A Portrait Of A Black Man In A Midlife Crisis
A self-portrait of the author in the grasp of a mid-life crisis.

A Portrait Of A Black Man In A Midlife Crisis

There are no how-to books and few examples for black men on how we are supposed to age gracefully in America, so we go at it alone.

I am adrift right now. I oscillate between moments of extreme heaviness when movement seems impossible and bouts of weightlessness when I am untethered to the realities of life.

My preteen daughter is my familiar. She is my immutable connection to this mortal plane. She is my north star, guiding me through the fog of my emotions. Her smile is my compass, and her voice is my lighthouse. I am cognizant of how unfair it might be for a preteen child to be used as an anchor to ground me and help me determine what is important. The answer is always her. She is what is important.

Nonetheless, my desire to rebel is strong. It is only tempered by my age.

I am burdened with fantasies of grand purpose while constrained by my mortality. A legacy that does not amount to much of anything unless I die today, which I have no plans on doing.

Afflicted with hubris, I ponder who would attend my funeral and what they would say. For the first time in my life, my death is on my mind. Each day brings me closer to my inescapable demise.

Related: Depression Won't Be the Death of Me

My parents have exceeded all expectations, living to the ripe ages of 87 and 88. I observe the fissures in their health, ruptured by age, become impossible to ignore. I am grateful for each day they have lived, but I prepare for the day they are no longer with me to guide, love, chide, support, advise, and hug me. I fixate on what my eventual passing will stir in my daughter and have decided to delay that day for as long as I can.

Now, at the age of 48 years, I have adopted a frenetic workout regime. For two decades, if not longer, I have let my body become soft. I ate and drank as I pleased. I lied to myself about the effectiveness of my pedestrian attempts at weight loss and toning my body. There was no conviction and little follow-through. My dearest friends had abandoned their appearance, and I did as well. As my belly continued to inflate, I tried to convince myself that this was the hard-won body of a litigator. It was a badge of honor. It was almost too late before I admitted that this was what depression looks and feels like.

One day, I woke up and stared deeply into the mirror, unable to recognize the person staring back. My skin was splotchy, and patches on my face alternated between scabbing over and flaking. My eyes looked jaundiced, with a yellow hue that screamed caution but was barely precipitable to anyone else. My body drooped, and my stomach sagged. My spine was contorted, and every step created a raucous noise.

My teeth were in a horrible state of decay. A potent combination of previous dental malpractice and the neglect that painful episode created in me. My clothes no longer fit. Instead of fighting back, I marked my defeat by shopping for random new clothes to accommodate my abundance.

I had betrayed my bride and myself. She had betrayed me by not seeing me. I think she had refused to look.

Now, I find myself going through the motions of my second divorce, this time managing it so that neither my wife nor I end up in economic ruin because our marriage is not intolerable.

Our first divorces were examples of the havoc and carnage a hastily executed divorce can cause. At 50 and 48, we do not have much time left to rebuild and start over. This time, we are both blessed with a child, and in that child, we see each other’s best qualities and some indications of our frailty.

I asked for the divorce.

I could remain in this union until one of us died. We do not engage in screaming matches…often and only when our daughter is gone. We always reconcile before she returns to present a united front.

Related: How Divorce Changed Me, According to Seven Black Men

This was not my first time asking for a divorce, but this was the first time I was emboldened by resolve.

The fertile black soil I occupy has been sowed with the necessary seeds to bring forth my midlife crisis.

I am in a new place, a thousand miles from home (figuratively and literally). My home is a durable testament to what I have accomplished with my years of toil.

I am unknown here. I can do all of my errands, and no one knows me. I juxtapose that with my life back home, where I will be recognized in a crowd.

The freedom this cloak of anonymity grants me is that I do not have to fake that everything is ok. I decide who can access my peace by refusing to answer my phone.

I moved thousands of miles away from the life that I built for myself. I had reached the pinnacle of everything I wanted to do in life. In protest, I came to my new home unprepared to reestablish my career. I did nothing to join any of the legal bars. I did not network. I pouted. I hoped she would recognize these signs. I wanted her to see me. She did not.

It was only when I told her that I wanted a divorce and I was resolute in my demand that she started to see me.

What she found was pain. Longing and pain.

At age 48, I find myself attending therapy for the first time in my life. I am wrestling with demons that I should have exorcised a lifetime ago. Now, I must banish them to be the best father and man possible. Each session leaves me spent. The injustices of my past roll in like the tide. I am helpless to thwart them like the beaches are impotent to rebuke the moon.

I am plagued by regrets that are continually replayed in my mind. I am unsympathetic and lack empathy for the Garrick of my youth, who did the best he could, given the circumstances. Unfortunately, I know I must break this cycle, or else the Garrick of the future will view this version of me with the same lack of compassion that I view earlier versions of myself.

Solace is only a word in dictionaries but has no meaning or application in my life. I constantly compare my life against others. I have condemned myself to be Anubis, the Egyptian god who weighed hearts to judge souls in the afterlife. While weighing my accomplishments, I refuse to credit myself for all the good I have done, all the lives I have improved, and the accolades I have received. I hide the evidence of a life worth living and present a barren blank scroll that, once unfurled, will lead to my rebuke and canonize my failure. At the same time, I refuse to interrogate the patina of what appears to be a perfectly curated life of those I compare myself against as presented on social media.

Gripped in the throes of my midlife crisis, I feel that I have fallen short.

Through therapy, I acquired a lexicon to describe the torment I found myself mired in. With humility and faith, I sought the woman who fell in love with me, praying she still resided within the person who slowly became my roommate. I prayed she was still willing to commune with me. I was pensive when I gave her my lexicon with the hope that we could once again forge a language for our two hearts to speak directly to each other, unconcerned about the rest of the world, including our daughter.

That woman was alive within her, and she absorbed this Rosetta Stone. We started to communicate earnestly for the first time in a very long time. These conversations left us both depleted and confused. Over a decade of bottling things up and lying to ourselves about just being in a rut were being unpacked.

Petty offenses and slights taken on their own did not amount to much, but when layered and compressed like the sediment that forms a geological age, we saw the harm we had done to each other. Silences that we should have addressed manifested into gulfs that we were too cowardly to cross.

The love we generated to create our daughter is the only thing that has allowed us to traverse this perilous terrain with dignity. We are both aware that a throw-away remark will set off an inferno that the other person is unprepared and unwilling to deal with at that moment. Then, one or both of us will tap into that love and channel it to the other so we return to a place where we respect and honor our daughter’s parents.

A second failed marriage is not the future I had envisioned for myself. There is no solace in leaving this institution before we begin to resent each other to the point that co-parenting becomes impossible, and our daughter is transformed into a weapon to cut, bludgeon, or annihilate the other.

The armistice we have secured through brutal conversations that have torn off decades-old scabs and left us bleeding and numb was conjured through love. A reservoir of love that we had abandoned and allowed to lay dormant in us. We summoned this forgotten love to remind us who we were as individuals and as a couple. It was with and through love we maintain tranquility in our home. Not just for our daughter but for us — to honor the love we created together.

I removed my friends who encouraged my sloven ways, and my vanity has returned. The last couple of months have been punctuated with doctor and dentist appointments.

I hate the gym, and so does death. So, I embrace it to stave off my impermanence. My shoulders and chest have broadened, my biceps have swelled, and my belly has receded. It is not lost on me that as I strain myself to add a couple more seconds on a plank, I am preparing my body to be viewed and judged by a future lover.

Writing those words produces an air of apprehension that I refuse to allow to suffocate me. I reject the lies my mind tells me about not being good enough, desired, or worthy of love. As my emotions rage, I withdraw inward to shelter the storm and repeat my mantra: I am loved, I am worthy of love, I am beautiful, and I am enough.

I have dropped four waist sizes, so the clothes I procured to accommodate my abundance are too large for me now. I make shopping as enjoyable as I can. I vow never to buy anything at full price. Each day, I scour various clothing stores to find the best pieces to contribute and express the Black Ivy aesthetic wardrobe I have constructed.

I now have a five-step morning and nighttime skin and dental routine. It's a win when I go to bed without consuming candy, booze, or overly processed food. Every time I refill my thermos with water, I envision the body I am creating.

I do not know how this story will unfold; it is still being written. I know that to have a mid-life crisis for a black man is a luxury and not a privilege. Too many of us have ended up incarcerated or had our lives shortened by poverty and the violence it secretes.

Therapy, exercise, staying hydrated, getting eight hours of sleep, eating well, and finding purpose are what I am doing to save myself from myself. I will keep you updated on my progress.

Remember, you are loved, you are worthy of love, you are beautiful, and you are enough.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of Garrick McFadden's work on Medium.