I can’t remember much about The Single Patriarch, not even his name. I can’t remember if he was a widower or divorced. I can’t remember if his two sons were twins or not. I can’t remember what he did, how to characterize his personality, or how he smelled. I just remember the letter P peppered our interactions.
The Single Patriarch was slender, almost wiry, and hairless, even his head. Baldness is unfortunate for most men, but it worked for him. The skin on his skull seamlessly matched the rest of his body — a smooth caramel patina perfected with regular trips back to his natal Dominican Republic. He dressed in a way I would characterize as indistinct. I could tell he was working-class by his hands, calloused, but meticulously clean down to the nailbed.
He cautioned me he could only go out two Fridays a month, neither could he stray too far from home, or stay out late, thus the demands of being The Single Patriarch. “What if there was an emergency? I’d have to get to my boys.” He made it clear that his kids were everything to him. He provided them with a clean, comfortable life, only fed them home-cooked organic meals. He sacrificed everything for his sons, even his spinal alignment. While trying to push one back into his car seat, he’d gotten into a car accident, and sustained a terrible back injury. He’d healed himself with a rigorous exercise regime and a strict diet of the same home-cooked, organic meals.
I let The Single Patriarch choose the place, a bar in a part of Brooklyn I was unfamiliar with. Not yet gentrified enough to count as the new Brooklyn, the surrounding streets still perfumed with weed, cheap incense, and fried chicken grease, despite the prevalence of brakeless bicycles out front and mezcal-based cocktails on the menu.
The Single Patriarch didn’t have much to say, outside of the contours of being a lone parent. I downed my drink, considered ordering another though I couldn’t remember how I’d matched with him, why I’d agreed to a first date with someone so overwhelmed by the circumstances of his life, yet so underwhelming. Was it out of compassion? If I, a newly single girl, was having trouble dating with minimal time constraints, so must he. Was it political, an attempt to connect with the proletariat? Or was The Single Patriarch, like all fathers to me, a novelty?
Procreation and the degree of celebration it signifies have never figured into my existential project. I never had kids, never came close to. I just never wanted to. After a birth, parentage, and childhood rife with chaos and much disappointment, one immersion in that experience has been enough. During my married years, the question of whether to breed or not weighed most heavily on those in my tormenting orbit: the mother who wanted grandchildren as proof that she was a perfect matriarch; the mother-in-law who used it as another metric against which to judge me unworthy of marriage or her son; the husband who pressured me to mollify his mother and placate mine. Friends assumed and projected all the 90’s rom-com character flaws on me: she’s too focused on her career; she’s more worried about climate change than her own life; she doesn’t want to squander years of pilates privates. If I’d ever known my father or an ersatz paternal figure, maybe I would have had the luxury of entertaining such cliches.
I started planning my exit — brainstorming a scheme that wouldn’t wound The Single Patriarch’s ego. He must have sensed my boredom over his tedium, and switched gears from conveying responsibility and reliability to bragging about decadence. With rubberneck speed, he declared “I still like to party. You know, get fucked up.”
I am not a drug person — I wasn’t impressed.
“Like weed? Ecstasy?” He shook his bald head vociferously. Yet unlike most drug users, who can specify the most minute details of their experimentation with precision and pride, he couldn’t remember the name of his favorite mind-altering substance. Did this hedonistic, non-paternal alter ego even exist? Was The Single Patriarch a poseur?
“I do it with my friend. He’s gay, kinda crazy, but cool.” How often straight men boast of their allyship with gay men is the most peculiar thing I’ve noted since returning to the dating pool. This anecdotal proof of homophobia’s waning was the highlight of the date. He texted the friend, desperate for the name of the drug and proof that he was more than just a dad.
He excused himself en route to the W.C. From there he texted me, still at the bar, “still here?” I didn’t answer. He also let me know he hadn’t yet heard back from the gay, kinda crazy, but cool friend about their preferred drug. It had only been two minutes by my count.
He returned and ordered another round of drinks, still racking his brain to remember the drug. “You know, it’s the one from formaldehyde.” I didn’t know recreational drugs were made from industrial chemicals, especially those used as embalming fluid. “What they use at the funeral parlor?” Was this a confession, in his spare time, while not under the obligations of parenthood, that he was necrophilia-adjacent?
The second round of drinks arrived, I was stuck with The Single Patriarch, possibly The Single Necrophiliac, for a while longer. The friend texted back. “Oh, right. Angel Dust!” I was desperate to understand. “Isn’t that like PCP?” The drug that a beguiling Denzel tricked a naive Ethan into smoking his first day on the job? The drug Rodney King had taken before being beaten within an inch of life by LAPD officers? “Yeah, that one.” PCP, “a dissociative hallucinogen, known to trigger changes in body image, loss of ego boundaries, paranoia, and depersonalization…which may result in psychosis, agitation and dysphoria,” is phencyclidine. Not formaldehyde, but they almost rhyme. I was able to cross necrophilia off the list.
“We can try it together sometime…” The invitation hung in the air as I finished my drink. I searched deep in my soul for any reason to keep up the facade that I would ever spend more time with a single hairless father whose idea of fun was sensory depravation, who rewarded his hard work by detaching from the body he nourished with such exacting care, whose escape from being The Single Patriarch was facilitated by a substance deemed more dangerously mind-altering than ketamine.
Working up a pretext to bail, I landed on starvation. I never let on that I’m a throwback to an earlier era, the gender normative type. In stark contrast to the body positivity moment, the mukbang fetish, and the slew of empowering female-driven tv shows, I don’t take pride or comfort in seeing or contemplating a woman stuffing her face with roast chicken or greasy noodles, not even my own. Looking into someone’s eyes and sharing food is very intimate. It’s a byproduct of evolution, a rehearsal of the comfort and trust needed for sex and procreation. Even if I like a guy, I don’t eat with him on the first date.
The Single Patriarch adamantly vetoed the idea. He reminded me he only ate from his kitchen, that only home-cooked organic meals passed his lips. Next to the bar was a Mexican restaurant with an available table on the patio. I seated myself in defiance without waiting for the hostess, hoping to scare him away with my indulgence and insouciance. Demonstrably ill at ease, he refused to sit down. He announced he’d have to inspect the restaurant first. Off he went, mocking public health officials everywhere, straight into the kitchen. Like someone who wasn’t really there, he floated amidst the whirring sous-chefs and busboys unnoticed. He ran out shaking his head. If before I’d doubted his hygiene obsession, I knew it was serious, that his neurosis, if not phobia, about eating out of a kitchen that wasn’t his own, was real. I was ready to push back, and then I saw the unimaginable.
A mouse darted past our table, inches from my foot.
I have a phobia of rodents and a secret rule to never date a man if I see a rodent during our first meeting. In New York, it narrows the pool and subverts fate with an array of statistical probabilities. In this instance, a first, the mouse was running not into the restaurant, but out. The Single Patriarch was right. And so was the mouse — it was time to flee.
He tried to convince me to go to a lounge, “closer to his place.” I don’t go to lounges because I don’t know what they are, or what one is supposed to do there that can’t be done at a restaurant, bar, or club. We danced around the inevitable awkwardness of parting without having made a connection, with no possibility of seeing each other again. He tried to brush it off, smother it in the demands that always await The Single Patriarch. I made up an excuse about going clubbing with friends later that night and needing to change. We said our goodbyes. I went home and ordered the roast chicken I would not have eaten, even if the restaurant had been clean and rodent-free.
The Single Patriarch texted me the next day. “When you go out with me, you don’t make other plans.” Was he admonishing me, bullying me or asking me out again? Dating has taught me to marvel at the way men oscillate from macho brio to kindness, from swagger to vulnerability given their real-time emotional needs, similar to my unscripted transitions from feminismo to ice queen, from flirt to strident city girl. I agreed to it even though I knew I’d never see him again.
The rhythm of our texts slowed to nothing. I went on more first dates with architects, lawyers, actors, cheating husbands and fathers. A month later, near summer’s end, The Single Patriarch sent a banal greeting and the link to a video. An unsolicited video without preamble or explanation? I feared the worst, but couldn’t resist, and clicked.
Within a nanosecond, I was relieved to see that it wasn’t that kinda video. There was a dark background, a pin-dot-small source of light, growing bigger and brighter, onto which a fuzzy, spherical object descended. I watched it over and over again. It took a few replays until I figured out the video was a re-staging of the solar eclipse, the biggest in years, and that the shadowy object, was not the moon but a scrotal sack, and the filaments pubic hairs. That in fact, it was that kinda video. The Single Patriarch wasn’t as hairless as he’d seemed. Similar to his previous message, I wasn’t sure if this was an act of aggression, a joke or a poorly-executed attempt at a human connection. I didn’t block him, though I never responded.
Though I typically honor the privacy of the dick multimedia sent to me, I showed the video to a friend — it was unsolicited and pathetic. To my chagrin, my friend, a connoisseur of such content, had already seen it, so had the neighboring group at the bar. It had been posted and reposted on all the socials. Had The Single Patriarch and the only hairy part of his body gone viral? Turns out it wasn’t his video, scrotum, or pubes I’d been watching. I considered it a form of plagiarism to take credit for someone else’s wan attempt to mythologize his genitalia into the astronomical event of the year. Had paternity robbed him of a personality such that he couldn’t craft pathetic odes to his own junk. Or was it the PCP? Had the many evenings of getting fucked up, disassociating from his own body made him a poseur, a phantom even, in his own life and imagination?
In addition to never wanting to carry another life in my body, I’m certain there is a dating statistic which further proves to what degree I am unlike most women. I suspect that some significant percentage of women glom onto divorced men with children, that it signals stability and maturity to them. When I take stock of all the men I’ve dated, those who fared the worst are fathers, whether single, divorced, non-monogamous, or just cheaters too dumb to realize I’d figured them out. At first, The Single Patriarchs seem like novelties, upstanding and touching in their quixotic balancing of new parenting styles and heartache, but I know they are destined to be absences, like they were never really there.
Originally published at https://geshamariebland.substack.com on February 15, 2022.