In the time my wife has known me, I have launched two unsuccessful side businesses, failed to apply for patents on three life-changing inventions, and, while planning to build a miniature-golf course, amassed a stack of videocassettes that would make a porn enthusiast blush
She has tolerated this with all the good humor that a woman who has married a simpleton naturally exhibits. She believes that these idle pursuits are the result of spending most of my days writing in pajama pants. But what she doesn't know is that, in trying to convince my brother-in-law to build a prototype for an invention that would find lost pet toys, I am really trying to be a stable provider for my family. My fantasy world and all those dream projects provide me an escape that guarantees I'll have the energy to find success at my day job.
In other words: I dream; therefore, I am.
The Storage Closets of Our Minds
Unfulfilled dreams fall into three basic categories: objects, obsessions, and the Olympics. Objects begin with desire and end up in storage. I single-handedly caused one of the worst fights in the history of my best friend's marriage in pursuit of a dream object.
After posting the winning bid for a tabletop arcade game on eBay, my friend and I arranged to pick it up at a warehouse. But once we got there, we realized the crate wouldn't fit in my Mini Cooper (one trademark of a pet project is that it lacks a well-thought-out plan). So we rented a truck, wrangled our prize into the back, and delivered it to his house. When his wife arrived to find an arcade game in her living room, I quickly left. The machine stayed there for just over a year, until it was obtained by another friend at a significant discount. We'd turned it on exactly twice.
Obsessions are slightly more dangerous because they have the potential to drain a man of endless amounts of time and/or money. In addition to purchasing an arcade game, the man obsessed might aim to set the world record for playing that game. Take Steve Wiebe, of Redmond, Washington, a father of two and a junior high school science teacher who spent two years trying to land the top score in Donkey Kong, an effort chronicled in the documentary The King of Kong. Women may argue that attaining the highest score on an out-of-date video game is not a good use of one's time. Men view him as an inspiration mainly for having managed to convince his wife he was doing something important in the garage.
Which brings us to the Olympics. No controversy here. Every man dreams of carrying that torch. It's that simple. Each of us believes there is one event we could not only compete in but win. For me, it's curling (the ice equivalent of shuffleboard), a sport that appears to me to require only luck and dubious athletic prowess. Its tradition of drinking with the opposing team after a game further sparks my Ã‚Âinterest. During the 2006 Turin Games, I set my alarm to roust me out of bed at 6 a.m. to watch televised matches. I looked up local curling clubs and marked the next Olympic trials on my calendar. I have considered the potential curling strengths and weaknesses of my friends should we ever form a team. Yet I have never thrown a curling stone and likely never will. It's enough to know that the gold medal is waiting, courtesy of a final shot from my brother in the match against Canada.
Rock, Paper, Mortgage
At the most basic level, men pursue dreams they'll never fulfill to connect with other men. In the same way that kids do better on a well-planned play date, men need an activity to drive our interactions. We pick up eBay purchases with our best friends for the shared experience, not the end result. Our schemes and dreams also function as pressure-release valves. We can handle dinner with your parents if we know that later we'll get to work off steam hammering drums in the basement.
With so little of our time unaccounted for in adulthood, chasing pipe dreams also reminds us who we once wanted to be and why that was important to us. By shedding responsibilities for a short while, we can make peace with the reality of our lives--in which we have more responsibilities than we ever could have imagined. In turn, we'll evolve from video-game nerds to well-adjusted husbands. These unrealized goals are, in their own odd way, what keep us whole.
In the end, much of this need to dream comes down to the different ways that men and women in relationships process thoughts of the future. Since we've been married, my wife has thought often of how our life together will unfold. She has planned her career strategically and with careful deliberation. During the same period, with no less enthusiasm, I have left two full-time jobs and law school. I have also sought escape in the latest business schemes my Barnum-like mind can conjure from popular culture. I'm not running from my future, but the thought of supporting a family for the next 60 years is daunting to me. The idea that I could come up with an invention that would eliminate my financial burden like a winning lottery ticket makes the daily grind more bearable. It lets me believe that the duties of life or work might possibly be temporary.
After our recent move to a new city, when my wife asked if I'd thought about the next steps in our life together, I answered, truthfully, "No," because I was deeply engaged in convincing my other brother-in-law to launch a T-shirt line based on the game Rock, Paper, Scissors. The idea seems quite promising. He and I have exchanged no fewer than 50 e-mails about it. If my wife is on to this scheme, she hasn't said a word about it. Still, I'm inclined to fill her in, because we intend to use a sweatshop-free manufacturer, an ethical decision I know she would support wholeheartedly.
I keep a red golf ball in my office. It's the first piece I've acquired for the miniature-golf course I'm going to build one day. It sits next to a stack of bills--the ones I have to pay before I can bid for a putter on eBay. I told my wife I'd mow the lawn this week. She doesn't know yet that the spot of crabgrass by the garage is the future site of the windmill hole. But she will eventually. And I suspect she'll understand.