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Single is Not Selfish – At Any Age

Single is Not Selfish – At Any Age
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I have been married for twenty-seven years, yet I am not a proponent of the institution; meaning I don’t ask single people why they’re not married, don’t want to get married, or when they will get married (again). I’m a firm believer that being a “spouse” (and it’s kissing cousin, “parent”) is not for everyone. You’ve really got to want it to do justice to either role.

Some people just have no interest; others don’t have the temperament. Yet many of them often find themselves in either or both these positions. As with anything, no good comes from being forced into something (by others or your own lack of ability to say “no.”)

My argument is being made every Tuesday night at 8pm on Fox by Grandfathered, starring John Stamos. The 52-year-old actor plays “Jimmy,” a bachelor and successful restaurateur, who discovers he’s not only the father of an adult son, “Gerald,” by way of “Sara,” a lover from his youth, but also the grandfather of toddler “Edie.”

Stamos’s character is what George Clooney was before he met, fell in love with and wed Amal: a confirmed single person who enjoyed the life he chose. The difference between Jimmy and George is that the latter did his 180, not only willingly, but at his own initiation.

Family life was thrust upon Jimmy when Gerald decides he wants to meet him.

In the promo material, we’re told that, “Now Jimmy has to unlearn a lifetime of blissful selfishness and grapple with the fact that he went straight from single to grandfather in six seconds flat.”

I take umbrage with the word “selfish.” Because he chose to not get married or have children (knowingly), that makes him self-centered? What about the fact that his business gives a very nice livelihood to quite a number of employees who have remained loyal because he’s a good boss; or that he runs a hot spot where people can go for a special evening of good food, drink and socializing. I know unmarried men and women who generously play Auntie Mame to nieces and nephews, care for elderly relatives, and do volunteer work. They’re not selfish; they’re just single.

Also, if Jimmy has to “grapple with” rather than embrace wholeheartedly (a la Clooney) his new situation — in which the family keeps insisting he participate — perhaps it would be better if he considered himself merely a new family friend who keeps in touch, and he could, say, set up a college fund for Edie. Quite frankly, having him around hasn’t changed anyone’s life for the better.

Yet to make the story work, the show’s creators want us to believe that there was always an underlying, unaddressed desire on Jimmy’s part to be a husband and dad. After four episodes though, his behavior suggests otherwise.

At the end of the first show, Jimmy stands on his balcony with his back to his amazing view, gazing into his well-appointed penthouse where his new family plus Gerald’s baby mama socialize. The look on his face is not, “Wow, life just got better,” but “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into.”

In episode two, Gerald invites him to Family Fun Day, which falls on the same weekend as Diddy’s annual White Party. Jimmy accepts the offer, but because he’d rather be elsewhere, he sits separately from the group, monitoring tweets from those at the higher profile event. Jimmy jumps at the chance to leave when Gerald announces he needs to drive to the store to get more baby wipes and convinces the young, caring dad to make a pit stop at Diddy’s. Jimmy eventually ends up back at the beach though, only after Gerald guilts him. When Jimmy admits coyly that watching Edie experience the ocean for the first time “is pretty cool,” I thought the storyline was now going to move in the direction of Jimmy wanting to become more of the family man he “secretly desires to be.” But no.

Even when it’s Jimmy’s idea to reach out on his own, albeit begrudgingly, it’s obvious how much of a struggle it is, as when he invites Gerald, Sara and Edie to his restaurant for dinner. Not only does he not sit and share in the meal, but his dropping by the table to say hello is more like a drive-by.

Episodes three and four were more of the same push/pull with Sara having to shame Jimmy into getting to know Gerald with a guys’ night out, then Jimmy completely forgetting about and missing Edie’s second birthday party. At the end of that story, they all watch a home movie of Gerald’s second birthday, and Jimmy appears wistful about not being there for the first twenty-five years of his son’s life, yet I am not convinced that in any future episodes he will go willingly into parenthood to make up for lost time.

Nor should he be expected to.

Jimmy loved Sara long ago, but didn’t want to commit. She was pregnant and didn’t tell him. He made a life and career for himself. Now that his son is a man, I understand Gerald wanting to meet his dad, but imagining the man should drop everything he’s built and – once again – enjoys to be part of something he never wanted in the first place, well, some might say that’s a bit selfish on Gerald’s part.

The fact is if Jimmy had a real desire to be a dad/granddad, he wouldn’t need to be coerced.

I doubt there will be an episode 5 of Grandfathered, at least for me. I find this show painful to watch on behalf of both the people who can’t accept that not everyone is cut out for family life, and for all the single people who have made a good life for themselves, but are told it’s not good enough simply because they didn’t put a ring on it  — the gold kind or one of the teething variety.

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Lorraine Duffy Merkl
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels BACK TO WORK SHE GOES and FAT CHICK, for which a movie version is in the works.