People and Places: Long Distance Dad

It is early evening and I’m meeting Razmig and for dinner. We’ve chosen to meet at Conrad’s, a local coffee shop, since he’s short on time. My cell phone rings with a text message that says, “Be there in 10 min. Please order me a BLT and an ice tea.” He’s late. That’s not surprising considering all that he tries to accomplish in the short week he spends in town every month. In these harsh economic times, Razmig managed to find a job overseas. As a single, divorced father, he has a harder time than most being a father to his only son.

Fifteen minutes later Razmig walks into the coffee shop and makes his way towards my table. His shoulders are slightly stooped as if he’s carrying the weight of the world. “Things are so difficult,” he says taking a deep breath, trying to transition from the energy of driving in L.A. traffic to the relative calmness of the coffee shop.  “I am stretched to snapping. I need an assistant. For now there is no other way,” he says, “Or a wife who has money,” he continues but I’m not entirely sure he is joking.

“Zilch. Not in this city,” he responds. “I’ve met many people in my travels. Once you remove the ‘ian’ everything changes, you have more options.”

“Are you considering doing that?” I ask. There is a long silence as he takes a bite of his sandwich and carefully ponders a response.

“I see its potential,” he says finally. It’s a diplomatic answer to a question loaded with social repercussions.

“Will your Tashnag sensibilities allow you to do that?” I joke. Razmig’s upbringing was entrenched in the Party and its staunch pro-Armenian stand.

“That’s the problem. I think it’s too hard coded in me,” he explains. For the time being he is looking for an assistant to help him manage the small details of life while he travels with his job. But during this visit home, he took a brief vacation with his son and headed to Hawaii with some friends. “He loved it,” he says of his son’s joy of spending three continuous days with his father undivided attention and no female presence. “It was amazing. Three guys with three boys.” He describes the weekend as lacking in drama. “Whoever wakes up starts making pancakes for everyone. Without announcing it.” The three friends catered to the children by serving them breakfast in bed while they watched Sponge Bob Square Pants, a popular children’s cartoon, taking them frog hunting, turtle watching, playing basketball and playing on the beach.

“It was fathers and sons without any hassles. It was nice,” he says of the all boys’ weekend.

“What would you have done if you had a daughter instead of a son?” I asked teasing him.

“But the point is that it’s very different when it’s only guys,” he says shrugging off the gender question. “They’re very practical. ‘[One says] I’m going for a 15 mile run, can you take the kids to the canoe club?’ or ‘I’ll do breakfast you guys sleep in.’”

“Could it be that you’ve always been surrounded by overly complicated women or women who tend to complicate things?” I ask trying to understand if maybe there was a difference in perception.

“Most of them [women] are drama,” he states as a final conclusion. “What I’ve learned from this trip is that it’s not about female energy. Guys can be as bonded with kids and as loving a parent [as women].” He goes on to explain that boys behave very differently when they’re with their fathers or other men. “That ‘Mommy, Mommy’ thing doesn’t exist,” he explains imitating the whining of young children. “Before, I used to thing that you really need that female nurturing, etc. – you don’t.”

“At all?” I was surprised by this theory.

“You need some of it,” he concedes, “but before I used to think it was gender specific. No; it depends on how loving a person is.” Having been raised overseas and now, after years in the States, he has returned to the region in which he grew up. He finds that it’s given him a fresh perspective on the life he used to lead here, or the ones his friends lead now. “In America, at least from the way I see it, every married person that I know, is miserable. Or they have come to some kind of practical existence,” he says, “I see very few happily married couples here in America, amongst Armenians.”

“Isn’t that a normal evolution when you live with someone for many years?”

“Most married people I’m seeing are miserable,” he clarifies, “more so than happy.” Razmig believes that people are supposed to be happy when they’re married but finds that it’s no longer the case, particularly amongst his Armenian acquaintances who live in the U.S. “It’s not like this outside [of America].” He can’t believe how much society has degenerated here, “Now, with the other shoe dropping with the economy, everything – all the unhappiness is showing.” He thinks society and its perceived happiness were falsely based on the obsession with materialism: houses, cars, boats, jewelry, and other coveted items. “Between what’s happening with the war in Iraq, all those military guys are getting divorced, and what’s happening with the economy at home, everybody is getting divorced. The numbers have become alarmingly high.”

“Higher than the usual fifty percent?”

“Yes. In Europe at least there is a quality of life. Here, in America, you don’t even have that, and in L.A. at a much higher pace,” he responds. “The U.S. has become a very, very overrated place and I believe it’s going to get much, much worse.”

“Why do you want to live here?” I asked curious to know.

“I have my kid here. I’m stuck for the next 8 years. Then I’m free. So I have a ten year plan and then there is a ten year plan after that.”


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