I'm happily married with two kids, but in my daydreams I'm alone

I do not wish to be rid of my family, but in my fantasies, they're gone.

Published September 28, 2005 6:01PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I occasionally daydream about what it would be like to be completely on my own -- without my wife and two sons, in a different house, in a different city or state or country, and without any of the burdens or trappings of my current career. In my daydream I have enough money to be able to volunteer full time and do any number of things: help people learn to read, deliver food to the needy, be on call for disaster recovery for the next hurricane, and so on. Where this money comes from I have no idea, it's just there -- I can take liberties with my own daydreams, right?

Now change the word "occasionally" to "constantly." At least once a day, or more. The odd thing about this is that I love my life. Really! I love my wife and kids passionately. I absolutely don't want a divorce and have no reason to get one. I don't want to be separated from my great kids. I have a great job, although like every other job it gets boring and blah blah blah, but I make good money and have job security for the time being.

I most certainly do not want my family members to die, or to move away from me. I can't stomach the thought that anything bad could ever happen to them, and any real thoughts that I might be without them makes my heart stop. I read about people who lose their families in a car accident and get tears in my eyes to think it might happen to me someday. But when I see myself in the future, these people I love so passionately are almost never there.

Why don't they show up in my solar-powered fantasy home and accompany me to the soup kitchen or the literacy headquarters to help me save the world one person at a time? Why am I not fantasizing sitting in the stands of the high school football stadium next to my wife, watching our kids in their muddy uniforms have the time of their lives, or attending their weddings, or them all sitting around at my retirement party making old-people jokes? Where the hell are they?

Baffled Lucky Guy

Dear Baffled Lucky Guy,

When you got married, you did not surrender your soul. Your inner life of solitary asceticism and heroic selflessness did not suddenly disappear. It kept getting up every morning right alongside you and your wife. It helped you with the dishes and getting the kids off to school; it helped you at work. It was kind of a guiding voice. It also occasionally made its requests, demanding some attention, some sustenance. And you have been obliging. You give it what it needs; you feed it daily with your daydreaming. And so it continues right alongside you, day by day.

Perhaps before you were married it blended in better; you did not really think of it as a separate inner life. Only as marriage, family and work became your dominant colors did it appear in greater contrast, a vibrant blue and yellow against the gray.

At times, it must seem miraculous that no one else sees it! Indeed, its silent coexistence seems surreal, as though you were wearing a bowler hat and carrying around a birdcage in which a fabulous canary chirps only for your ears.

What does one do with such a life, if anything? Write fiction? Suppress it? Joke about it? Secretly cultivate it until one day, under cover of night, you pack a suitcase and fly to Calcutta?

It is a dream, not a blueprint for life. It belongs in the realm of the imagination made concrete: fiction, poetry, painting, music. That is what we do with our ideals, these secret identities in which even our most cherished companions do not appear: We keep them alive in works of art. True, we also aspire to them. And it would not hurt to do more charity work. Perhaps your true vocation lies in some such field. But only at our peril do we try to make such visions come literally true on earth. Have we not seen already too many madmen scorching the earth to make a heaven there?

Indeed, the reason the constituents of one's actual life do not appear in the dream is that the dream is original, inviolable and unchanging. It is not of this earth. As you went about the business of life, formed alliances and partnerships, joined and pledged and committed yourself, this dream remained aloof, solitary and pure, virginal and austere like an eternal spring.

It remains so. For that reason, I suggest you not reveal this dream explicitly to others. For what if then you were served a subpoena for your unconscious, for all other such dreams as may pertain to this feloniously exclusionary and unauthorized vision? Instead, my friend, keep it alive and let it guide you. Seek to hear what it has to say. Find some ways to make it real: Serve in a soup kitchen; teach reading. But beware of the urge to sever all attachments, purge your life of vice, and move to India. The utopian dream is a dangerous thing. Life remains mysterious and strange, contradictory and full of irresolvable tension.

So embrace it all, I say! Embrace the chaos of our lives and embrace this pure, secret garden of the unconscious. Embrace the tedium and the doubts and the helpless love! Do not try to replace these things with your higher, purer dream. Instead, fashion something tangible out of it -- a painting, a story for your children, a weekend commitment at a soup kitchen.

Tend to this dream. Do not trifle with it, but do not take it literally. Keep it in readiness. It may be the only thing, finally, that cannot be removed from your house, X-rayed at the airport, or entered into a database.

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