youngest entered Kindergarten , and I immediately had three hours a day to do with what I chose, I rekindled a relationship with one of my old clients – for no other reason than my ego, to make myself feel worthy that I too could earn an income – and I started signing myself up for all sorts of volunteering duties.
Cub Scouts. Room Parent. School Site Council. School Safety committee. Morning traffic monitor. Swim Team Director. Eventually, PTA President.
Y’know, when I write it all out it seems somewhat ridiculous. I now know why when I told my new friend a small portion of the things I am involved in she smiled, and said, “you’re a masochist.”
I smiled. I answered, “I guess so. I never thought of it that way.”
Inside, however, I knew she was right, and that was an interesting turning point for me.
A dear friend of mine with whom I played in a band years ago, was very influenced by astrology, and used to explain my behavior on my being a Capricorn. He looked at me once and said, “you always choose the hardest route. Even if an easy path from here to there is right in front of you, you choose the path to the side that leads you up over the hardest, most hilly path. But that’s OK. You’re a Capricorn.”
In my late 20s I thought that quirk in my personality was a novel idiosyncrasy that added to the definition of what made me who I was: what made me unique. Now in my early 40s I don’t necessarily see it as a personality flaw, but something that definitely requires a bit more management.
And being a masochist isn’t necessarily all bad, assuming I can find some way to leverage those tendencies towards a constructive benefit. Right? Or am I simply rationalizing?
This realization of my masochistic tendencies at least has not lead to my finding leather masks and other accouterments in my closet that I hide there when in a psychotic trance. I have to admit, however, that years of other decisions I have made easily fit the second definition from Random House Dictionary: “gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation, etc., inflicted or imposed on oneself, either as a result of one’s own actions or the actions of others, esp. the tendency to seek this form of gratification.”
It perfectly explains the choices I made that lead to my first marriage. Thankfully other circumstances provided me an exit out of that relationship, from which I learned much about myself. But still small vestiges of masochism haunt me still: obviously. After all, why else would I, at current count, have my name in leadership positions or other integral roles for seven different volunteer groups?
So what will signal that I’ve crossed the threshold away from masochism? When I’ve reduced the number of groups for which I volunteer down to four? Two? One?
I honestly don’t think for what I’m volunteering is the metric, but I’m open to suggestions.