Eighty-five days have passed since my family left and everything points to several hundred days more before any decision involving visitation rights with my son or custody of my dog will be made. As one would expect, the house has been a very different place these past weeks. Gone is the barely constrained commotion of raising a child and the joy that comes from their play. Outdoor exercise is still part of the daily schedule, but Nozomi is not here to enjoy the nearby parks. What was once a home has become an abode of solitude.
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
– Genesis 2:18
There is a lot to be said for living independently. Being able to effectively look after oneself and all of the accompanying responsibilities means that a person has their house in order. Between the summer of 1999 and 2007, I managed to survive just fine while living solo. There were certainly a number of trails and tribulations that had to be overcome, but it was not an impossible feat thanks to the remarkably safe world we live in1. One of the biggest challenges of the time, though, was staving off loneliness.
The spring of 2000 was the first time I truly felt lonely. I had been living on my own in town for almost a year by this point, and worked at a company that also employed my step-father. Every couple of weekends I would be invited to stop by for dinner and spend time with my mother and four of my seven siblings2. In addition to this, I would drive an hour south to visit my father and step-mother once every month or so. My days were filled with interaction, and yet I felt alone. As a 21 year-old "man"3, it was obvious to everyone that what I was looking for was a mate.
In time, one found me. We had a short, platonic relationship that came to an end before Christmas that same year. Looking back today, I think it would be fair to say that I was better friends with the woman's father than I was with her. An unfortunate consequence of being young and stupid. However, this brief connection taught me a great deal about myself and the things that needed correction before trying again.
Four years later I was living on the other side of Canada and had become a little more responsible. The financial situation was not particularly great, given how expensive life on the west coast of the country can be, but things were looking better. I had a good-paying job, a growing list of responsibilities, and people around me expected a great deal. Thanks to the efforts of friends and colleagues, I started to show signs of becoming a mature adult. There were invitations to important meetings, fancy dinners, events at the mosque4, and more. However, just like before – and despite all the people, I started to feel alone.
Some friends noticed and would introduce me to women they knew, but none of the young ladies I met seemed right. They were generally pleasant to talk to, conservative, and soft-spoken. What I wanted, though, was to find was someone with spark. Someone who would challenge me in unexpected ways.
In October of 2004, I found that person and fell madly for her. The next ten months witnessed some of the most exhilarating, terrifying, and heartbreaking moments of my life. Never before had I felt so high. Never before had I felt so low. As one would expect, I discovered a lot about myself and about relationships. The lessons were some of the hardest learned up until that point and I'm still thankful they happened.
Just a few months later, though, the irrepressible desire to be with someone returned. This wasn't out of lust or some desire for intimacy, but a longing to find "the one" … if such a person can be found at all. In January of 2006, Reiko came into my life. In April of 2022 she left.
Several weeks ago I was asked when I might consider meeting someone new. The reasoning behind the question was that a 43 year old man is still young enough to help create and raise children. My answer was a non-committal "It's too soon for me to think about that" yet, in reality, it's all I seem to be thinking about lately. Why, though? Not three months have passed since I lost my entire family5 in one fell swoop. I'm not yet divorced. I'm not yet able to mask the sadness I feel when I walk into my son's room every morning to open the windows, then again in the evening to close them. There is no guarantee that I can even afford a relationship that involves children going forward, as there has been no discussion with Reiko regarding child support payments. For all I know, I'll need to work two jobs just to get by. There's simply no way to know at this point in time.
Yet a little voice in the back of my mind, one that sounds very much like my conscience, is telling me:
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
– Genesis 1:28
The first part is easy. Being fruitful means being useful; having a job, doing good things, and being a respectable member of the community. Multiplying, though … that should not be toyed with.
When I was a child there were always some kids in my class that came from a large family. By Canadian standards in the 80s, this would mean any household with more than four children. Often times these families were poor and would look forward to the child support benefits6 handed out by the government every month in order to put food on the table. A household with five or six kids under the age of 13 could expect about the same amount a person working a full-time job at a department store would receive. The common pattern seen here would be that the father would work, the mother would stay home to deal with the half-dozen children of varying ages, and the bank would see deposits that resembled a family where both parents worked. It was not an easy life, but it certainly lived up to the first part of God's blessing.
However, by the time these kids reached middle school, the two-income homes had often morphed into "single mother homes". The child support benefits were reduced every few years as kids grew up (and became more expensive) and the single parent would be forced to find work somewhere in town during the day while their many children were at school. Household chores would often go undone as there was never enough time or energy. Lunchboxes would consist of crackers with cheese, a juice box, and perhaps a sandwich. The kids were often hungry, unkempt, and – when mixed with the onset of puberty – increasingly aggressive.
This is something that I had witnessed numerous times while attending public school in Canada and it has certainly affected the way I approach the matter of raising children. I have already failed my son by not being mentally strong enough to weather another two decades with his mother. How can I possibly think about having more? Particularly now when the future is still so unknown?7
Sometimes I wonder if this is a test. Since the boy has come along I've made a conscious effort to be a more responsible person; someone who thinks before they act. There are still a number of areas that I need to work on to become a better person, but I'm closer to my ideal today than I was in 2017. If I give in to the voice, will it prove that I am still an irresponsible person who focuses more on the desires of the present than the needs of the future? Or is this a genuine message that, despite the pain of separation, insists I follow one of the oldest prescriptions in recorded history?
As with so many of the questions I've struggled with in recent months, I simply do not know.
Canada is many things, but it is not a violent place. So long as you're not going out to intentionally provoke people or Mother Nature, then you will have some semblance of security, no matter how far down the social hierarchy you may find yourself … an I was pretty darn low for a while.
Both parents remarried, so there was a combination of families. I remained the oldest, however.
Unless someone has survived something truly horrific, any person under the age of 25 is still very much a child; full of potential and naiveté.
It was around this time in my life when I studied Islam. I spent a great deal of time studying when not at work.
Yes, I have parents, sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews in Canada. Hundreds of relatives. But none are on this side of the planet. For all intents and purposes, Reiko, the boy, and Nozomi were my whole family.
Commonly called "Baby Bonus"
The future is always unknown, but I've yet to make the decision as to whether I stay in Japan or not.