Friday, July 2, 2021

On sympathy, and gratitude

  Although I mostly use this blog as a place for my id to go potty during the course of my time at work, I'm self-aware enough that I mostly just talk about myself and the blog probably resembles my ego whacking off in front of a full-length mirror on a weekly basis. 

        My world has shrunk a lot in the past few years. I work, and we have our company work culture, and I have real, true friends at work, who are 75% of the reason why I still do what I do for a living. When I leave work, I go home, and as I age, and as my marriage and nuclear family matures, I find I value and cherish my home life and my marriage, specifically, more and more. I'm fortunate there. My parents were the same, in fact, and I had wondered in the early years of marriage, if I'd ever have what they did, where their marriage was their world, the not-so-secret but private joy that defined the course of their lives. 

 I have that. For someone to ask me 'Who are you?' over the years, I'd probably first talk about my job, which was my identity. It's not that anymore. Hasn't been for a while. To explain the gratitude I have, gratitude to God, my parents, my family, and my nuclear family, I am completely unequal to. 

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 If you don't know who Elizabeth Simenstad is, she's a mariner who is also a blogger, one of the few people I follow on Instagram, with my VERY limited diet of social media. She's a better writer than I am, or at least certainly more inclined to write in correct detail whereas I am intellectually lazy; having not written professionally for almost 20 years now, tending to skim, shame, and generally use my writing skills to make dick and fart jokes.. I prefer the world to see me as an overgrown 12-year old rather than share my private life authentically. Shit's private, and while I absolutely am someone who values dick and fart jokes down deep, I'm not someone who shares the private pains we all experience, for fear of intruding into my most treasured place, my marriage and nuclear family.  When I do share something deeply personal, it's either something I need to share for catharsis or for a specific point.  

     I have that luxury. I have a centuries-old Old Boy network that has a niche for someone who camouflages himself, or who uses humor as a weapon while performing work at a high level. 

    The flipside of that is that it also allows for high performing skilled mariners who are utter scum, genuine plain villainous bastards, and supports them too. That is the Old Boy Network too, although any asshole can recognize that a mariner employed by a large organization will also  have the same protections in exchange for job security, regardless of positives OR negatives to their personality and to a lesser but significant extent, regardless of their ability to perform, at least beyond satisfying ancillary metrics like paperwork. We all know people who are utter soup sandwiches at work who can pencil whip their way to job security. 

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     Female mariners don't have an Old Girl network, and aren't welcome in the Old Boy network. While I personally have always enjoyed the impact of an all-male work environment on my personal sense of morale and job performance, I have also, with ONE exception, long ago, always had positive experiences working with women on the water. I've worked with some really great female mariners, and I recognize that in going from wanting to be there to actually being there, few women have been able to get into the industry without a fair bit of bumps and bruises and all without the degree of bonhomie that is how men find support. 

   To add to that challenge, I have no idea what it is like for a woman to have to go from the maritime environment to the home environment. Sure as hell, though, the things that women may want in terms of work-life balance are a damn sight harder to have.

        I had my parents' example, my father being a mariner as well, and my mother being a sailor's wife, and having had experience with the life, was able to warn Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife beforehand about it, back when she was just Disproportionally Hot Foreign Girlfriend. I had some restraints on my choices, sure. I left sailing deep draught ships so my wife wouldn't have to raise a kid and have 4-6 months alone every year. My mom said it sucked, mostly, so I made that change, but I got to stay in my trade. 

         What happens when you want to be a sailor and a parent, when you're female?  Choices. Hard Choices. 

         So, Ms. Simenstad shared some personal information on Instagram that shows the difference between what we all can experience out here. She miscarried for the second time, in trying to have her first child with her husband. 

   There's no words to explain how awful that is. Of all the panoply of tragedies that we encounter as mariners working in somewhat isolated conditions, we are not equipped with experience to empathize with a lady who has gone through that. We can be sympathetic, and I'm sure that everyone is, at least I hope so, but as mariners, as men, we tend to seek out advice or comfort in empathy on board. Divorce, death, tragedy, we often end up growing close to a shipmate who has some experience with our particular hurt. That avenue, though, it not available for women in that situation. Sympathy is the best we can offer, for the most part, though hopefully that will be enough to be helpful. The ancillary challenges to mental health that such things bring may be worse than the moment itself, though. For that reason, I very much applaud Ms. Simenstad's willingness to talk about the negatives, the pain and challenges she faces, while at the same time, I asked my wife to include her in her prayers, as I will too. Writing about it, in a trade that isn't always sympathetic to differences in what we need for support, is very brave. 

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