Our friend Doug is a unique guy. Physically, he’s quite striking, tall, with a long white beard, long white hair and eyes that literally twinkle like the stars when he’s smiling, which is about 98% of the time. I’ve heard more than one person describe him as looking like an embodiment of their imagining of an old testament version of God. Unlike many men who make it to his age (mid-80’s), Doug is anything other than stodgy, uninspiring, boring, humdrum, or tired. He’s the opposite of these things: outrageous, unorthodox, original, profoundly and passionately vital, creative, and alive.
But Doug hasn’t always been this way, or more accurately, he has been but he kept a lid on it for the first half of his life, when he lived a very conventional life as a fifties (not age-fifties, but 1950’s) husband and father who played the roles well. He also served time in the army and was discharged honorably. As a young man, he married Clydine, the love of his life, for what he described as their first marriage and …well, we’ll let him continue the story.
“My first marriage with Clydine was a traditional one of raising our children. She was a housewife and a nurturing mom. Back then she was an enabler to me when I was an alcoholic. She was raised to believe that her husband was always right. Eventually, Clydine’s belief broke down and my second wife came home from work up one day and said. “I’m not going to enable you anymore. I’m going to go on with my own life and make myself happy.” She went to the YWCA, and worked hard to transform her body into one that was fit and strong.”
“Then when I was forty-five, Clydine confronted me about drinking too much. She was firm with me that she was unwilling to continue living that way anymore. She also got counseling about nutrition and began a disciplined meditation practice. I watched her get healthy and strong, right before my startled eyes. When I expressed interest in meditation myself, she said, “You can’t do it. You drink too much.”
I had to take a hard look at my alcohol consumption. I knew that Clydine was right and that I had to stop drinking. And I did. When I stopped drinking, I got dreadfully ill for a full week. We embarked on another marriage, meditating together and working out together, taking long daily walks, and making spiritual practice central in our lives. We were on a much bigger boat than we had ever been on.
“Marriage number three occurred when the kids left home and we were empty nesters, Clydine went off to college as a Conceptual Design major. She changed the way she dressed; she gained a whole new vocabulary and was bringing her new friends into our home. She came back from school each day bursting with creative ideas. I was challenged to keep up with her excitement. Together we learned art techniques and drawing. We cast sculptures with stone and sand. One day she took me to the beach and had me take off all of my clothes, buried me in the sand at the edge of the water to make a plaster cast of my full body. She took me into the woods, and had me make a mold of her naked embracing a tree. We placed aluminum foil and bark on the sculpture. It was a beautiful piece. It wasn’t threatening to me. It was a much more enlivening and creative life than we had ever known. I had a new wife.”
“Marriage number four occurred when we had been married for twenty-six years, I began to become aware of how strong my sexual attraction for men was and I couldn’t stand keeping this information from my wife. I had been living a lie, and I had to come clean with her. So one day I announced; “I’m a gay guy.” I didn’t want the marriage to end, and now with my admission, we were stepping into unknown territory. Once I came out to her, we both wept for days. Clydine took it all very personally. She thought she was to blame and that she wasn’t enough for me. She felt so guilty. We both walked on eggshells for about three years, while Clydine did lots of therapy to stop taking responsibility for something that was not her fault. Eventually, our broken trust was repaired and she could trust that I really wanted to be with her and wouldn’t leave her.”
“If I was going out in the world, I had to reassure her that I would honor our agreement about monogamy. We agreed that I could have very loving relationships with men, as dear brothers and that there could be attraction and Eros between us, but that I would not cross over the sexual boundaries. Each time I went off to a men’s conference, Clydine understood that I could be very close emotionally to many men, and she did learn to trust me that I could go right up the edge of feeling desire to be sexual with some men, but would not go over the edge to have a sexual connection with the man I desired and loved. Clydine came to understand and trust that I could successfully consistently negotiate that edge without slipping over it.”
“Ultimately, Clydine saw me come home from my experiences enlivened and enriched and realized that there was a tremendous benefit for herself having such a happy husband. We learned that a marriage is anything that two people agree to. We knew that what we were carving out was not going to look like anyone’s marriage we ever knew. We pledged to be caring and scrupulously honest, and we were. To this day, I live in gratitude for the amazing experiences that we co-created.”
Post script: A few years ago, Clydine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Once again, under the stress of her diagnosis, we had to work with her insecurity about me not sticking with her. She feared that I couldn’t handle it, and would leave her. But I kept my vow and was with her totally with her in every way up until the very end. Now I’m alone, but not lonely. I realize that I am not alone. I am in the presence of the divine, known, beheld and beloved by something big. When I forget that I am being held by something big, I feel lonely. I am such a people person. I like to touch, but I can quickly remember when I am sitting alone in my living room, that I can feel spirit close. It is even easier to feel close to spirit when I walk alone on the beach or in the redwood trees. I remember the exquisite marriages with Clydine and feel close to her, living in gratitude for the amazing experiences that we co-created.