[1993]: I was living in Panama City Beach and my father in Seagrove Beach, a small town on the Gulf of Mexico about a 40 minute drive from where I lived. My father was retired from a career in engineering, a job he had been extremely good at and took pride in, and had settled down supposedly to finally enjoy his lifelong dream of living the life of a beachcomber in a tropical paradise. But in his retirement he seemed to be at loose ends, without purpose. He had spent his life searching for the perfect place to live, the perfect woman, the perfect life. He was very smart in many ways but in his retirement he suffered, as he had all his life, from a profound and all-pervasive dissatisfaction with life in general. Life was just not good enough for him.

I knew that he wanted very much to have a relationship with a woman but things were not working out for him very well in that department. When I was young and my parents were still married it seemed to me that my father didn’t respect my mother very much and was constantly critical of her, which is why she eventually divorced him. And although in his later life he seemed to be able to find many women who took an interest in him, these relationships became problematic for various unexplained reasons and didn’t last long. I suspected that the basic reason he had difficult relationships with women was simply because he had a difficult relationship with the entire world.

So there he was late in his life, retired and with too much time on his hands, sitting in his apartment and watching television and drinking by himself. He must have had plenty of time, probably way too much time, to reflect on his frustrating failed love life, clearly a big issue for him. On one of my weekend visits we were talking in his apartment and he surprised me with a little soliloquy on the subject of women.

“You know,” he said, “women have always had a pretty tough time of it. There have been very few opportunities open to them, they’ve been treated like second-class citizens throughout all of history. And furthermore they get raped. It seems to me that women would have every right to hate us.”

He stood in the center of his living room in front of the big glass door that faced the ocean, with a drink in his hand, still shirtless from the beach, as he delivered this odd little speech. I was surprised to hear him talk this way because it seemed like such a departure from his usual style of thinking and talking, and also because he spoke with such conviction. But I was basically in agreement, having come to similar conclusions myself quite a while ago. “They do hate us, Dad,” I replied. By then I was a battle-scarred veteran of the relationship wars myself, and had come to harbor a certain amount of melancholy pessimism about the prospects of men and women ever really getting along with each other.

On a few subsequent visits to my father I heard him make the same speech after he had had a couple of drinks. It was clear that this was something he had spent much reflection on. I think he was struggling to understand his own loneliness, and thus had started to question his previously long-held assumptions about men and women and had come to this, for him, breakthrough insight. I thought it was good that he was finally developing some empathy for women but I also thought it was sad because it seemed to be an acknowledgment that he was facing up to his fundamental aloneness.

The sad truth was that there could be only one true love for my father, and that was the ideal lover of his imagination. She would be the personification of the paradise he was always searching for, timeless, always young and beautiful. She would be waiting for him on the beach, in the white surf and the brilliant sunshine. Smiling, holding out her hand. Forever.

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