It's too late, baby

My husband finally quit drinking so I wouldn't leave him, but now I can't imagine ever letting him touch me again.

Published December 21, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Last week's column included a letter from Knocked Up, a college
student who had a drunken evening with a young man and found
herself pregnant. She intends to give birth and raise the baby
and she asked my opinion as to whether she has an obligation to
tell the father. She does not wish to tell him. She has not heard
from him or had any contact with him since the evening, though
she realizes that he may find out, since they are on the same
campus. Her question was: Do I have an obligation to tell him? I
said that, in my opinion, she did not.

Many readers took issue with my advice. The most persuasive came
from a woman who was in Knocked Up's situation 13 years
ago, didn't tell the father and now wishes she had because her
little boy wants to know. The father has disappeared. The mother
says: "This did make things easier for me for the first ten
years, but now that my son is older, he wants to know who his
father is, where he is, why he never sees him; a part of him
feels empty and I can't fill it. It breaks my heart. We've had a
wonderful life together and I wouldn't trade a minute of it,
except for those times when he's cried for a father."

Most of the letters were somewhat off the mark, e.g., "If she
didn't want to be associated with him, then she shouldn't have
had sex with him." Some readers thought I was advising the woman
to lie to him; I wasn't.

The simple fact is that the guy has no connection to this woman.
He ejaculated once and that's the extent of their relationship.

Does a woman who is raped and thereby impregnated have a moral
obligation to tell the rapist that he is now a father and invite
him to take up the joy of parenting? I don't believe so.
Fatherhood is not a title bestowed by virtue of one's sperm; and
I do not see a way for a man who has no connection to the mother
to be a loving father to an infant. It's all well and good for
men to talk about equal parenting rights, but if you have attended
the birth of your child through eight or 10 hours of labor, you
know there is no equality about it.

I checked my response with two friends who are in their 20s
and who don't know who their biological fathers are because their
mothers never told the fathers about them, and both of them said
emphatically, "It's up to her whether she tells him or not. No
doubt about it."

Yes, of course it's better for a child to have two parents, as
many readers pointed out, and I hope the young woman finds a man
who will be a father to her child. I doubt it will be His
Lordship, however. He took her to bed, had unprotected sex with
her, enjoyed a sweet conquest and moved on. He didn't even call
her the next day. His choice. If I were writing a short story,
this is the crucial moral moment -- when he wakes up in the
morning, abashed, a little giddy, hung over, worried and is
terribly relieved as the days pass and she doesn't call him up.
He dreads the thought of her weeping, clinging to him and is
glad when she doesn't and turns out to be a perfect disposable
babe. He is happy to put it all behind him. This guy is a great
candidate for fatherhood? I don't think so. I think he's a jerk,
and she's Joan of Arc. If she wants to call him and tell him,
"Bubba, I'm having your baby," that's fine, and if she doesn't,
that's fine too. Her call. She's the one flying the plane, and
he's on the ground waving.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband of 18 years is a top executive at one of the world's
top 10 corporations, successful beyond his wildest dreams, but
he abused alcohol, furniture, walls and occasionally me and our
son for more than 10 years. I tried
everything I could think of, explained, begged, got counseling
(though he refused), went to Al-Anon and learned to detach,
pursued a life of my own -- friends, work,
children and social life that didn't interest him at all -- and
then finally I did what I had been trying to avoid: I filed for
a divorce.

It took me years to work up to it. I should have done it years ago, because this was what got through
to him. He quit drinking (sort of -- I don't actually trust him),
and now understands that violence will get him removed from the
house. He's committed to doing anything to save the marriage.
He's finally paying some attention to the children, going
for counseling -- and all I want is for him to leave me alone.
I'm miserable. The children, forgiving creatures that they are,
have forgotten how they used to hide behind doors to avoid their
father's rage, but I can't imagine ever letting him touch me
again. I feel trapped. I don't love him anymore. Any thoughts?

Sleepless in Connecticut

Dear Sleepless,

The facts as you present them are quite clear:
Your husband abused you, did brutal damage to his family, is
desperate to repair it and it's too late. You're in no condition
to be courted by him or to forgive him, having been so recently
his victim. You'll go through with the divorce. If, after you're
single and on your feet and feeling healthy, he wants to court
you seriously and you're in the mood, fine. Some marriages have
gotten patched up that way, on the rebound. But you can't turn
your feelings around so quickly, especially when you've been so
badly treated. When you say you don't love him anymore and can't
imagine ever letting him touch you, that means it's over.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife and I have had eight wonderful years of marriage, and
still love each other very much, but after the birth of our
second child six months ago, our love life has ceased. My wife's
libido is nonexistent. I am frustrated and confused. I do not
want to have an outside relationship, but I need some
physical relationship or I am going to go crazy. I have tried to
get her in the mood but she just cannot get interested anymore. I
am an attentive father and husband, and I take an active share in
the care of our children. I help out around the house and do
everything I can. But I just can't turn my wife on.

Dazed and Confused

Dear D & C,

The reason your wife does not need a lover at the
moment is that she has two young children, one of them less than
a year old. A strong libidinous urge is highly unlikely in an
exhausted and sleep-deprived person: Nature in a primitive way is
protecting her against procreation. You can help her recover her
old jazzy self by helping bear the burden. And ask her if she's
depressed, down in the dumps, discouraged, feeling
worthless, joyless or despondent; fatigued and without
enthusiasm, unable to enjoy simple pleasures. Maybe she is
tangled in the web of postpartum depression and hasn't figured
it out yet, or is ashamed of it, not realizing how common it is.
As for your problem, it is easily solved: Go have an outside
relationship with a Playboy playmate in the privacy of your home.
The science of onanism is simple, practiced by boy and man alike,
and when you take it to a successful conclusion, your frustration
and confusion and craziness all go away, poof.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a single mother, 28, educated, an artist with my own business
and very lonely. My son is 4 and very jealous of my attention
as I work long hours. Last year I had my first relationship with
a man since my son was born, but it didn't work out. The man was
sweet and treated me well, but he was also in his 20s and
was very intimidated by the thought of getting seriously involved
with a mom.

I'm wondering if I should be looking for an older man. My uncle,
a lawyer in his late 50s, was telling me at Thanksgiving how
attractive and intelligent I am, and I realized he thinks so
because I know about jazz and blues and old movies and baseball
and other things people my age tend not to know about. Would I
have a much better chance of romantic bliss dating older men? And
where should I meet them? And finally, if a man is over 40 and
unmarried and wanting to date a woman in her (late) 20s, is
that generally a red flag?

Lonely in New England

Dear Lonely,

As a truck driver friend of mine says, It's not the mileage that's
important, it's how much mileage left to go. And nobody knows
that. So age is not a crucial matter, past a certain point. Let's
not try to compute your chances of romantic bliss, but surely
they'll be greater if you don't restrict yourself to men close to
your own age. Men tend to mature more slowly than women and so
our culture believes in older men and younger women as a general
thing. Where should you meet them? Well, at the VFW hall, of
course, and at the Blue Note and in section 14 of Shea Stadium
and in the assisted living section of the Good Shepherd Home --
I have no idea. Finally, if a man over 40 is attracted to you, my
dear, you should take it as a sign of discernment on his part.

Dear Mr. Blue,

When I get into confrontational situations my mind goes blank.
It's nerves and also the desire to
be a nice girl. Of course, afterward I think of the things I
should have said. How do I keep from blanking out when being
confronted, and be strong and firm instead of meek and silent?

Blank Brain

Dear B.B.,

You and me too, kid. But is this a skill a person
really wishes for, the ability to counterpunch and leap up into
someone's face and say withering things? Somehow I don't
associate combativeness with The Good Life As We Know It. When
confronted, maintain eye contact. Very, very important. Don't step
back. And don't interrupt the confronter. Let him go on and on
and on. Let him exhaust himself with repetition. This gives you
time to come up with your exit line. Maybe it's "I'll talk about
this when you calm down" or maybe it's "I'm going to forget that
you said these crazy things" or it's something else, but whatever
it is, it's cool and cogent. The difference between Strong & Firm
and Meek & Silent is a slight one, having to do with eye contact
and the cool response. Think John Wayne.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've fallen in love! He plays me Joni Mitchell CDs, sends me
poetry, feeds me Cherry Garcia. We talk for hours at a time. He
is teaching me how to zydeco dance and I'm teaching him about
social justice in Guatemala. He makes me laugh and I'm not afraid
to sing around him. After seven years of numbness brought on by a
terrible relationship, the death of my mother and a bout with
clinical depression, I feel alive again and happy and ready to
trust and open up my heart. I'm writing again and finally feel
like a whole person. I feel calm and giddy at the same time.

There is one problem: He has a girlfriend of almost three years
and didn't tell me that until after we had begun dating. Yes,
that's a big problem. He has told me that he loves her and will
not leave her right now but he is falling in love with me. I am
afraid that when the hurt comes, it will numb
me for another seven years. I want him in my life.
Should I trust my heart and open up and love and deal with the
pain later? Or should I trust my women friends who tell me not to
have anything to do with a man who is deceiving his
girlfriend? It is hard to think of turning my back on this
happiness after having been miserable for so long.

Swept Away

Dear Swept,

It's too bad that, underneath all the singing and
zydeco and poetry and Cherry Garcia, there is a lie sticking up
like a post. He started dating you while he was still with a
girlfriend whom he loves. The man is confused, at best, and you
need to clarify the situation for him by creating some distance
here. Stop sleeping with him, for one thing. If you want to
rescue the relationship, you need to ease back to the beginning
and rebuild on honest foundations. And he needs to deal with the
girlfriend, whom he is still lying to, apparently. You're not
going to slip back into seven years of depression -- you
already did that, and it's over. You may get angry at him for
seducing you so well, but that's different. This man is not the
cause of your happiness; he is only the vehicle. He's the actor
you choose to play opposite you in scenes that you yourself
create out of the lavish abundance of your heart, and if the
vehicle crashes, if the actor walks out, you still have that
abundance to take elsewhere. You won't crash if he drops you,
because you're not a puppet. You can sing anywhere you like.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I feel the time has come for an intervention. A dear friend from
college has drifted from job to job and now has written a novel.
I read the manuscript, and I'm worried. He's talking about
publication and all the money he's going to make, but this book
has a lot of problems, including basic grammatical errors,
stilted dialogue and long, wooden descriptions of uninteresting
landscapes. I think he has the potential to write a good book one
day, but this isn't it. As a concerned friend who
would hate to see him waste months or years on
a project that might never see the light of day,
should I risk our friendship and be honest about what
I think of the book? Or should I just stand back?


Dear Aghast,
I'd like to say, Yes, give your friend some good
advice and save him from his pretensions, but the truth is that
you would gravely risk losing his friendship. People in the
throes of creation do not want bad reviews. If you like this
friend, tell him, "I liked it. It's good." That's pretty
noncommital. If he presses you for more, tell him about a couple
of things you liked in the book. And let him spend months or years
working on it. It's an educational experience, trying to fix a
hopeless novel. Some fine writers have come out of that
experience. What do you think? He should burn it and out of the
flames God will hand him a beautiful new manuscript? God doesn't
write novels. They're written by people who suffered through a
lot of misery and wrong turns and bad drafts.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm pondering whether to remain friends with an ex-boyfriend. He
and I lived together for eight months and broke up a year and a
half ago but occasionally we tumble into bed with each other. I
haven't met anyone I'm interested in yet. I told him I'd like for
us either to get back together and make another go at it, or else
forgo the sex and just be friends. But whenever I try to draw
the line, he crosses it, saying he can't be in my presence
without flirting and getting physical. He tells me he loves me
more than I know, and I end up feeling like a fish on a line. Do
I have no other choice but to cut this person out of my life? The
situation at present is just too confusing and painful. On the
hand, I can't imagine my life without him in it. I'm a loyal
person, and I'd like to think there is a deep friendship at the
heart of it all that is worth preserving, but
maybe I'm being naive?


Dear Floundering,

We need to get you some new underwear, the kind
with locks. Can't you just meet Casanova for lunch at Woolworth's
lunch counter? Order the tuna salad and sit there on a stool and
converse with him? What is he going to do, drag you into the
basement and ravish you in Housewares? My dear, you draw the line
by looking the man in the eye and saying, "I don't want to." You
don't say you're sorry, you just say no. If necessary, you say it
again, more clearly. If he doesn't stop then, say the word,
"Rape." If he doesn't stop then, scream like bloody murder. If
you have to go to Step 3, him and you ain't friends.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I fell accidentally into a career at 20 and now, three years
later, I make more money than any 23-year-old has a right to
make. I have a 401k, stock options, an investment portfolio and
an accountant. I have the life I want 10 years from now, and I'm
desperately unhappy. My mother says that I'm the luckiest woman
she knows, but I feel like a gorgeous failure. If Fate hands you
someone else's dream, are you responsible for fulfilling it?

As a child I thought I'd grow up to be an actor, or a poet, or a
roller skating princess. Instead, I'm in front of this desk, in
these clothes, working overtime for no reason and looking at the
unfinished poems and plays that litter my apartment. Is it OK
to hate being a responsible adult, or am I being
juvenile and ungrateful? Am I just an enormous clichi in leather

Leather Pumps

Dear Pumps,

You can hate adulthood all you like, to your heart's
content. Adulthood is where you are right now, but you don't have
to be mature about it or grateful, and don't worry about being a
clichi. You are in an intermediate period of your life. Perhaps
it will last only another five or six years, and then something
else happens. You're responsible to yourself, to make the best of
your 20s. Stick with the day job and build that portfolio;
straighten up the litter in your apartment and sort those plays
and poems into piles, and one Saturday morning when you're in the
mood, sit down and putter with them. Fight the overtime; don't
let the job eat you. But hold a steady course for awhile.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a wannabe author struggling to write historical novels and
get them to say what I want them to say. Once in a while the work
seems to go well and other times it's like sucking water from a
dry well. Passages I thought weren't too bad on the first
reading, turn out on the second, or fifth, or 50th reading to
be terrible. I wish I had started doing this back when I was
20, instead of waiting until I was 50. I have a teenage
son, and I'm taking care of an elderly woman, and just recently
I've started teaching school full-time. I don't want to stop
writing. But I'm pretty exhausted, and rather depressed. I know
I'm getting to be impossible to live with.

Crashing in Maine

Dear Crashing,

Depression is a separate issue. So is exhaustion.
Either one can get in the way of your work and must be addressed
separately. Ignore any heroic tales you've heard about writers
who composed the magnum opus with a carpenter's pencil in one
hand and a quart of whiskey in the other, writing on the backs of
cement sacks while working 18-hour days as a deckhand on a tramp
steamer. Get your rest, arrange your time, deal with your
depression and organize your work. Writing is not heroic, it is
methodical, like dentistry or throwing the discus. The secret of
good writing is rewriting, but don't sit down when you're tired
and depressed and take a 50th look at a passage: The result
can only be discouragement. Writing is hard enough without our
putting rocks in our pockets. You may be able to write only on
Sunday morning and in little stolen periods through the week, but
if you make those few hours as good as they can be, you'd be
amazed what you can achieve. Good luck.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a healthy 26-year-old woman. I exercise, I hardly ever
drink. I don't eat greasy food or red meat. I have one bad habit
that is ruining the way I look and feel: I am addicted to sweets!
Low blood sugar runs in my family and so my reaction to candy is
as intense as the average person's reaction to a cup of
Starbuck's rocket fuel: I get on a candy high. Chocolate seems to
make everything better, at least for five minutes. I consume so
much that sometimes I break out into cold sweats. My moods are
also made more unpredictable. I know that this is not good for
me, but I cannot seem to stop. I have gone through periods where
I go on high-protein diets and cut out sugar altogether, but I
can never stick to these routines for more than a couple of
weeks. It was a lot easier for me to quit smoking! I cannot
imagine a day without candy. Can you help?

Silly for Sweets

Dear Silly,

This is problem for many more people than would admit
to it and nobody seems to understand exactly why, though
addiction seems always to be based on intense pleasure and on the
pain of withdrawal. Chocolate, by the way, contains theobromine,
which is caffeine-like, and thus the high. The only thing that
works for this is to cut off the candy supply at the source and
to eat complex carbohydrates, which are absorbed more slowly and
are sweet if you chew them slowly. Ruminate, in other words. And
complex carbs don't lead to reactive hypoglycemia, which very
likely is producing your weakness and cold sweats. If you have a
family history of adult-type diabetes, you may be in a
pre-diabetic state known as insulin resistance. See an
endocrinologist or diabetes specialist about this. And thanks to
the old internist (returned from the Aegean) for the answer.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife and I are expecting our first baby in February, a
tremendously joyous experience for both of us, but one
contentious issue has arisen: baptism. My wife was raised
as a Lutheran, although she has not attended church for years.
Growing up, religion just was not part of my life. But my family
is Irish, and I have strong views about the history of persecution
of Irish Catholics at the hands of English Protestants.

I am indifferent about having our child christened or
baptized but I would feel very strongly that if it was to be,
it should be in the Catholic faith. I do not want my child to
be baptized as a Protestant. To me, it would seem like a
capitulation to the forces that persecuted Irish people for
hundreds of years.

I don't think my wife understands how important this is to me,
and I am sure her family won't either. Can a child
be christened as a Catholic, even if the parents are not members
of the Church?

Little Faith

Dear Little Faith,

You should trot over to the closest Catholic
church, ring the bell and speak to Father Mulcahy about this
matter. Meanwhile, I admire your ability to hold some poor
midwestern Lutherans responsible for the sufferings of the Irish
people. My people were Scots and what the English did to us was
unspeakable, but here we are using their language and everything.
Go figure.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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