Growing a Beard, Getting a Mortgage: When Do Men Become Grown-Ups?

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Life with my second wife began not with a cinematic meet-cute but a brisk phone call, during which I explained that ours would be a part-time dalliance. I was divorced, or nearly so, at any rate, and had a child who lived with me half of every week. (Joint physical and legal custody—a phrase only a divorced father could love! My son was young enough to fall under the so-called Tender Years Doctrine, which presumes that fit mothers are entitled to full custody of children under five, a judicial bias that supposedly no longer exists, but that my attorney assured me most certainly does, and which my ex, to her credit, never attempted to exploit.) Because I didn't introduce casual dates to my son, Tomoko would have to be comfortable with an amorous schedule governed by the my night/her night dichotomy under which I lived.

These terms, I added, were non-negotiable, and it was up to her to accept them or not. Question her sanity, if you must, but she consented, and so we strolled in the park when I had time, explored the city when I was free, caught movies on the nights I wasn't needed as a father.

Eventually, Tomoko invited me to meet her friends, a group of childless, 30-something singletons with whom she shared a summer home on Fire Island. They came each Sunday for an early dinner, and Tomoko warmly and maternally fed them, sat for their tales of dating woe, and provided a focal point for their lives.

It was a tricky occasion. I would be offering myself up for inspection by a clique of protective and well-meaning independents, all of whom, I imagined, would expect copies of a recent resume and credit report, a list of references, my genetic particulars, plus a non-refundable application fee, before deeming me a suitable match. I decided that I wouldn't have it. A grown man, with a child, ex-wife, mortgage, dog, car, and an attorney vacationing lavishly on his $50,000 in legal fees, need ask for no one's approval.

The night went well. The friends proved fine people, funny and harried and acerbic in the way of New Yorkers, and not nearly as scrutinizing as I had feared. And it was true: I didn't need their approval—they needed mine. Tomoko and I shared that sense of mutual possession that comes with falling in love. She was with me, we were alone together among people, and I was entitled to resolve their value rather than the other way round.

What does any of this have to be with being an adult? Well, that night after dinner I entered into a lengthy discussion with one of Tomoko's friends about his efforts to purchase a couch. He was a finance guy of some sort, successful enough, with money to waste on a couple of sports cars and an apartment in Manhattan. It turned out that he'd been at this for months. He just couldn't decide—what style, what fabric, which size, never mind color—the whole thing, he said, was bedeviling him no end. This commitment, this furniture, represented a stark and binary choice (sectional or no?) that would irrevocably alter the course of his life. He could not, in good conscience, take it lightly.

The conversation spun me from the room. I nodded with sympathy, but my mind was with my son who was spending yet another night without me. As Tomoko's friend wrestled with the vexatious dilemma of a two-pillow or three-pillow existence, I obsessed over babysitters and pediatricians and the punitive costs of daycare. I wanted to grab him by throat and shout, Grow up! It's just a couch!

Which it was, and I didn't. Wouldn't be the adult thing to do. Instead, I sipped my wine, slipped an arm around Tomoko, and with self-congratulatory condescension, surveyed him from the remove of what I will allow myself to call the real world.

It wasn't long after that I introduced Tomoko to my son. Soon, we moved in together, commingling our lives in ways that made irrelevant whether it was "my night."

–Theodore

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Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, & Nathan Thornburgh

Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, and Nathan Thornburgh write for the website DadWagon. Theodore Ross is the author of Am I a Jew?

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