The clash of freedom and guilt
I was sitting at work the other day when a photo message lit up my phone. It was from my best mate, Waz. He was driving, a huge grin on his face; two other mates, Chris and Paddy, were in the car, beers to hand. They were headed to Apollo Bay to visit another mate, Stevo, who manages the Dolphin serviced apartments there.
The trip had been called as Paddy wanted to see Stevo before returning to Amsterdam after a month-long stint in Melbourne and country Victoria visiting family and friends.
I knew Waz was going, but Chris had decided, on a whim, to join them.
As the sole father among my long-term mates, I was used to not tagging along. I’d also accepted that, on many occasions, my friends hadn’t even bothered inviting me. This one was no exception: Firstly, it was a weekday and more notice was needed; and secondly, family. I had three young kids. I had routine and responsibility to uphold.
But the photo burned me up a little. I wanted – no, needed – to jump onboard. Suddenly I was ravenous to leap off the work-family train, for just one day.
I got home from work at around 3:15 pm as normal, and casually mentioned to my partner as she walked out the door to pick up our eldest daughter from school – leaving me with her two toddler-aged sisters – that I was seriously considering an impromptu trip if she didn’t need the car.
“Really?” She asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Do you need the car?”
“I don’t think so. Let’s talk about it when I get back.”
It was likely a goer. There was nothing pressing planned. She knew how much my mates meant to me.
I left the girls in front of the TV as I casually packed my bags. I was excited but not completely decided.
The to-ing and fro-ing kicked up a notch.
The call of spontaneity appealed;
It would be a good night with mates.
Leaving my partner solo to navigate the nightly routine;
The three-hour journey (if I left by 4 pm I wouldn’t be there until 7 pm);
The inevitable hangover that I’d have to negate – along with, probably, swarms of anxiety – on the return drive the next day;
The cost: kids are notoriously expensive, and with petrol, accommodation, and booze, the trip would blow the budget out of the water;
The guilt – a combination of all these factors.
It was the latter that lurked, lingered. Still, I was going as my partner and daughter returned home.
“Are you sure you don’t need the car?” I asked.
“I don’t need it. Are you really going?” she said.
“Well, I’d like to,” I said.
“OK,” she said. “But I don’t want you hungover driving home alone tomorrow.”
“I won’t. I just feel like I need to do this, and I never see my mates –”
“I don’t need the sales pitch,” she cut me off. “It’s fine. I think it’s a bit crazy, though. You’re better off doing it on a weekend. Don’t write yourself off. Think of the girls.”
“I won’t. I will.”
I kissed her forehead and did the same with each of the girls. I’d reconciled things in my mind as I shut the door behind me: they’d be fine.
But as I turned the ignition, uncertainty returned!
I willed myself to start driving, heading west along Ballarat Road, the to-ing and fro-ing still clouding my head. Responsibility and guilt: were they entwined now, perhaps forever?
I continued on, almost willing an excuse – something out of my control – to emerge.
And then, just before Ballarat Road turned on to the Princes Freeway, with the traffic banking up and warnings of further delays, I had it.
I took my place in the queue; the procession moved at a snail’s pace. My mind kept flipping over. I looked down at my phone: an extra 20 minutes had been added to expected arrival time. Then, 25.
There was a last U-turn before the point of no return. Even though the traffic had started moving at reasonable speed again, my mind was made up: I took the U-turn.
I can’t do this, I said out loud, relieved and pissed off in equal measure.
I rang Chris, the least likely to convince me to do yet another U-turn, and told him of my indecisiveness, the traffic, and my final decision. He understood. He was, more than likely, not surprised.
As I returned home I thought to myself how reality always belies the build-up, and despite all the yearning for something resembling LBK (Life Before Kids), the answer always lies in the heart. And my heart is with my girls – particularly while they’re all single-aged and vulnerable.
When I walked back in the door, a little weary after my silly game of internal tennis, I cuddled into my youngest, watching a repeat of Play School. Alex was doing a funny dance routine. She laughed, and so did I.
Then, a few minutes later, I got up and started preparing their dinner.