Imagine three consecutive nights of uninterrupted slumber. I experienced it not too long ago. No one's nightmares, bed-wetting, asthma attacks, coughing fits or inability to "get comf'able" hauled me up from deep sleep.
I was in New Orleans with three of my old high school buddies enjoying our seventh annual guys-only weekend. (What about my wife? Betsy gets away less often, but goes to better places - like Jamaica and Spain.)
Two of the boys live in St. Petersburg, Fla., and another lives in Connecticut. We usually rendezvous in the South.
Sometimes I feel like a bum leaving my family in order to go do nothing more urgent than hang around with the guys.
This feeling is reinforced by my father, who always regarded these guys as "hoodlums" anyway. Dad was fairly healthy in the early years of the guys' weekend tradition, and he'd ask me, "Are you sure you should take the time off from work?" and "Won't your wife need you at home?" Since then, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's have hit him pretty hard, and he'll go weeks at a time without saying anything I can understand. It's heartbreaking. But if I give the right cue, he responds like his old self. When I said, "Hey, Dad, I'm going to New Orleans with Doug and Russ and Tommy," he gave his responses with vigor and clarity that recalled better days.
The weekend has a trajectory. Flying to the rendezvous, I am SO happy to be away, but in a day or so I start to miss my family. I talk about them, call them, shop for them, and whoever sits next to me on the plane ride home will be treated to a smartphone exhibit of the beautiful faces of the people I'll be seeing soon. Then I'm home, refreshed, rebooted, re-centered and recharged - ready and eager for another year of magic and responsibility.
At first, I was the only one of the guys who had children. But three years ago, Doug had a son. From Connecticut, Doug announced: "No more Guys-Only Weekend. From now on it'll be Family Weekend."
"That's what the other 51 weekends a year are for," I said.
But he would not be parted from little Dylan. At one point, he suggested that because Dylan is technically a guy, he is eligible to come along on guys' weekend. He was out of his mind, and guys' weekends were suspended pending Doug's recovery.
After a year with no rendezvous, I was watching one of the old "Lethal Weapon" movies on Netflix, and realized that what I liked about it was the buddy aspect - the friendship between the cops played by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. It struck me that I had been reduced to enjoying the friendship of guys vicariously. How sad is that?
The next day, I began a series of emails to Russ and Tommy working out the details of a get-together for a particular November weekend in Charleston, S.C., a place that would be perfect for our mellow strollings and quiet relaxercizing.
When it was all set up, I called Doug and invited him to meet us there. "What's this all about? I wasn't consulted," he said, bewildered.
"You didn't seem to be up to planning anything. So we planned it, and we want you to come," I said. "But we'll understand if you can't," I lied. Doug, struggled briefly, mustered his emotional forces, and rolled right into my scheme. The tradition was restored.
We did Charleston last year and New Orleans this year. We don't do anything too wild. We divide our time between museums and taverns, and do a lot of walking and talking. Beyond the refreshment provided by getting a break from responsibility and the fun inherent in disobeying my father (some things never lose their zing), there's another reason I need the boys' weekend.
It has to do with continuing old friendships and maintaining an identity that has nothing to do with being anyone's father - things I'll be needing as my kids grow up and need me less. Things that tend to get crowded out by the absorbing experience of raising kids.
That's why, at midnight one Saturday, four somewhat overweight middle-aged men, two of us smoking cigars and one holding a drink, approached the little swimming pool of the Hotel St. Pierre. Although the sign said, "Pool closes at 10 p.m.," we eased our bulks into the cool water, chatting quietly. We were stealing a swim the way we used to 25 years ago back home at the country club to which none of us belonged. It was reassuring to find ourselves still agile enough to break a rule, the hoodlums and me.
Rick Epstein can be reached at RickEpstein@yahoo.com.