Finding my resolve
“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” – Joan Didion
When I first learned I was infertile in the spring of 1996, I thought I could handle it. After all, I had been through tragedy before and come out whole. Tragedy was no stranger to my family. When I was two, my oldest brother had been partially paralyzed in a high-school wrestling accident. Later, he went to Yale and the University of Chicago Law School, onto a successful career and an independent life. He was a strong, shining example of courage in the face of adversity. Seven years later, my father died, and once again our family picked itself up and moved forward, through the darkness and into the light. I was back at school within a week, with the blunt ax of denial in my tool belt and the admonition from my mother never to blame anything in my life on my father’s death. I thought – no, I knew – I could handle anything.
But then, infertility struck a crushing blow, a knife to the gut, a kick to the gonads that doubled me over and left me breathless. To lose a father as a child is one thing. But to then lose the joys of fatherhood as a young adult – in combination with that first loss – was beyond devastating. A bottomless drop. I stood up. I breathed. I sat down. I clutched my bleeding center, determined to somehow hold myself together. And in that instant I decided, “I can’t touch this grief. I can’t go there. It will sink me. Slay me. And I cannot allow myself to be sunk or slain.”
So I put it away. Stuffed it. Stored it for a later time – for now, it turns out – when I might have the strength to face it head on. I cauterized the wound and formed a tight seal, because I couldn’t clean it out. Not yet. Maybe, I thought, not ever.
My ex and I turned to science to have our children. We tried a new experimental treatment, offered at a distant hospital and heinously expensive. It didn’t work. We tried it again. No dice. The sorrow was unbearable. We would pass couples with strollers in the street and remark to each other how unfair it was. We grew bitter. We were not in a good place.
We joined some support groups for the reproductively-challenged. In these groups, we encountered the practical types who had read everything and were determined to try every new procedure that came along, no matter the cost. There were the wallflowers from whom we stayed away. And there were those who had already given up and were staying to counsel the newbies on their options and help them achieve either parenthood or closure.
One of the organizations we encountered on our journey was called Resolve. It’s the National Infertility Association, and its’ name indicates its mission: to help infertile people resolve their situation, either by figuring out how to bring children into their lives through modern technology or adoption, or by coming to terms with and accepting a childless life as a viable choice. This makes sense, because without closure, we’re stuck in the never-ending hell of what if. What if we borrowed more money and tried this new treatment? What if we adopted and we end up with a horror story? What if we got a friend or family member to be an egg or sperm donor? What if? What if? What if?
This morning, with the approach of the new year, I found myself thinking about resolutions and resolve. It occurred to me that resolve is not steely will as much as it is calm acceptance and a driven sense of purpose. Resolve is not sharp and jagged, but hard and firm. Smooth and polished. Resolve gleams with lux et veritas, the light of truth.
Ten years after my diagnosis, my ex and I finally brought our first child into the world, and four years after that, our second. We found a way. A way that worked for both of us. A way of resolving our predicament. A way that opened a life of indescribably sweet joy. And a way that unearthed the father hidden deep inside me, buried along with all that grief, the father I worried I couldn’t be because I lost mine so early, the father I feared I could never be because of my condition.
When I get tense and angry and snippy with my kids, they have a way of bringing me back to equilibrium. A big, tight, body-enveloping bear hug we call “The Crusher.” It works every time.
When tragedy strikes, it crushes the breath out of us, crushes the joy out of us, seems to crush the very life out of us. These are the times we need resolve the most. These are the times that try men’s – and women’s – souls. And these are the times we must have faith, the faith that a ‘crusher’ hug can heal a crushing blow, that life can once again be bright and beautiful, and that God is always with us, in our hopes, our dreams, and our hearts
Thomas G. Fiffer, Ethics Editor at The Good Men Project, is a graduate of Yale and holds an M.A. in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He posts regularly on his blog, Tom Aplomb, and serves as Editor of Westport’s HamletHub, a local online news and information service. He is also a featured storyteller with MouseMuse Productions and is working on his first novel.
This essay “Finding My Resolve” was originally published January 3, 2014 at The Good Men Project “The conversation no one else is having.”™
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