My 90-year-old father is coming to visit Tuesday. This post, about our relationship, was my last post before Covid-19 hit U.S. shores. As we’ve tripled our subscription base since then, and have a 40% open rate, 9 in 10 of you haven’t seen this.
(Originally published in February 2020.)
My book agent, Jim Levine, gave me a piece of parenting advice that has stuck with me — find moments of engagement. As I have no real manly skills (fishing, building fences) to bond with my kids over, I opt for the cheap route and establish intimacy with my sons by breaking rules. I picked this up from my dad.
In the seventies, we would sneak onto some of Ohio’s most exclusive golf courses at dusk with a 5 iron and a putter (“the only clubs you need”). My dad, like a skilled hunter, would find a clump of bushes sure to be abundant with the exhaust of the rich and uncoordinated — spheres of thermoplastic. Golf balls cost 11 cents to manufacture, but retailed at $1.50 a sphere. We learned this via 30-second ads during ABC’s Wide World of Sports. This brand was “The Number 1 Ball in Golf.” We had bitcoin when Jimmy Carter was president. It was called Titleist.
Similar to a fearless bird dog, I would dive into the foliage using my 5 iron as a makeshift machete. I wouldn’t return until I saw a snake or procured 6 or more balls. We’d lay out our loot on the grass — a new Pinnacle! He’d point at it, nod, and then mess up my hair — his primary vehicle for affection. He did it often, and it felt wonderful. We’d then play 6-7 holes with two clubs.
Our criminality graduated to seeing several movies on one admission ticket and (rarely, but more than once) dining and ditching. I wasn’t a party to the latter. After he’d pick me up from my mom’s, we’d stop at Ships Coffee Shop in Westwood. After the meal, as his Gran Torino would accelerate from the Wilshire Blvd artery feeding the 405, he’d look over and ask, “Did you pay?” I’d stare at him befuddled, and he’d say, “You’re a wee scunner!” and laugh. Again, the mess of the hair, and it all seemed natural, wholesome even.
A couple times, a course ranger in a golf cart emblazoned with badging that said (wait for it) “Ranger” or an exasperated waitress ran after us waiving a check. As if wiping sweat from his brow, my dad would greet them with the welcome surprise of running into an old friend. He’d then break into the thickest Scottish accent, I mean can’t understand a word. He’d point at me a few times, pause, laugh, and put his hand on their shoulder. By this time, they had bonded over the misunderstanding. My seventies Braveheart father would wink at me, and we’d leave the course or pay the check.
I’m convinced police could find my dad on top of a warm corpse with his hands wrapped around the throat, and he’d deploy his Lallans charm to get a ride home from the officers. Nothing can get you into trouble with women who aren’t your wife, or out of trouble with service workers, better than a strong jawline and a Glasgow twang.
I’ve been less successful with my boys. My 9-year-old is easing into mild mischief with his dad, but my 12-year-old will have none of it. The youngest and I drink Coke when their mom is out. I have a stash. The oldest lectures us on how much sugar — which apparently causes inflammation — is in the Atlanta champagne.
I’ve had some success getting my oldest to watch R-rated movies with me, but he demands we fast-forward through the sex scenes. Gratuitous violence is ok, which is something. Note: Deadpool is the only R-rated movie we’ve watched, but still … R-rated.
I thought we were on the verge of a breakthrough last year when, after hibachi, the valet brought our car. As my youngest got in the back, he asked why there was a child seat. I realized, almost immediately … which is strange for me, as I’m not very observant, nor especially quick … it wasn’t our car.
“It’s not our car! But it is now!” I barked, leaning forward. I threw it in drive. “Where do you want to go?!”
My 9-year-old, the crazy one, seemed on board for about 2, maybe 3 seconds. Enough time to say, “Orlando!” But as younger brothers do, he checked his emotions and poked his head through the middle of the front seats to scope out his brother’s reaction. On his brother’s face was the look of terror.
“No, Dad, you’re going to get us in trouble!” So, fun Dad had become scary Dad … not a great feeling. I got about 50 feet before our car-boosting crew had a change of heart, and we returned the car to the valet. Based on my son’s reaction, I thought the valet might be angry. When I got out of the car I attempted to say it was “a wee mishap” in a Scottish accent. Only my Scotch sounds like dead language twins speaking to each other, or what I might sound like mid-stroke.
Why do I want to wreak havoc with my children? I think it’s because I want immortality. I don’t buy that there’s an afterlife, so I believe my only shot is to establish a set of relationships — with people who’ll outlive me — that are singular. The best place to register purchase against this goal is with my sons.
Isn’t that what we all want? To have people you love remember you as someone who, for them, there was no other. Someone they think of, often — your image, your smell, your mannerisms, your oddities. Singular. I hope they’ll understand me. But more than understanding, I need them to miss me, terribly.
We have early millennial wokesters living next to us. They’re a nice couple with a 2-year-old that’s a carbon copy of his dad. They are impossibly good looking and have lessened my gag reflex around tattoos, as they pull it off (see above: impossibly good looking). The dad surfs and invites me all the time, which I believe is a micro-aggression as, let’s be honest, there aren’t that many 55-year-old professors who surf. Or maybe he’s just being nice. Cool Dad also designs and builds furniture because … of course he does.
The hip/woke/surf/artisan/hot couple also own a bar that’s become the hotspot in South Florida, via mixology and a Brooklyn vibe. They also have this ridiculously cool VW T2 Baywindow bus, with a dual carb 1800cc engine and the original Blaupunkt stereo. I know this because Hip Dad always has it parked outside and describes the car, in meticulous (I mean this is how you dismantle an IED) detail. Granted, I’m interested. The VW van has Stephen King’s Christine-like powers. Every time I get into my midlife crisis Range Rover in my athleisure, it’s like the van whispers, “Could you be more lame?”
The inked-up wokesters are great neighbors. This morning they offered to look after our dogs sometime. Good people … good people. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to steal that fahrvergnugen swole AF Volkswagen, and ferry my kids to school. I’ll practice my Scottish accent on the drive back.
Life is so rich,
P.S. Spoke to film director Judd Apatow on my podcast.