My baby boy just turned 24. It’s a time of
Comings and Goings
by Jesse Young
He was born in the Fall when Jupiter tries to outshine the moon after a hot dry day. A surprising light rain fell when I stepped outside at 4:30 that morning, washing away the accumulated soot and perhaps my previous sins. My life was changed forever. Now it is Fall again; he just turned 24. It’s a time of beginnings and leaving.
My friends’ kids are all excited about going to Office Max to buy back-to-school supplies. It’s not exactly the neighborhood stationary store, but some things are the same. I remember the thrill of a whole box of #2 Ticonderoga pencils, the smell of a ream of college-rule paper, the flash of a new binder with colored tabs. Even a plastic ruler seemed kind of exciting, and a compass was downright sexy. Nowadays, a Ti-84 graphing calculator, shrink-wrapped and at $89.95, gets the heart racing and, at that price, it seems like it ought to come with a blow job. It’s the promise and the potential that all those unsharpened pencils hold for new ideas, new friends, new clothes, life at the start of a new journey.
School has started, and the moms and dads walk their younger ones down the street to the nearby elementary school with their new pink backpacks for the first few days. The littlest ones hold their parents’ hands while the older ones trail along behind with their friends, playing it cool. The middle-school kids walk on their own or at least I don’t see them because their school is the other direction and they don’t go by my house. And of course, the parents also go to collect them at the end of the day and get to hear the excited stories of the triumphs of the playground and the classroom and feed them a snack. There are still a lot of old-fashioned family values wherever there are families.
Of course, it all goes by so fast, too. Pretty soon they don’t come home right after school, much less let you hold their hands while crossing the street. I remember the afternoons I spent tracking the 24-year-old down (when he was 13 or 14) after school. He was supposed to come right home for whatever appointment we had, but instead we would sometimes find him up in the park in a group of boys vying for the attention of some impossibly tall and beautiful young woman. Turn around and they have graduated from college and gone off to Chile for a year.
When the 24-year-old first went to preschool, his mother was never able to actually leave him there. She would go out to the yard and get down on her knees in the sand box with him or build something with those big wooden blocks until the teacher politely suggested that she depart. Then she would go around to the outside of the fence where she could still keep an eye on him. When he went to elementary school, she was always the room mother, ever helpful and involved. But even all that didn’t keep him from eventually leaving.
And now the younger one is a junior in college. Seems like yesterday when I left him on the corner of 115th and Broadway in New York City and turned around in the taxi to watch him as we drove off, both of us wiping away a tear. Fall and leaving don’t get any easier but, of course, it is the way of things, what we want for them, to grow and develop, to sharpen those pencils and use them.
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When taking care of a kid or a cactus,
You Have to Care
by Jesse Young
I’m a dad and I’m single. My boys have launched. One is a junior
in college and one is teaching in Chile for a year after graduating from
college. I’m a proud father. They are both high achievers, tall and
strong and good-looking. An embarrassment of riches, you could say, but
they have also had their share of tragedy and trials. Life is like
that. What the gods give, they can also take away.
My writing-group guys say that you can’t hurt a man who doesn’t
care. Another dear friend has a different way of putting it, something about how having something to lose is a burden and an
obligation and it can make you fearful, anxious to hold on.
I question this advice. I want to have passion in my life; I want
my children to have passion in their lives and to truly invest in it.
My younger son is a soccer player. That is his passion. Just before the
start of this season, his own goalie took him out during a scrimmage,
leaving him sidelined for at least a month with a hairline fracture of
the tibia and a painful, deep bone bruise. Life is hard.
My older son is an artist. In high school it was ceramics. My
house and his mother’s house are filled with brilliantly crafted and
colored bowls and tea pots and vases. After he graduated and before he
left for Chile, he discovered succulents. Since he has been gone, I
have been in charge of taking care of a lot of succulents. A lot. Did I
mention that, when he does something, he really lets himself go with it?
Most of the plants have survived my care. It is exciting to watch
them send tall shoots up and bloom. I am in awe of the arrangements he
has made, both in pots and in plantings in the yard. It is not just
the pots and the rocks and the placement and selection of the plants,
but also the massing and the color and the vision of how they would fill
in as they grow. A person could get lost in his gardens, happily.
Anyway, it is good to care. You have to care, no matter what it
costs. You are lucky if you care and it doesn’t matter if it is sports
or love or life or art or succulents. I’m with Baudelaire on this one:
“Be always drunken; with wine, with poetry or with virtue …”
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Music is as basic as our heartbeat and just as essential. It is something my sons and I have always shared, ensuring that
The Legacy of My Father Lives On
by Jesse Young
We went to see the fireworks at the Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles on the 4th of July. We stood just outside the gates with a crowd of people. Quite a spectacle, and the sonic vibrations were loud enough to set off all the car alarms in the neighborhood. Faintly, as if from the middle distance between this world and some other, perhaps the next, we could hear the strains of John Phillip Souza and I was reminded of my father.
My father was a musician, composer, arranger and conductor. During WWII he conducted an Army band in Europe. He didn’t like buying presents for people, so it was a very big surprise when he came home with a package one day when I was about ten and it wasn’t anyone’s birthday or anniversary. It turned out to be an album of marching band songs, just like the ones he used to lead. We would turn it up loud, early in the morning sometimes, and stomp around the living room to “Colonel Bogie” or “The Stars and Stripes Forever” with my father waving an imaginary baton. Good times.
And the booms. So loud. So visceral. So fierce and warlike. How terrible it must be to have that be the backbeat of your existence; to live with that music bringing death and destruction to someone somewhere if you were a soldier, but also exhilarating. It is part of our collective unconscious, showing up in the car next to you at the stop light with 20-inch woofers that makes the fillings in your teeth rattle in your car, but also in the bass line of a lot of rock-and-roll anthems. Think of The Who singing “My Generation” and then smashing all those beautiful instruments and equipment. Or the Blue Angels doing a fly-by down Main Street before the parade.
Music is something my sons and I have always shared, too, so the legacy of my father lives on. I have to say that they weren’t that thrilled in the past when I tried the full-blast marching band songs as a way to get them up in the morning, but I’ve introduced them in gentler ways to music they like and now they have returned the favor to me many times over. Music is as basic as our heartbeat and just as essential. It’s why we sing in the car or the shower. It is one of the threads that bind us together in this life and perhaps in the next.
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The quiddity of the quoddity is an ontological oddity. Why are we here?
What Does It Mean?
By Jesse Young
‘Sup, you say? It was my brilliant, kind, Latin/Greek scholar great-aunt’s droll way of saying that the thisness of the thatness is the essence of being. I thought it was funny, but I had to have it explained to me, too. What made me remember this poem (yes, it was a poem!) was an article in The New York Times about scientists who are still trying to explain why there is something instead of nothing. Einstein and other physicists have postulated that there should be equal amounts of matter and anti-matter and, if this were so, they would equal each other out into nothingness. Recently some scientists at the Fermilab have been smashing sub-atomic particles, and they think they may have found a slight (less than 1 percent) tilting of the universe towards matter being exposed in this miniscule amount by neutral B-meson particles favoring existence over the void.
The ontological proof of the existence of God posits that, if we can conceive of a being greater than all other beings, then it must exist, which is actually not that different from the scientists’ path in my opinion. Andrei Sakharov predicted this result before the technology existed to see B-meson particles at all. St. Anselm and countless others have suggested that the existence of God is provable as well, but it seems like it may still be a while before that issue is resolved.
One way that modern man strives to shows that he exists is by the matter that he collects around him. It’s “the guy-with-the-most-toys-when-he-dies” attitude, but lately, and I think this is common, I have been feeling the weight of all the crap I have accumulated so far in my life.
I had to empty out a closet and two bookshelves in order to paint the room that my sons used to share. The stuff expanded to fill up my entire dining room. Most of it I had not touched in ten years. So how to decide what to keep and what to toss before I fill the closet back up again?
Does my “coach of the year” trophy from my son’s 1994 soccer team go back on the shelf or into the dumpster? What about all those boxes of college texts? Boethius, Aeschylus, Shattuck’s The Banquet Years about the Dadaists and Surrealists, which I really meant to finish reading some day. Am I ever going to open them up again? Being that this was my boys’ room, it has all their childhood accoutrement as well: trophies and books and stuffed animals and souvenir caps. Wooden things they made in woodshop and baseball cards (my mom did toss my Mickey Mantle rookie card, but that is another story) and Magic cards and harmonicas and more trophies and books, outdated video games, toys, some beloved and some unopened. If only garage sales weren’t so much work, I could have one today.
I decided to put their things in a box and let them sort through it when next they are home, but I got quite ruthless with my own junk. The closet door closes now without having to hold the tide back with one hand while putting my shoulder to it. A small victory perhaps, but two things are clear. One, I cannot be defined by what car I drive, what golf clubs I own or the books on my shelves. Nor do I need those things to prove my existence. Two, scientists and sophists, fundamentalists and deeply religious independent thinkers can only begin to describe, much less explain, why there is something instead of the great nothingness. Have I earned a cliché here? Life is journey; we better enjoy the ride. I feel better for shedding some pounds. On Father’s Day this year I am hoping that my sons will honor me by celebrating the slight proclivity of those B-meson particles by choosing the light over the darkness.
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Change is hard, but the human heart can hold
Many Different Kinds of Love
by Jesse Young
I’m single although, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be. The woman I love still loves me, but she is just not ready for me to pop the question, move in, be around all the time. She likes her life the way it is, which is part of the reality, but maybe I am making inroads, letting her know that, as scary as it is for her, this idea of letting me inside wouldn’t necessarily bring on the end of the world as we know it. We could wait for the rapture together, so to speak.
You 23 faithful readers may remember that I have two sons. They want me to be happy. They can see that this woman is good for me, good to me, good with me. One of the big differences between us is that my sons are out in the world on their own. One is teaching in Chile, and one is a student in college. They have their own lives, interests, girlfriends, paths. Her offspring are still in high school, living at home, needing a bit more time to hatch. She likes my sons. She’s just not convinced that it would be okay to expose her children to this big change, to make them deal with it. They already had to deal with divorce, their father remarrying and having a new half-brother and half-sister. (It’s not the same kid, if that was confusing you; there are two of them, one boy and one girl.)
I try to bring up all the positive blended-family stories I can, but she doesn’t trust that that is possible. She’s protective and a good mom. It’s one of the things I love about her. And she wants this time with them for herself. Perhaps they have suffered enough, but I keep asking if maybe it couldn’t be a positive thing in their lives. Change is hard, but perhaps they would benefit from seeing their mother happy and well-treated, respected and loved. I keep telling her the human heart can hold a lot of different kinds of love and there may be room in their hearts for this, too.
This past week I was in New York visiting my younger son. I took him and his lovely girlfriend out to see a production of Our Town in the Village at a tiny theater where the actors put their chairs amidst the audience for the cemetery scene. The entire set was a few square feet of space with two small tables and four chairs, except for the choir in the balcony. You probably will remember that this is the last act, where the young woman whom we first meet in high school has died in childbirth and she comes to be buried and talks with those who have gone before her. Her mother-in-law warns her not to but – after she learns that she can go back to visit for one day, to walk among those she loves, to try to capture and hold on to all the good things – she feels she must. The stage manager pulls back a curtain to reveal an intricate and detailed kitchen with a working stove where the girl’s mother is making breakfast on an ordinary day, yelling for the kids to get up and get ready or be late for school. The smell of bacon floats out into the room. Her husband eats, and the young woman suddenly understands what the folks up at the cemetery were telling her. “The living just don’t understand.” They don’t understand that every moment is precious, even, maybe especially, those most ordinary ones with family and loved ones.
Maybe it does take the quiet of the graveyard and the spirit of eternity to fully appreciate bacon and eggs and how we move through our lives without taking it all in. Waiting for the next thing, the time to be right, the petty pace, the rat race. I asked my son if he thought the play was old-fashioned, outdated. He said he thought it was, but maybe you can’t get that when you are 20.
So friends, all 23 of you out there, write in and tell me your stories of successfully blended families living happily together. Together we will win her over to our side, show her what is behind the curtain. The terrible, sublime, ineffable grace of the ordinary life.
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What’s the point of modeling good behavior if what really counts is genetics? It seems like a joke, this
Nature vs. Nurture Controversy
By Jesse Young
We were talking about modeling good behavior and making good choices – things like work ethic, loyalty, honesty, perseverance. The woman I love says that most people want their children to be a reflection of them out in the world. They want to see their good qualities more than their blemishes. They want to bask in the glory of their successes and blame the failures on genetics or someone else.
I’ve done my best to let my sons see me work at jobs all these years, but it just doesn’t seem to have sunk in. I jokingly told her that, even though I had been urging her, pressuring her even, to bring me into her family life so that her son and daughter could see her in a loving and positive relationship, I was finally convinced that “modeling” wasn’t worth much. What really counts is genetics. Our children are who they are.
I often tell the story of my sons’ births. Not the physical labor part, but the fact that the minute that they were born and I first held them, it was obvious that they were very different beings. Same gene pool, but beyond the physical facts – one has my brown eyes and one has my mother’s blue eyes but they are both tall and handsome like me (okay, taller and handsomer) – their personalities and souls are quite distinct. People talk about birth order, health, being held as a baby, all kinds of stuff, but our children are mostly who they are the moment they are born, and it is foolish to take all that much credit or blame for what they do from there on out.
The other joke is the one I told my older son when he was not doing what he needed to do – that he got a double-dose of the procrastination gene, from me and his mother, so it is no wonder that he only gets moving at the last possible moment. This could be a nurture situation. You see your parental units putting things off and getting away with it, or you do it yourself and get away with it, and the behavior is reinforced. But it seems more likely that it may be all predisposition ... which is why I am turning in this column at the last possible moment.
A week ago the older one gets most of his work done at the very last second, stays up all night pulling a few things together, and I drive him to the airport. He’s been away at college for four years and then home for about nine months and, when I leave him at the international terminal, he is getting on a plane bound for Santiago, Chile, to live and work there for a year. His visa for the teaching program he has signed up for – he picked that up on the Tuesday before the Sunday he flew out – in his hand, his laptop, a plane ticket and a hug goodbye and off he goes. He lands on Monday, and on Friday night there is an 8.8 earthquake, epicentered 190 miles to the south of him. Well, it is a rough night for me. I hear about it just after it happens, and there is no nurturing that can be done from 9,000 miles away with no way to contact him and CNN predicting death in the thousands and tsunamis to follow. Finally, I get an email from him 24 hours later and we are all very relieved that he is fine. The school where he was supposed to start teaching next week will be closed for a while, but life goes on there. He’s resourceful and energetic and very bright. Of course, he gets that from me.
I guess I still believe that it is some sort of combination of the two, that Nature and Nurture work hand in hand, so that some proclivities are encouraged and brought to the forefront. And I still believe that modeling a healthy relationship is a good thing for children and it’s never too late.
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During the last year, I have learned at this woman is
The Dark Ink of My Heart
By Jesse Young
My family likes crossword puzzles. One of the bonuses of the woman I love is that she and I enjoy doing them together. She’s really good at them, and her mind works differently than mine, in a complimentary way I think, so as a team we are good. Sometimes one of us has an answer that seems possible, but that we aren’t willing to commit to completely. For this kind of word we give “light ink.” But, when there is a no-doubter, when the answer sings and reverberates in the house of correct crossword solutions, we go “dark ink.” Irrevocable, solid, just plain right, these clues are the things you build on.
Because the “Symposium of Love” that I wrote a year ago [see Single, February 2009] is an ongoing effort in my quest to put an end to “Single,” I thought I would write about how you know when Ms. Right Now is Ms. Right Forever. It is like the feeling of “dark ink.” Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book about the place where people “just know” called Blink. He knew enough not to step into the mine field of Love, but his premise – that sometimes, in the blink of an eye, our first impressions tell us everything we need to know in a way that our intellect can’t help us with and may even interfere with – seems to apply. As a friend of mine likes to say, you’ve got to trust your gut, in that first moment and perhaps in every moment after that. But after that first moment, when you know, then that is set and you can move forward. Pretty simple, huh?
I was talking to my younger son about this before he went back to college, and he says he doesn’t believe in love at first sight. Sure, there are times when you meet someone and there is that immediate chemistry, but he says love comes from really getting to know the other person, and that takes time. Besides, what if they turn out to be a nut case, a physically and verbally abusive, self-centered, unfaithful, commitment-phobic, shoe-smelling-underwear-sniffer who hates little children and dogs and who always has to be right?
Speaking of children, the WIL has children, too. (Remember the compatibility quiz that her daughter gave us that we failed [“State of Mind,” June 2009]?) The woman and her children were watching TV when a movie trailer for It’s Complicated came on. Both kids immediately said, “Eww, gross” at the idea of watching old people in love. Perhaps we should just crawl under a bush and die alone in order to spare them the trauma of seeing their mother in love, but I don’t want to. Is it a fundamental difference between men and women, as my friend suggests, that men just say to their kids, “Deal with it,” while women want to shield the fruit of their wombs from such a painful sight?
Gentle readers, I really could use your help. Specifically, how should we move this forward? My gut tells me that this is the right thing to do. She is most definitely the “dark ink” of my heart, but what if she says no or not now or I’ll have to think about it. I am her dark-ink guy, but there is the matter of timing and logistics and children. I’ve waited this long – Valentine’s Day will be about one year into our relationship – to give her time to get used to the idea. After all, it’s pretty scary, especially because it involves picking up and moving, rearranging lives, but really how long is long enough when you know? “Wait ... be patient ... what’s the rush?” asks Son Number One. Another friend of mine predicts that the WIL and I will have to talk this over at some length, come to a mature decision after weighing out the pros and cons of such an adventure and decide together whether and when and how we should take the next step and what it should be. “Nuts to that,” I say. Where is it written that I have to be mature?
What I’ve learned in the past year is that I know what I know and it is foolish to put these things off. She isn’t any of those bad things that I listed above. “Perfect” may be too much for any human being to live up to, but she is. We aren’t getting any younger. Should we live our lives or just put them “on hold” while her children grow up and the economy recovers and the mountains tumble into the sea? Are there too many words in quotation marks in this story? This woman is written in dark ink, and there is no use talking about erasable pens.
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A friend of the woman I love made up a scrapbook of her own future, sort of
By Jesse Young
There was a bestseller a few years back called The Secret. If I call it a scam perpetrated on the ignorant long-suffering masses, you will probably take it to mean that I don’t believe in the principle of “The Law of Attraction” and that I consider myself above such shallow un-intellectual thinking. Rhonda Byrne, the author/discoverer, the “uncoverer” of this theory that is alluded to in all the ancient texts, found a way to appeal to one of the most basic of all human urges – to believe that we deserve more than the next guy. She has packaged it so that the simplest mind can comprehend it. I may be superior to these pedestrian ideas, but I’m not immune. Neither is Oprah, but that is probably beside the point.
“Secret processes such as intention, visualization, appreciation, gratitude and faith. Or more simply … Ask, Believe, and Receive.” I quote from the website and I begin to wonder. Am I a Secret Believer? Do I “trust the universe”?
The woman I love (really, I’m not changing the subject, I just like to call her that) likes to tell me that life is pain and suffering, and life is hard. I’ve seen that, I’ve done that. So I like to tell her that we’ve done that part already and that now is our time to be happy. We deserve this. So, how do we make it happen? What can we do to mitigate the trauma? I’ve found her, again. Now what? I have intentions towards this woman. I visualize our happy future together. I appreciate her, and it is a cosmic gift that she is in my life. I am filled with gratitude, very aware of how lucky we are. I have faith in her and in us. So, I guess that’s all set then, right? Where else should I put this power to work? Finding a new profession?
The woman I love told me a story about a friend of hers who made up a scrapbook of her future, sort of a dreambook. She cut out pictures of a man, a house, a car, fabulous people at a fabulous party, etc., and pasted them in a book. It was a way to commit to her vision. “This is what I want, what I am going to have. If it is in this book, then it will happen.” It’s more like a dream of the future than just a fantasy, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t think she put George Clooney in her book, but rather the cute guy from the coffee shop or the girl from high school who was beautiful and deep and smart and funny and unaware of her sensual self and painfully shy. Real people with real possibilities, not just winning the lottery fantasies. I’ve got the woman in mind. I just have to find the picture of the guy with the high-paying, emotionally and creatively satisfying job to paste in. I think we should all try this approach and report back here in a few months. It can’t hurt and I trust you all to tell the truth more than I trust the artless testimonials on The Secret’s website.
There is a certain editor I know who has a long-held dream of living on a tropical island, preferably with a young woman at his side, maybe a dog. He’s rich and retired but, other than that, just his incredibly handsome and debonair self. Maybe if he makes his dreambook, we could all try to picture him in it. Would that help?
And my sons. My younger one is set for the time being: at college, playing soccer, following his path, working very hard toward realistic goals. My older son just graduated from college and is less clear on what he wants to put into his book; I think it would be a good exercise for him right now. He has lots of ideas. He’s very bright, engaging, loving, creative, fashionable, intellectual, but also a bit lost, a bit unsure of the where, what, who and how he will become the man he wants to be. It’s hard to commit to a career path, a job, a love. It’s a tough time to be at loose ends in the world. It’s hard to be 23, with all that potential and no direction. I, of course, have faith in him. I can see him in my dreambook with a job that puts all that talent and charisma to good use. I know parents can get into trouble trying to fill in the pages of their children’s books, but it is hard to resist. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my mother may still cut out pictures for me.
One of the premises of The Secret, although I believe it isn’t an original thought, is that, if you can change the way you think, the way you see, then you can change reality. You break your leg; instead of a great tragedy, you decide it is an opportunity to study Spanish and you read Naruda and Penelope Cruz falls in love with you or something like that. I’ve heard these setbacks called “opportunities for growth.” It is the prospect of these future opportunities that makes me think that my secret may be that I am just simple enough to be the perfect audience for the snake-oil salesmen and women of the world. I’m going to go order my copy of The Secret now or maybe right after I buy my lottery ticket.
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These are my qualifications: I’m a dad, and I’m not married. I’m not single now, either, but someday soon that will be more than just
A State of Mind
by Jesse Young
I’m single. I check the single, divorced box when I have to label myself. I’ve been single a lot longer than I was married – 44 of my 56 years. I lived with my ex on and off for seven years before we married. I’ve had several relationships since then that lasted longer than a year, but I’ve only lived with that one woman, my former wife.
These are my qualifications for writing a column titled “Single” for Dad: I’m a dad, and I’m not married. Of course, now that my younger son is in college, I’m also more of an empty-nester than my fellow columnist, Mark Wiertalla, who has a lovely wife and one of his children living at home these days. Living with the empty nest and being single is my reality. There are some positive aspects to being single, but I hope it’s time to not be single anymore.
So I’m happy to announce, gentle readers, that there is a high probability – I repeat, confidence is high – that this state of affairs is nearing its end. In fact, in the face of a couple of not insignificant complications, I don’t feel single anymore. Her name is Joan, and she is smart and fun, generous and loving, funny and sexy, beautiful and perceptive, honest and deep and real. She has presence, grace and style. I could go on, but you get the picture. Perfect. She’s perfect.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking: That’s too much. There is no such thing as perfect and you’ve heard some of this before and I’ve only been in this relationship for four months, but here’s the thing. This is different. This is the relationship I’ve always wanted and somehow, finally, the stars have aligned and Buddha is smiling and Allah be praised, I’ve found her and this is different. We’re not married, not engaged, but this is it. I’m all in, 100 percent committed, not single anymore. Is that the music of the spheres I hear? Hallelujah.
It’s all good, and it is going to work out in the end, but there are a couple of problems. One of them is Gate 31. It’s where I wait for the flight to Burbank. Yes, I’ve fallen in love with a woman I went to high school with who lives in L.A. It’s easy to get there, and she is completely, totally worth it, and change is good. Sometimes change can even be an opportunity for growth. I embrace this change.
The bigger problem at the moment is the “Compatibility Quiz” her daughter gave us the other day. There were twenty questions that we each needed to answer to determine how well we really know each other and should keep seeing each other. Her daughter hasn’t shared her mother with anyone except her brother in these past few years, and she is not happy about the prospect of starting now. This change isn’t something that she is welcoming as an opportunity for growth. She doesn’t see any plus-side to my x-factor. To date, she has refused to meet me, although that will happen soon. There have been some tears, a few histrionics, a bit of “you’ve had your one chance at happiness and you blew it.” Yet this last weekend she sent me the quiz via email and I see it as a positive step, really, but I have to tell you I only got 60 percent correct. I missed some easy ones like “What color is my mom’s cell phone? What are her parents’ names? What color is her bedroom?” I found out later I would have lost a point for getting this one right but, still, I should have known. Did I mention that her daughter is 14?
I wrote back after the test results came in that it seemed like the answer must be that I need to spend more time with her mom, but the daughter wasn’t buying that. I have taken this as a challenge, and I have found my opportunity for growth. I’m studying patience. I’ve always been persevering, but now I need to develop patience. I’m not single anymore, and someday soon that will be more than just a state of mind.
Meanwhile, my sons are happy for me. They want me to be happy. They believe that I deserve this happiness, and they see that I am. It’s time for me to model having a sane, respectful, happy relationship for them and not a minute too soon because they both have girlfriends of their own to sort out. They have urged me to proceed slowly. Patience. I’m practicing patience until the time comes.
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I want my sons to find jobs that make them happy, where
They Want to Go to Work on Monday
by Jesse Young
The unemployment rate for the world is well into double-digits and the economy is in the toilet and the future looks bleak. And my older son is graduating from college next month. My talented, gifted, loquacious son is graduating from a prestigious university with a degree in History and not a clue as to what he might do to get a job.
I keep telling him that a job is a good thing. It gives you a place to go in the morning, a structure to your life; it makes getting out of bed in the morning a requirement rather than an option. You meet new people, get exposed to a wider world vision – wider than the world of academia, if one is just graduating. Having a job also means that you may get a paycheck, which in turn means that you can pay taxes, be a contributing member of our society, as well as pay your rent, buy some burritos, take your girlfriend to the movies, and open a savings account to pay for your future children’s college educations. With all these reasons for working, it almost seems like something one might want to do. The problem is, of course, that it is so damn inconvenient. Having a job gets in the way of going to the beach.
I’ve told both my sons that I want them to find a passion in their life, something that drives them to get up and powers them through the less glamorous parts of life like laundry and grocery shopping. But I’m not sure that I’ve helped them to find it. My younger son wants to be a professional soccer player, and I think that is great. He has a goal and he’s willing to work hard to get there, risking disappointment along the way, while preparing for that future or some other unforeseen possibility. I’m still hoping that my older son will wake up one morning and somehow just know what it is he wants to do with his life. This is arguably the worst time in recent history for a person to be looking for a job. There is a huge pool of new graduates as well as all those recently unemployed-underemployed people out there looking. At least if he knew what he wanted to do, he could focus his search, and all of us who love him could help him on his quest. But a liberal arts degree doesn’t really prepare you for the job market or even help you figure out what it is you want to do. I believe that a liberal arts education is the best thing for a young person, that it broadens and enriches one’s life forever. Still, it is remarkable how little it helps with the job-search issues.
I want my sons to find a career path leading to a job that makes them happy, something they are good at, where they want to go to work on Monday. It’s not always easy even when you love what you do, but it’s important anyway. Even when you don’t love your job, there is satisfaction to be had in supporting yourself, in providing for your family, in being a productive member of society, in taking pride in what you do, not to mention in getting a paycheck.
And now, if you would all bow your heads and say a little prayer that the God of Jobs will shine his light on my sons, I confess that I am tired of my job and ready to try some other way of being that productive member of society I keep promoting as such a good thing. If you have any ideas, beyond the power of prayer, on what I might do next, please feel free to share. I’ve got skills. I have a degree in English literature. I know how to work hard. I have a proven track record of showing up. I’m a self-starter and I work well with others. I just don’t know which new wheel to put my hand and shoulder and heart behind. I guess this is just another way in which my son and I are more alike than not. I hope he has the same faith in me that I have in him.
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Money is not everything, but
You Gotta Have It
by Jesse Young
Money. It’s a depressing subject for a lot of folks these days. The economy is in shambles, people are out of work, the stock market has fulfilled all of Dr. Doom’s predictions, and a dollar isn’t worth what it used to be. On top of all that, the Taxman still cometh with his hand out for the last few sheckles that we had secreted away for the rainy day that is surely and sorely upon us. Ben Franklin was right: Death and taxes are the only sure things in this life. If it isn’t one thing, it’s the other.
Money. I don’t really care about it all that much. I know I am one of the lucky ones. I have a job that pays most of the bills. I have a home and a car and there is food on the table when so many tables are bare. I don’t want a lot of stuff. The Rolls that I thought I might want when I was younger doesn’t hold much appeal anymore. I don’t need Persian rugs or Jimmy Choo workboots. All I really want is to not have to worry about money. I want to be able to take my girlfriend out to dinner and a movie, fly to New York to visit my son and go to the theater and still be able to pay the phone, gas and electric bills. I want to be able to write that check to the IRS and then forget about it. At least I can trust Obama to spend it for something that is much more likely to appeal to my sense of right and wrong. So, it turns out that, even if I don’t care about money, I still need some, and more than I have would be nice. In my next life, I think I would like to try being one of those born with “old money.”
The biggest expense I’ve got at the moment is college tuitions for my sons. Who would have thought that a college education would cost $200,000 before graduate school? I seem to be able to keep making the payments without going under, but for how long? Sometimes with money, it comes down to choices. Some people might have to pick between buying shoes and designer clothes or paying the kids’ private school tuitions. For others it may be the choice of dining out three times a week versus the family trip to the islands. Still others might have to choose between steak on Sunday and mac and cheese the rest of the week or hamburger helper and broccoli every night. There are even new words being coined to deal with the choices inherent to the broken economy; for example, recessionista is a person on a very tight budget who still manages to be fashionable.
Like I said, I am one of the lucky ones, albeit holding my breath and hoping that things don’t get much worse out there, but basically secure. I have love in my life and that is huge. My sons are strong, healthy, thriving. My family is nurturing and stimulating. I have wonderful friends, intellectual curiosity, even passion in my life. There is work to be done, fun to be had, and life to be lived, and money is only a part of it all.
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Her eyes, smile and body language offer clues and encouragement. But those things are
Lost during a Phone Call
by Jesse Young
“Good phone” is important to sustaining and nurturing a long-distance relationship. I’m not sure that I give “Good phone.” Some people thrive on the phone, become more animated, more effusive. Not me. I’m better than I once was, much better than my father ever was, but it is a difficult medium for me. Of course, it depends on whom I am talking to, but generally speaking I grunt a lot less than I used to. I prefer being face-to-face. Her eyes, smile and body language offer clues and encouragement that facilitate garrulousness. On the phone those things are lost. I can hear the laugh, but it doesn’t have quite the same weight. The conversational pause can feel more awkward than it might if I could see her thinking of the right phrase or she could see that I was just giving her space for her thought to fill in.
I’m better at email. Even though it is a poor cousin to letter writing, the email can be self-contained, short, frank, witty, droll and unambiguous. Unfortunately, it lacks the immediacy of the phone call or the built-in thoughtfulness and intent of the letter. So if I want to hear her voice, her thoughts or how her day went and she is hundreds of miles away, that leaves the phone.
It was about nine years ago that the first person I knew got a cell phone. It was the size of a shoe, and when his girlfriend (who is now his wife maybe in part due to the phone calls) would call him on the job, we would all ride him mercilessly, yelling out, “Oh, honey, lovey, Claire darling, we love you.” Now I understand completely that irresistible urge to call with nothing really important to say just so you can hear her voice. I know the thrill of seeing her name light up the screen on my cell phone. I have suffered the frustration and misery of the dropped call and the intermittent connection. I’m pretty sure that cell phones haven’t improved the quality of my life in general and yet I still wonder how we lived without these things. I admit to being addicted to the instant gratification of the phone. Several famous writers carried on long-term, long-distance romances that were sustained almost exclusively through letter writing. Better men than I.
With both my sons now living far away, the phone has become our primary source of contact. I wish they called me more often. I’m always a little hesitant to call them for fear of interrupting their busy lives. I miss the unplanned and unscheduled conversation over breakfast or in the car or in passing through the living room where I could read them, as well as give them a hug. The important conversations can be so flat on the phone, and it is hard to carry around all the ordinary stuff and save it for those few minutes on the phone each week, but it is what we have for now. It’s a lot better than waiting for them to write me a letter.
There is a Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine debate the rules for breaking up with someone over the phone. I can’t remember if they settle on three dates or whether having had sex with the person is the point at which the phone call is no longer acceptable, too impersonal, but it reminds me of two stories involving the phone and love. In the first, the woman is out driving around the city doing errands when she calls the guy she’s been dating for a year on the phone to tell him it’s over, ending with, “I’m at the dry cleaner’s now. See ya.” In the other story, a woman answers a knock on her door to find a man with a suitcase in each hand who hasn’t called her in advance and proceeds to say to her, “I love you. I’ve left my wife and I love you. Can I come in?”
The phone can be cold and distancing. It’s imperfect. It will never be able to transmit the goodnight kiss. What’s a guy to do? Until someone with suitcases decides to knock on my door … it’s what I’ve got for now.
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The Symposium on Love is open to all, and applications are now being accepted. Sign up today. Don’t be shy.
Space Is Limited
by Jesse Young
For years I’ve been trying to get the folks in my book group, along with pretty much everyone else I know, to participate in a Symposium on Love. It would be a series of panel discussions with experts, pundits (people in stable, supportive, functional, long-term relationships, people who have read and studied the applicable arts from Plato to the Kama Sutra, Freud to Husserl, Michelangelo to Modiglianif) as well as a group of struggling screw-ups that includes me (people who have fallen in love, failed to win or hold the love of others, people whose hearts have been ripped out and shredded and picked over by the vultures yet still somehow manage to pick themselves up and rejoin the fray, these scarred individuals who might instruct based upon the lessons they have learned, even if they do not seem able to profit by them). The Symposium is open to all and applications are now being accepted in each category.
The book group just laughs and mocks me these days if I even mention it. “Here he goes again, wanting to talk about luh-uv.” One by one they have partnered up (I wonder, “Is that like “cowboy up”?), found their own true loves and gotten married – which is pretty remarkable seeing as we are all middle-aged – which is why I have kept pestering them to share their individual and collective wisdom. Surely they must have some inspirational sermons to deliver that would help us understand how they have achieved their exalted state. When they come to my house, I generally start them right in on margaritas to help them loosen up their tongues, but so far the lessons have not been forthcoming, hence the need for the structure of the Symposium. Just the sound of the word makes me feel like there are some answers, some help out there. Sign up today. Space is limited.
Now if we were only discussing the love that I have for my children, my sister, my mother and father, my close friends, people I’ve known for years like our Dad editor, the book group, etc., it would be much simpler. There are degrees and differences between the love deep and abiding, irrevocable and unconditional, that I have for my family and the constant, caring, easy love that I have for my friends but, for me, none of these loves are fraught with danger. Things change. Feelings, time, circumstance, health, geography ... all can change, but this kind of love seems manageable and apparent. Add sex – moving from Platonic to Romantic love – and we enter the minefield, stare into the abyss, forget ourselves and what we know, become blinded by limerance.
If I had written this column a year ago (you faithful readers may remember this), it would be filled with e.e. cummings and flowers and walks on the beach at sunset. Now, once again, it is awash with “where ignorant armies clash by night” (apologies to Mathew Arnold). Today I attach a poem (see below) I wrote in the face of another unsuccessful attempt to secure, to safeguard, that romantic love. All of which brings me to the Dad portion of our assignment today. As a single, divorced dad who loves his children beyond measure, I have the opportunity to model for them the practice of dating and deciding to form a romantic attachment. They would have had other lessons if their mother and I had been able to form a more perfect union, but this is their lot and it is valuable stuff, too.
I want them to make good choices, to have their needs met, to treat and be treated by their partners with care and respect. Hopefully, they will form stable, lasting relationships that foster personal and mutual growth. With God’s grace they will laugh, be open to themselves and each other in these relationships, be curious. And sex. I don’t want to know if they are shopping at Ace Hardware for sex toys instead of paint, but I hope they have healthy, consensual, satisfying, even ecstatic sex. I crushed a forehand winner down the line in a tennis match the other day, and my partner said, “Oooh, that’s as good as sex,” but I had to tell her that it has been long enough now that I couldn’t really say. I don’t want that for my boys. I want them to have love and sex.
I know for certain that they have seen me strive in all these areas (well, hopefully the sex part is a blank for them). Maybe that’s enough, but you can see how this is an impressive and difficult list of qualities to achieve and why they might need counsel as much as I do. Maybe my sons will participate in the colloquy with us at the next meeting. Raise your hands if you are willing and available. Don’t be shy.
by Jesse Young
This is the poem I meant to write.
A poem to make stones weep.
A poem so moving, so full of sadness
Dogs would howl.
The harvest moon illumines the garden path
Stones, dew damp in a cloudless sky.
The stones are stony,
Silent as the night without you
Long, life short,
Too short for this much stillness
In the moonlight,
This many tears falling
On stones already caressed to round by green water
In an ancient river bed
Now lying here bereft.
The night is long and filled
With the scent
Of something sweet. Petrichor.
You were like that first rain falling on the desert
Reframing longing with a promise.
In this poem daylight precedes the moonlight
A quarter crescent still pale
Against the wakening sky.
Morning soon to be sun-drenched with grace
And the possibility of solace and hope
Where we walked on the green, green grass.
Do you see that the grass is green?
Or have all these weeping stones turned
The grass brown beneath our feet?
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My relationship with organized religion has been spotty at best. I’m not personally concerned
by Jesse Young
Now let’s be clear about this. Those nights when she said, “Oh God, oh God,” I knew she wasn’t referring to the Supreme Being or taking his name in vain. That said, my relationship with organized religion has been spotty at best. I’ve dabbled, I’ve sampled, I’ve attended, but never joined. I’ve done mini-plates of Unitarian, Congregational, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, Quaker, even Hindu services. I’ve been enlightened, uplifted, inspired, challenged or bored by all manner of preachers, profits, saints and sinners, priests and gurus. The eternal questions have been asked and answers given or suggested. The paths of enlightenment are many or one or mythical like the Holy Grail.
My mother was raised Episcopalian and is now Unitarian. Unitarians have no fixed creed or dogma. Some of them believe in God with a capital G, some have more egalitarian visions. She knows more hymns of more denominations than anyone else I’ve ever met, and the music is often the best part of church. Music is a way into the scenery along the path. My father was a Jew, but didn’t practice or talk about it in my lifetime. He never schmoozed with the rabbi or gave musical instruction to the cantor or thought God had much influence on his life. He participated in the Unitarian Fellowship under duress. And, in turn, I was dressed and dragged along to many a sermon. Organized religious affiliation is largely matriarchal, isn’t it? I attended Sunday school. Who in their right mind would think a kid would want to study on Sunday when he could be out playing baseball or riding his bike? But, of course, there is a long tradition of suffering being necessary for enlightenment.
I was exposed to a little bit of the Old and New Testaments. It’s a good book: lots of juicy stories, begetting, pathos, karmic comeuppance, sin and redemption. When I get older, I am going to try reading it again. Like reading the ancient Greeks, I’m sure it’s all in there, all thirteen storylines, all you might need to know in order to live a full and moral life. Yesterday, my younger son asked me if he could borrow my Bible. He needs to read Job during the break for his LitHum course, but I couldn’t find my copy. It reminded me that I didn’t make my boys shine their shoes and sit still while somebody stood watch over them on Sundays. I didn’t feel strongly enough about it to force them, but now I wish I had. Even if you end up rejecting a particular religion, it can give you a framework for addressing questions on the meaning of life.
I’m not personally concerned about God. God can take care of him/herself and does, I believe, and leaves that to us as well. One of the big world religions I haven’t sampled is Islam, but I do know that God is great. And while I do have a pet peeve against athletes who cross themselves and point to the heavens after hitting a homerun or scoring a goal, I believe in praising the unknown unknowable unnamable, and “Allah be praised” is as good an expression of that as any other. And maybe that is what she meant after all. Maybe she was just exclaiming on this basic evidence of the divine. God is great. God is good. Praise the Lord. Any path that leads you to an appreciation for this life, the majesty of nature, the possibility of hope, the joy of love, the unutterable solace of peace, is a good one. I lift my glass and give thanks to God, to my mother and to Mother Nature, for all that I have received and for the blessing of being able to try to find my path.
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Cancer is heart-wrenching and gut-churning. Non-medical cancers may not be deadly, but they can impede
The Growth of Our Children
by Jesse Young
Cancer is a scary word, a bowel-constricting, ball-shrinking, heart-wrenching, gut-churning word. Yet it has touched all our lives. A very close, personal friend of mine died from ovarian cancer. My sister had breast cancer. A dozen friends and acquaintances have been affected by it. Cancer strikes without warning, it comes from within, and we and the sufferers’ lives are suddenly defined by it.
Chemotherapy. Radiation treatments. Hair loss. Sexual dysfunction. To talk about these things or to go on with our lives and not be ruled by the disease. To fight or to flee. Lump, lesion, spot, biopsy, mass, clear margins. What is that spot on my forehead? That lump in my scrotum? That unusual white spot on my tongue? Probably just age and not the big C.
On the street yesterday I ran into an old friend, another dad. We were comparing notes about our children in college. We were lamenting their lack of drive, their assumption that everything will continue to be handed to them on a platter. We were both in the process of depositing money into the bank that will be gone before the ink dries to pay for these life-affirming experiences for these supposed-to-be-adult children. We were feeling the pain of it. He claims that Facebook, texting and the Internet are to blame. He believes that those three things are a cancer on the earth, seeking out and infecting our children. He has a point.
The Facebook/MySpace world encourages our children to put out a skewed, false, exaggerated picture of themselves into a world that applauds and rewards insincerity. Texting supplants real conversation and any in-depth, reasoned thought: The thumbing crowd is ruled by the cute, quick, rude and superficial. The Internet can suck the life out of a curious mind. If you can find it in a minute, then what’s the point of remembering the content? Why read and think about what you have read when 50 other people have already done it for you and you can read their Cliff notes? And why bother with school at all when you can be shopping on eBay?
Of course, my friend and I and the other dads of this pampered generation are probably somewhat to blame as well. I just got back from visiting my younger son who is a freshman at Columbia. He’s having a wonderful time. He’s a starter on the soccer team. He’s got a great social life, including a bevy of baby mamas. He’s doing fine so far in his classes, but not pushing himself too hard. No outside reading for the lad, but he has mostly kept up with the assignments. I asked him about his laundry situation. He had never really done laundry at home before. He told me he was mostly keeping up with it. This doesn’t mean he has washed his sheets yet but, hey, let’s get real. The one serious problem so far is that he has somehow managed to lose most or almost all the 12 pair of socks that he started out with.
I know how this happens. He takes them off and they land where they land and nobody is there to pick them up. How do socks find their mates and make sure they get into the hamper and washed and then matched up again and appear back in the sock drawer? Dad used to do this, maybe Mom, too. So, when he told me he had no socks, what did I do? Did I shake my head and say, “Gee, son, that’s tough. It looks like winter really will come again this year in New York City” and let him figure it out on his own or go barefoot? Next time I will, I hope. This time I went out and bought him six new pair. That’s a kind of cancer, too, eating away at this necessary growth of the young person’s independent living. Time to cut it out.
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I dropped my younger son off at college last week, where hopefully he will open his eyes and mind to
The World of Ideas
by Jesse Young
This past week, when I dropped my younger son off at Columbia University for his freshman year of college, I was reminded of something Dr. Robert Winter said in his matriculation speech on my first day at college: “The purpose of a liberal arts education is to facilitate garrulousness.” I agree. Education helps you to make connections with other people and to be interesting enough so that others will want to make a connection with you.
Hopefully, their college educations will also lead my sons to hone their work ethic and help them discover some passions that might lead to gainful employment and career satisfaction. Ideally, it will open their eyes and minds to the world of ideas, to the richness and texture of the human experience, expose them to art and literature and science. Optimally, it will nurture in them a desire for lifelong learning and curiosity. Ultimately, it will make their lives richer and fuller, make them more able to communicate with others and to appreciate the moments that comprise a life.
My sons and I come from a long line of educators and scholars, and I hope they will want to carry on in that tradition. Their grandmother, at 85, is still doing research at the library and on the computer, checking source documents and looking up information about ideas that excite her. Education is a lifelong habit and joy for her, and I hope my sons can follow her example. Recent studies have confirmed what seems logical, that learning new things keeps your mind and soul young.
Across the top of the stone façade of the newer library at Columbia is a list of Greek and Roman thinkers and innovators: Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Vergil. My heart soars when I read these names. I read parts of all of their works 35 years ago and was inspired. The History of Ideas. Philosophy. History. Poetry. Drama. Wow! I’ve left my son in a place where he can explore all these things. Now, if only there was a program where dads could sign up for studying the classics, listening to brilliant professors lecture about the pre-Socratic philosophers, sitting in rooms filled with other people who have read the same material and participating in discussions about whether Heraclitus was right: You can never step into the same river twice.
Oh, and could somebody please pick up the tab for the next four years of my life? Anybody? I’ll be glad to send you my report cards and talk to you about the syllabus for “Herodotus: Father of History or Not?”
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Suddenly I understood how disappointing it must have been for my father to have a son who was
Such a Poor Eater
by Jesse Young
When my sister was born, a few years before me, my father was working on his Ph.D. dissertation and my mother was teaching high school, bringing home the bacon, so my father took on some of the childcare duties during the day. He was an ex-New Yorker, a young man during the Depression, and food was very important to him. When my parents bought our home in Southern California, he planted orange trees and tended them for the thrill of the harvest and the miracle of fresh-squeezed orange juice year-round. A daily glass of fresh orange juice was the foundation of his healthcare plan. Strawberries and bananas with sour cream was his comfort food and roast beef was what you ordered when you went out, but o.j. was purely good for you.
He loved feeding my sister. Whether they went to the park or played in the sand, they ate together. The apocryphal story is that when she was a toddler she liked carrots and he liked feeding her so much that they just kept feeding and eating until she turned orange. My father had a kind of unconditional love for my sister who is a very special woman and part of that, I’m sure, was because she was a good eater and they had the bond of food when she was little.
For me as a child, food was always a battleground. I spent many hours sitting at the dinner table long after everyone else had finished eating (and finished doing the dishes), trying to get out of eating something, usually a vegetable, but it could have been anything unfamiliar to me. My father was steadfast and stern and unyielding about my having to eat whatever it was that I was resisting. Sometimes he or my mother would bargain – “eat your lima beans and you can have dessert” – but usually I just had to wait them out. I became a master of the Brussels Sprouts in a Napkin Stuffed Under the Table trick. I practiced the prestidigitation techniques of Houdini on brocolli. I tried to create the illusion of less by maneuvering peas around the expanse of a plate. I wouldn’t give in unless I had to (or unless it was a really good dessert).
When my older son was young and started to eat solid foods, he was a great eater. Brocolli puree was one of his favorites, but he would try just about anything with enthusiasm. Suddenly I understood what it had meant to my father to watch my sister eat and how disappointing it must have been for me to be such a poor eater. It must be some sort of genetically-coded thing, this very powerful feeling that dads get from seeing their children thrive. Eating is part of that reaching out and taking in of life.
My older son still has an adventuresome palette, although I wish he would eat more because I think he is a bit too thin. My younger son is also a fine eater, but he always has had a preference for white-colored foods: bread, rice, milk, pasta without sauce, apples, things that can comfort him as well as fill him up. Both boys are bigger, stronger, taller and more handsome than I am, so they must have gotten enough food, and that is one of the things that being a dad is about. I learned one lesson from my own experience. I avoided battling, cajoling and imploring my sons to eat. I learned that a child might not eat a balanced meal but, in the course of a week, still get a reasonable, healthy sampling of the necessary food groups.
And my sister, good eater that she was as a dutiful child, has become an excellent cook and savors a healthy appreciation for the foods of life. Honoring her bond with the ghost of our father, she also still chokes down her orange juice every day.
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Sometimes I want what I don’t have or can’t afford, but those urges usually pass pretty quickly. I am not tortured by the lack of
by Jesse Young
“The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees. I want money. That’s what I want.” Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford wrote it. My favorite version of this old song is by the Flying Lizards, but the Beatles covered it as well, and maybe the difference between those two musical groups explains some of my feelings about money.
Not so much, really, for me. I mean money is not what I want. I don’t want to worry about it, stress about it, think about it that much. I’d rather have it than not have it. If I can come back next time with “old money,” I would like to try that, but basically I am comfortable with what I’ve earned and the decisions that I have made that have led to the lifestyle I can afford. Sometimes I want what I don’t have or cannot afford, like second homes in foreign countries or Porsches or vacations at five-star hotels, but those irrational urges usually pass pretty quickly for me. I don’t really need all that and I am not tortured by the lack of it.
Somehow my older son got the gene that wants the most expensive stuff in life. Lamborghini. Gucci. Rolex. Ferragamo. Etro. Bel Air. Cannes. The French Laundry. These brands all mean something to him. I believe he will not be completely happy without attaining some level of affluence in his grown-up life. He’s a junior at UCLA and just today as I was driving him to the airport after spring break. We talked about what he might do with his life to earn the money to afford this lifestyle. Doctors and lawyers and businessmen were considered. Being a venture capitalist was the one that sounded the best. The others seem like a lot of work, a lot of hours. But money and the stuff, the expensive stuff it can buy, the style and fit of that stuff are more important to my son than they are to me and, of course, that is okay.
There’s a Spanish proverb that goes something like, “Want whatever you wish, and then you have to pay for it.” I want comfort. I wouldn’t turn down luxury, but it doesn’t fill my soul with longing or drive me to do what is necessary to have those things.
See, the Flying Lizards version of the song “Money (That's What I Want)” is sardonic. The vocalist sounds a bit peeved that she even has to tell us that she hasn’t got the money that she wants. They stuffed the piano with phone books and then pounded on the keys; they left it out of tune so that it sounds tinny and imperative at the same time. In the Beatles version, John and Paul are unapologetically proclaiming their orientation. They may be joking a bit, but they also mean it. Both versions are by consummate musicians giving it all they have; it’s just that one version is more comfortable with selling than the other.
These are tough times out there – money-wise – for a lot of people. I hope you all have enough so you don’t have to worry about it too much. And I hope that my sons make enough to support themselves and their future families in the lifestyles to which they accustom themselves.
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If I find the right attitude, it will be okay. It will be better than okay. It will be fun. It will be an adventure. I just wish I wasn’t so
by Jesse Young
I’m vacation-challenged. I worry about taking time off from work, which involves advance planning (will the job survive without me running things?), battling the anxiety caused by committing funds, which may or may not be really disposable income (do I deserve to spend this money I’ve worked so hard for on something as frivolous as enjoying myself?), choosing the destination (what if I decide I want to see the wild flowers in Death Valley in the springtime but I’ve waited too long to book a room there? What if my girlfriend or my boys don’t find the desert as awe-inspiring as I do? Maybe they’d rather go to the beach?), and determining the level of comfort necessary to make the trip fun for all (should we stay at the 4-star hotel or camp out?). If we get to the hotel and the room isn’t ready or looks out into the parking lot instead of having a mountain view, is that going to spoil everything, and will I be to blame? Maybe we should just stay home and pull up the covers.
The boys and I, however, have had many memorable vacations, including Death Valley in winter (where they were slightly bored but also awed), Club Med in Mexico, skiing, the beach, Disneyland. Some of them were harder than others to arrange and to plan, but they were all worth the trouble and the expense and the time off from work. I once made a cedar box like the ones they sell at the Lodge in Yosemite and filled it with stones and shells and scraps of paper that had the names of various places where I had been on vacations: Sienna, French Glen, Anza Borrego, Washington, D.C., Grand Teton National Park, etc. Vacations have enriched our lives.
Soon it will be Easter vacation. We’re planning a trip to Southern California (Death Valley was completely booked). We’re going to drive, which eliminates the tragedy that used to be the romance of flying and, even with $4-a-gallon gas and trays of In-and-Out Burgers, it will be cheaper than flying. If I get the oil changed and some snacks for the road and some tunes for the CD player and find the right attitude, it will be okay. It will be better than okay. It will be fun. It will be an adventure. It will be an opportunity to talk and bond and share the basic experiences of life, to problem solve, to laugh, to expand our horizons. The good news is that, once I clear the hurdles, there is clear sailing for a while. I feel relieved and free, able to be excited about the trip. It’s time to relax and make it happen again.
We’ll leave the comfort of our routines and venture forth. We’ll spend the kids’ inheritance on the here-and-now. We’ll take a break from all the ordinary worries and risk gaining a new perspective. We’ll have to decide where to eat and where to sleep and whether to complain about getting the table next to the kitchen door. We’ll take a break, take a vacation, and then we’ll come home and the world will be largely as we left it. Do you find that, when you get home, you often need a few days to recover from your vacation?
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Here’s my advice about love and sex on
by Jesse Young
For a guy (maybe especially a single guy, but I’ve had this experience as a married man, too) Valentine’s Day is about Love with a capital “L” … and about sex. Advertisers on every media direct us to buy our women, our potential Valentines, chocolates, flowers, lingerie and diamonds. They tell us with relentless, ominous optimism that these things given at the right moment during a candlelit dinner in that perfect French bistro with the corner table will lead to her seeing us as worthy of her love and (along with some Viagra, they also tell us) sex. As a single guy I need all the help and advice I can get, but I think the advertisements may be wrong.
Of course, it isn’t that simple. Oh, my writing group guys and I always laugh about how simple men are. Give us a little food, an occasional attaboy and, praise God, some sex, and we are happy. You can probably leave out two of the three things above and still find a happy man. Women are more complicated. The flowers, wine, gifts, dinner and sentiment might be our ticket to paradise or to a new lesson in humility. Some combination of all the above, which worked in the past, might not be what is needed this time. You could buy the wrong size, color or flavor and reveal that you haven’t really been paying attention.
My girlfriend told me (before she was my girlfriend) that she thought there was too much pressure surrounding Valentine’s Day. “What if you’re dating a guy and you’re just not sure? You like him, but is he Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now? There ought to be a card that says, 'I like how you are creative in the kitchen, but I can’t stand your tuneless humming,' instead of 'Will you be mine?' ” I agreed then, and I agree now.
On the other hand, sometimes when this holiday for the celebration of love-with-the-possibility-of-sex comes around, there is a special person in your life, someone whom you are sure of, committed to whether they are committed to you to the same degree or not, and then it is particularly important to hit the right note. You want to shout out loud that your heart unequivocally belongs to her and your greatest wish is that she feel the same way back. Oh lucky man if that happens. Oh the pits of despair if you can’t hold a tune. You want to buy the biggest baddest diamondsilkchocolatetrufflerose and write poetry to make stones weep. My advice to myself and others is: Best to play it cool if you can. Play it simple. As the bumper sticker says, “Eschew Obfuscation” and skip the big gestures, take the lid off the pot. She’ll let you know what she wants when she knows and when she feels like it. And you better be paying attention when it happens.
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January 9, 2008
Back in September (see below), I wrote about birds of prey and words of prayer. Good news: The danse macabre is turning into a
Pas de Deux
By Jesse Young
Sportsfans, the unthinkable has happened. In an unprecedented turn of events, the black-capped chickadee, his heart captured and held-fast in the talons of the Cooper’s hawk, was not torn apart. Somehow, in mid-air, mid-flight and mid-life, defying gravity and experience with acrobatic skills and courage that may lead to a new move being named after him (me) like the Mary-Lou-Retton flip, the chickadee turned to face his captor and persuaded her to take some pity and perhaps even find herself slightly interested. The danse macabre is turning into a pas de deux.
Of course, love isn’t a sport, usually, and the metaphor breaks down – this woman isn’t predatory and her “catch” wasn’t intentional (she didn’t have her sights set on me). Records for this kind of thing generally aren’t kept but, if they were, it would be Love 1, Fear 0, for that round.
I agree with Alfred, Lord Tennyson that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Hope is a good thing. Being afraid to put yourself out there, to take a risk, is limiting. You can’t win without trying and sometimes you lose. (Have I left out any platitudes? Funny how sports and love spawn clichés.) My soccer-playing son set his sights high, worked hard both on the pitch and in the classroom, and has achieved his goal of playing Division One soccer. Next year he will be playing soccer and studying at Columbia University. He had many excellent offers to choose from. Score 1, for Perseverance and making the best use of one’s natural abilities, 0 for Fear of Failure.
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December 12, 2007
I’m afraid to ask my sons if they have happy memories of Christmas past. What if they only have pictures that don’t include me? But I expect this Christmas will be the
Christmas that Stole the Grinch
By Jesse Young
For most of my adult life I have, like many Americans, gritted my teeth and promised myself that this year, somehow, the holidays wouldn’t be something to be gotten through, something to have survived. Fear of disappointment, hatred of Toys-R-Us or any pressure shopping, anxiety about attending a party (or not getting invited to any) folded nicely into the general depression and malaise of the season. Bah. Humbug. Just let me make it through to January when dreary winter can comfortably be my excuse for this misery and when hiding in bed can be viewed as being in tune with Mother Nature.
The years of anticipatory joy, when hope still sprang from the rooftops carrying Lionel train sets and Barbie dolls and enough candy to make Rudolph barf, when even a woolen scarf that could scratch the beard off Santa’s neck, given to you by some misguided aunt who was unclear on the concept of Los Angeles weather, made a fine present if it had a bow and paper to be torn off, are memories from long ago. Just the sight of all that shiny paper under the beautiful Christmas tree made the cookie baking and the carol singing and the house cleaning seem like the most exotic foreplay. “I know I’ve been good, but really, I don’t deserve all this.”
Then the hollow years of going to the in-laws and feeling like a fish out of water, waiting for the Ramos Gin Fizzes to kick in. Then the years when my children were young and my own depression was drowned in the hope that I could provide them with the sort of happy family pictures that I remembered. Then divorce and therapy and new attempts to create holiday traditions that could take the place of standing around the piano singing carols slightly off-key. I’m afraid to ask my sons if they have happy memories of Christmas past. What if they only have pictures that don’t include me?
This is a dark picture with only bits of light coming in at the edges, but then I remember that really what is important is not all those perfectly wrapped baubles or even the PS2 inside the box. We were there together. We opened and laughed at shirts we would never wear. We ate chocolates from Oregon for breakfast. Occasionally I got something right, and the boys were pleased. Santa came and went and “to all a good night” was really what we felt. We got out the Dylan Thomas and read “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” We were invited to Christmas Eve dinners by kind and generous friends and sang carols with them. Suddenly, without noticing how it has happened, it seems like the whole holiday thing isn’t so scary after all. We are a family, living comfortably, with friends and food and warm beds, and we are secure in our love for one another. We even manage to do some small things for those less fortunate without feeling smug. We put up the lights, and it is home.
This year we will all convene again, along with cousins, the grand matriarch, siblings and significant others, and we will eat and laugh and yes, probably shop, and maybe sing and definitely read Dylan Thomas and it will be remarkably similar to the great American Holiday that I used to dread so much. If you see me out on the street or standing in line at the post office, it should be with a bemused smile.
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November 21, 2007
I have two adult sons. I never thought that I’d consider
by Jesse Young
I have two strong, beautiful adult sons. My older son, a junior at UCLA, just turned 21; I remember the day he was born. It was a difficult labor for his mother, but her pain, the worry, the fear, the uncertainty of bringing another life into this troubled world – all these were banished by his beautiful face and vigorous crying. After sitting with him and holding him in the nursery, I stepped outside to try to take it all in. It had sprinkled during the night and the air was sweet and newly washed, just like my new son.
I love babies.
I like how they smile back at you and how the tops of their heads smell. I loved the feeling of my baby cradled against my shoulder as I walked him and rocked him and sang to him to try to get him to sleep. Sometimes I see a dad with an infant and I can still physically feel that weight, hear the sursurrus of breathing, the heartbeat synchronized to mine.
Most of the women I know who are my age have “baby lust” – for grandchildren. I’m sure I will relish that experience when it comes, hopefully not for a while yet. To take a three-year-old out to the park or just into the backyard is to see the world anew. When they get chosen to play the flower in the school play, my heart will rise with them as they sprout and stand tall. But those first few months are so special, when they are helpless and completely dependent on you and so innocent and fresh and fine.
All that said, I have two adult offspring and, if you had asked me any time in the last fifteen years if I wanted to have more babies, I would probably have said no without much hesitation. Baby lust doesn’t prevent me from remembering that my older son didn’t truly sleep through the night before he was three, that after working a long day I could come home to a multitude of household and/or marital disasters and still have to make dinner, do the dishes, run a couple loads of laundry and bathtime for the boys. Doing one’s job (in my case operating power tools) on three to six hours of sleep can be an adventure. Remembering what it feels like to have an adult conversation, much less having one, is a major accomplishment.
I am proud of my children, and I feel good about caring and providing for them so far. But, until recently, I would have said that I have been there and I’d prefer to wait for the joys of grandparenting where I can send the little nippers home with their parents if they are cranky or sick or having the terrible twos.
However, I’ve been dating a woman who hasn’t had children and would still like to, and so I’ve been thinking about babies again. Even if it happened tomorrow, I would be over 70 before this new child graduated from high school. Would it be fair to a child to have a parent who could be his grandparent? Could I make it through a week of sleepless nights? No, I think, stop. It’s unreasonable. It’s unnatural. Taking care of a baby is a job for a younger man. And then I realize how I wasn’t ready to have my first child despite birthing classes and reading books on fetal development and parenting. And yet it worked out. I remember how I fell in love with my sons the moment that they were born, even before they were born and that that love is unconditional and unending. And then I think, “What if it were a little girl?” and I smile.
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September 12, 2007
The Nature Channel
by Jesse Young
The Nature Channel is outside my back door.
Regal and majestic, sudden and brutal, the Cooper’s hawk swoops down in slow-motion, backlit by the sun so his fine feathered legs appear larger than life and, pow, he picks off the poor black-capped chickadee from her spot at the bird feeder. Too late, she sees the shadow and tries to fly away. Too late, I rise from my chair and yell out a warning. She is lunch. Life is like that.
The first year my younger son tried out for the Olympic Development Program team, he was clearly the third-best player out on the pitch. Not just me, but other parents in the stands all said so. The two boys who were better went on to the state, regional and national programs. The system is based on the calendar year, and my son was born on Christmas Day and had not had his teenage growth spurt yet. So some of the boys out there, including the two better players, were quite a bit bigger, men among boys. The coach in charge was straightforward about his bias for bigger players. Still, my son showed so well and he wanted it so badly that, when he called the phone number to hear the list of boys who had made the team, he could not believe that he was not among those who had been chosen. He called the number four or five times that day, almost completely convinced each time that the terrible mistake would have been noticed and remedied, or that he had just misheard the recording.
If he had been born a week later, my son would have made the team and gone on to the next levels of that system. He has stayed with his passion for the sport and worked hard and grown and achieved a great deal of success. Soon we will find out if he will get a chance to shine as a Division 1 college player. Life is like that.
A year or so ago, my sister suggested I contact a tennis friend of hers. “She’s fun. She’s single. She plays tennis like you. You two should meet,” she said.
I said, “She lives in Eugene, and I live in Berkeley.” But my sister is a persistent person.
So I called her friend and we emailed a bit and then stopped for a while and then we started again -- short, usually not very personal emails about tennis matches or the things we had been doing. She had a boyfriend for a while, and then they broke up. I was dating a woman for a while and that ended. I almost went to meet her at a tennis camp last year, but then I didn’t. We got to know each other between the lines, in small ways, meeting at the bird feeder.
As this summer approached, I wrote to ask her if she thought we should meet and she agreed. We made a plan for her to come down to visit me and to enter a tennis tournament up in Napa. She arrived and stayed at my house for three days, and we had lunch and dinner and we played tennis and won and lost and we went to a Fourth of July party and watched movies and it was all good and then it was time for her to leave to go back to her home in Oregon.
At my advanced age I was surprised to find myself falling for this woman who is geographically unacceptable and a bit younger, whom I don’t know all that well and is different from the other women I have fallen for. The sudden, slow-motion, brutality of the moment, picked off my perch quite without warning. So, what to do? I imagine that the smart thing to do would have been to keep quiet and wait to see how the wind blows, one eye on the bird feeder and the other on the sky. There were signs that she was not on the same page. I ignored them. I did not want to believe them, so I declared myself. I told her I really liked her. It was just like being at lunch in high school, slow and brutal.
I haven’t called her four or five times a day, but I can hear the recording just the same and my name isn’t on the list.
July 25, 2007
by Jesse Young
We want our children to succeed, to be happy, to thrive, to achieve their dreams. I have always encouraged my boys to identify their wants and needs and make them manifest. But have I also done too much? Has my generation made things too easy for our children? My father always was quoting Aristotle: “Moderation in all things.” As a principle it suited him and it directed much of his parenting style: minimal interference. He would never have driven two hours each way on Saturday and again on Sunday to watch me play a game, and he certainly wouldn’t have washed my uniform and helped me find my gear.
I remember that he did buy me a fine baseball glove when I was eleven years old and only grumbled a bit about its cost. We played catch in the driveway sometime, and he gave me a few pointers and suggested that he had played the game in his youth, stickball on the streets of the Bronx with a Buick as first base. But more often than not, his style was hands off. He let his children proceed and succeed at their own pace. I have not followed this system and, now that one son is in college and one is about to be a senior in high school, I wonder if I have taught them all they need to know. Maybe a bit more of here’s the laundry soap, here’s the pink shirt that used to be white, and a little less of here’s your uniform clean and neatly folded with your socks on top.
We learn from modeling as much as we do from instruction. Maybe laundry isn’t as important as listening or empathy or looking people straight in the eyes. Maybe when the white t-shirts are gray, it won’t matter or maybe that will be the time when learning to launder becomes important. Before that day I will continue to encourage my boys to learn how to operate the dials and remember to put the clothes in the dryer before the mold starts to grow.
July 11, 2007
by Jesse Young
I’m looking at myself in the mirror, checking out the sunburn on my frontside from yesterday’s hour in the sun. It is a bit mottled – the zebra pattern of pink and white can only be from fat folds shielding some parts while I was sitting in a chair by the pool reading in the Las Vegas sun. I didn’t always have fat folds on my belly. It is very disconcerting.
I’m in Las Vegas because my son is a very good soccer player and his team won the Northern California State Cup and is playing here in the Western U.S. Regional Championships. Las Vegas in the middle of the summer. Yesterday hit 104 degrees, and today is supposed to be hotter. It’s dry heat, but still damn hot, hence the sitting by the pool and the mottling.
I’m a proud dad, a proud soccer dad. I hope my son’s team will win and play well, but the old joke about first prize is a week in Philadelphia and second prize is two weeks in Philadelphia? Well, winning here means they would play in Frisco, Texas, in a few weeks. Scrape the grease off the skillet, I’m done.
I’m not the only one in town with pink skin on their chests. Las Vegas seems to bring out the cleavage in people and quite a few other tourists have under-applied their SPF-50.
Without sounding too pathetic, can I admit that I am lonely here in my giant room with its king-sized bed and only me to fill it? Everywhere I go – in the casinos, walking out on the Strip, eating in the restaurants – people seem to be coupled up. They stroll by, holding hands, smiling, laughing, necks craning to see the Eiffel Tower, and I think, “Well, where is my beautiful wife?” (Thank you, David Byrne.)
Looking in the mirror doesn’t help. I may not be hideous, but no woman is going to spin her head around like Linda Blair to check out my ass. But, I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone, whining just a bit about how everyone else seems happy and all this cleavage is out there but none for me, and my friend, bless her heart, reminded me that coupleness isn’t all fun and games, even in Las Vegas. They could just as easily have gone back to their pink palatial rooms and had some wicked fight about the guy turning his head to check out someone else’s cleavage, argued about Engelbert and Humperdink or some other excess that this place seems to bring out of people, and tossed and turned through their night.
Anyway, I felt a lot better after that. Now I can go back out there and cheer on my son and his team and sleep anywhere I want on that vast ocean of a bed. And I vow to be more careful with my sunscreen applications. I don’t want to scare anyone.
June 27, 2007
by Jesse Young
A friend and I went to a Cooking for Singles event a few weeks ago. We are divorced men, still searching for the women of our dreams who will put up with us, and this seemed like a painless way to expand our horizons. Fifteen men and fifteen women met and mingled over wine and food. As part of the preliminary talk, the chef asked the group rhetorically, I thought, “How do you know if a lemon is ripe?” By weight, by color, by firmness were all answers that were given, but later I got to thinking that the same question applies to potential partners and that the difficulties of interpreting what is inside the skin are similarly vexing.
This past Easter my son and I decided to have some friends over for Easter dinner. We made the plan late, and we weren’t sure how many were coming until the day before, so the menu was also a bit unsettled. We ended up with a honey-baked ham, green beans with almonds and rosemary potatoes, and a guest brought some hors d’oevres and another some wine and, at the last minute, I decided to make my (from the Chez Panisse Café cookbook) beet, avocado, grapefruit and arugula salad with mustard vinaigrette. I had everything but the avocadoes and a few things still to do before the guests arrived, so I decided to send my son to the store to buy a couple of avocadoes to finish off the salad. Well, the ones he came home with were lovely dark green, avocado green, rocks that would be ready to eat in a week or so if left out in a pretty bowl in a warm place, so we had the salad without them and it was a big hit anyway.
Now, he doesn’t eat avocadoes and had never had to buy one before, so how would he know how to pick one that is firm, but slightly yielding to the touch? Someone has to tell you. Then you have to try it yourself and probably experience a failure or two.
Of course, the analogy only works so far; women and relationships are not fruit, they are much more complex and subtle and the result of picking a bad one is much worse than eliminating an ingredient from an Easter dinner salad. Still, I may have to take my son out to practice at the grocery store, poking and prodding the produce -- I hope you’re not going to be buying avocadoes right after us -- checking the expiration dates on the dairy products, learning the color codes of the bag ties on the bread isle and maybe, just maybe, he can give me some advice on women.
May 30, 2007
Joining the Club
by Jesse Young
My son, tall and handsome, drives long and straight. I had already found the trees to the right of the fairway. As I was shouldering my bag, I noticed that it felt lighter than usual.
I have been playing golf for about 25 years, and my clubs are old, maybe older than I am. Let me just say that I have wooden woods, and my irons are Taiwanese imitation Ping-like items that pre-date the invention of graphite. Still, even though I don’t play often anymore, they are familiar and the bag felt light. I made a quick survey: driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, 3, 5, 7, 9, P and SW, and my putter. Now the 8-iron flew out of my own hands at the practice range and snapped like a twig a year ago, but where were the 4 and 6 irons? And then I remembered seeing them in my son’s room at some point in the preceding months.
You see, my 17-year-old, soccer-playing, bigger-than-I-am, thighs-like-tree-trunks, steely blue-eyed son still gets scared of things that go bump in the night and, when he crawls into his bed at our house, after he has checked the closets and looked in all the rooms, he tucks in with his (or as it turns out, my) trusty 4-iron by his side. We live in a small house, where my bedroom is only a few feet away from his. We live in a very safe community with very few violent crimes. He is rational and smart and a gifted athlete, and yet he sleeps with golf clubs.
It is late at night, and I have been in bed for some time, not sleeping the sleep of the just and pure. I am aware that my son has gone to bed and has turned out the lights. A loud thump brings me back to consciousness. I hear my son stirring in his room and I get up to check on him. We meet in the living room in our boxer shorts.
“What was that noise?”
“It looks like your backpack tipped off the coffee table. Go back to bed. It’s a long day tomorrow.” He eyes the bag suspiciously, this time with his own fairway metal in his hand.
I Am Jesse Young
by Jesse Young
I’m the dad of two fine young men, one in college at the University of
California at Los Angeles and one still in high school. Some 96
percent of fathers work (I’m one of them; I’m a general contractor) and
some 80 percent think that being a dad is the best, most important
thing they have done in their lives (I’m one of them, too).
I’m a divorced dad with shared custody. My sons have given me
permission to be frank about what I see, so I’m going to write about
the struggles and joys of being a single parent, about my sons and our
relationship. I’ll also write about the struggles and joys of dating
as a divorced man with children.