Distance - psychological and geographic
My parents are a bit of a study in contradictions. Dad is loud and talkative in crowds and handles himself quite well among new people. Yet he has very few friends - it's almost like he made this conscious decision that grown-ups have families and perhaps write cards once a year to close friends from college, but that's about it. Mom, on the other hand, is painfully quiet and shy in groups, yet has several friends and is fairly good at making new friends.
I offer this background because somehow it eluded me how lonely Dad has been these past 2.5 weeks in Japan. To me, it seems just like normal. Sure, he's far away, and there's now a 17 hour time change between us, but we send e-mails and skype about once a week. We're in each other's lives about as much as usual.
This morning he skyped me at 4am his time. He isn't jet-lagged or having trouble sleeping - he just got up to use the bathroom and, like a good nerd, took a quick glance at his laptop before heading back to bed. He noticed I was online and skyped me.
I was chatting with Mom about how sweet but crazy that was and she said she thinks he misses us terribly.
Well, duh. I mean, of course he misses us. But like I said, my read of these past few weeks have been par for the course - various family members in various locations and time zones, keeping in touch through technology. But suddenly it became clear to me that his read of the past few weeks have been 1) being away from his wife for the longest period of time since, I think, they were married and 2) getting home in time to spend one week with her before she leaves for another two weeks on the other side of the world and several time zones away. Even if we do get to chat often (which is fairly unlikely, because even in a swanky tourist hotel electricity and internet will probably be iffy) we *feel* far away.
And there's also Dad's lack of friends thing. Of course, coworkers are often a poor substitute for real friends and family, but, for example, I wasn't lonely or particularly homesick while in CO because I spent practically every waking minute with my colleagues. But that's not just a poor substitute for Dad - that's no substitute. He's spent the past 40 years crafting his life such that his family are about the only people he's close to. No wonder he's lonely. Poor guy.