Things I Want My Son To Know #11 ~ Know How To Live On Your Own

I am amazed by how many young women, and men, simply don’t know how to do basic things, don’t have basic life skills. You should never be in a relationship because you can’t balance a checkbook or iron a shirt; these are not good reasons to pick a mate. And yes, you can pay people to do a lot of life skills things, but you may not always have the money for that, or wish to spend it on that. There are often far more important things to spend your money on; choices to be made. So it is important that you know how to live on your own and take care of yourself.

Remember we have always said there is nothing worse than a single man’s bathroom. If you want a second date, know how to clean a bathroom, especially the toilets. It not hard and you won’t catch anything. Spray, swish, wipe and don’t forget the underside, outside and the floor around the base!

Know how to cook a few basic meals. Remember you can put almost anything in a basic cream sauce and be impressive; butter, flour, milk, a little chicken, some rice, you are a genius. Spaghetti, eggs, salad, you know you can.

Know how to manage your own money, balance your checkbook and invest your savings intelligently. Shop sales and remember, never pay full price just because you want something today. Save something every time you get a paycheck. If you do you will retire with enough money to live. You will be able to help your children when they need it.

Know how to iron your shirts, when you have a job interview you need an ironed white shirt, always. And depending on where you work, you will need one for work sometimes. And know how to iron your pants. I hate to say it, but if you actually hang things up with a crease, they need less ironing. Maybe when you don’t have someone to iron for you, you will hang them up.

Know how to make good coffee, a reasonable cup of tea, a box of brownies. Know how to make your bed and run the washer/dryer. So many life tasks, so little space to write. Generally, be a competent self-sufficient human being. Know how to suit up and show up, feed yourself, do your bills and clean your house. Don’t depend on people to do these things for you. That way you can rely on yourself and find the people that enrich your life in real and special ways; not the people you need so you will have clean clothes.


Things I Want My Son To Know #10 ~ Respect Your Heritage

You have a complicated heritage. Your are adopted so there is a part of your heritage that you may never know much about. We do know that part of the heritage of your birth family is Native American. Since it is what we know, and it is special, hold it close and cherish it. This is a particularly spiritual and compassionate heritage and someday you may want to know more about it. I wish I could tell you more but that is all we know and all we have been able to find out.

But… you have the heritage of your family as well. That is us. Your maternal grandmother is, if anything, a Unitarian (religious preference). More importantly she is descended from early colonists and English missionaries to Hawaii. She was born into the Daughters of the American Revolution, as I understand it, but was drummed out for marrying a Jew (I think they are slightly more liberal now). There are two things important about this, first that she is descended of those revolutionaries in America and second that she experienced discrimination against Jews (something you should never forget). There is a history of her family among my books.

Your maternal grandfather is a Russian/Polish Jew whose grandmother fled Russia with her eight children and no husband and no English as a result of discrimination and poverty. Her story is an amazing one and your great grandmother described their journey to your Uncle Dan who wrote it out. This precious piece of writing is saved for you too (of course).

Your paternal grandfather was Irish through and through, and Catholic by upbringing; there is little we know about his ancestry but despite your father’s stubborness there is a little magic there.

Your paternal grandmother is, I believe, English and German. If this is wrong, I will let your dad post a correction! She is the toughest woman I have ever met and she is the only one in the whole family that is really good at handling and saving money. You could take a page out of her book on this one.

Finally, although you are many things, you are a Jew. You were raised as a Jew with Jewish values. Your dad was raised as a Catholic but chose to be a Jew because he believed in the values and principles of Judaism, he believed in Judaism as a way of life. And he chose it with no input from me. The Jewish heritage is a rich and vital one. It is a heritage of learning, knowledge, charity, spirituality, community service and kindness. The rituals are beautiful and many of them revolve around the home, rather than the house of worship, making them even more special; the candles, the seder, havdallah, chanukkiah (menorah).

It is important to respect that at least on two counts, your ancestors would have experienced terrible discrimination and physical violence merely for being who they were. If for this reason alone, you should be proud to be who you are, a Jewish man with Native American roots (among other things). You should wear your star proudly and never be ashamed of it. The Jews historically fought for civil rights in this country, side by side with African Americans seeking equal rights because they knew what discrimination was. You should always stand up not only for yourself but for those who are treated as lesser.

Whatever you think of religion ultimately, light the candles in your home; light a chanukkiah; conduct a seder with your children and re-tell the story of our liberation from slavery. It will make you feel proud and good; it will make you feel closer to your ancestors.

have a seder with your children you will feel closer to those who are gone.

Things I Want My Son To Know #9 ~ Your Dad Is My Hero

Your dad and I are very, very different. But you already know that. And we bicker, you know that too. What you may not know is that we have lots of things in common. Things you might not guess. We both love music, all kinds of music, blues and jazz, country and rock, classical and show tunes. We don’t both love every piece of every type, but we both love some of all of it. And we both love dance, and theatre. We both love animals and we both love you. Your dad is an amazing guy, he can quiet a crying baby in less than a minute (average), he can tell you what’s wrong with a horse by looking at it, he can pick out a “good” cow just by eyeing it, he makes the best macaroni and potato salad in the world and he has the strongest hands I have ever felt. Your dad has not had an easy life, but he keeps going. He has had the courage to look at his past and not repeat it, he has had the courage to acknowledge some of his character defects and change them, he has continually tried to be a better person. Your dad has never been too proud to work, whether it was work he was trained for, or highly paid, or something he loved, he gets up in the morning, suits up and shows up. Your dad has a huge heart; even if he doesn’t really like to show it. Nobody is better to call when there is an emergency in the middle of the night, he will always show up. He might hate it when there’s a dirty dish, but in a real crisis, he’s your guy. There are many times that your dad gave our last hundred dollars to someone he thought needed it more than we did. Your dad tries to help everyone he can; if they ask for his help. He is not one to impose his “help” on people who don’t want it. Your dad is a very good judge of character, he always knows who the slimebuckets are before I do. Your dad loves me a lot, and I know he will always protect me if he can. Your dad loves you more than anybody or anything, whether you realize it or not, and he wants only the very best for you; and he would do anything he could to make the best happen for you. Your dad is my hero; you could do a lot worse than to be a lot like him.

Things I Want My Son To Know #8 ~ Don’t Marry The First Girl You….

So. Don’t marry the first girl you… kiss? There is so much to this subject. We had our first discussion about the “birds and the bees” a long time ago it seems. And since I don’t believe in such cute euphemisms, we are talking about sex here. First, remember when you have kids, don’t use cutesy words for their body parts, call them what they are and speak freely and openly to them about those parts and what they can be used for.

Now with that out of the way… I have no idea if you are yet sexually active; but I know you are something of a slow starter socially. This is not a bad thing. You are a careful person who does not take a lot of risks. But this is an arena in which it doesn’t take much to have huge consequences. So I am torn between saying, don’t be too afraid; and saying, be afraid and be careful. So second, don’t have sex until you are ready. You probably won’t know if you are ready, but listen to your heart. Sex is a pathway to your emotional life, it is never ever just sex.

Third, try not to fall too hard the first time. This is pointless advice but I will say it anyway. If you are waiting, as I suspect you may be, don’t marry the first one unless you spend a long, long time getting to know her too. You will change so much in the next 5 to 7 years as you find your way through college and to a career that it will be hard to predict what you will want in a relationship at the end of that time.

Finally, remember that sex is about caring, respect, sharing and intimacy; it is not about you, it is about you both. So, against my better judgment I say don’t be afraid; but yes be careful. Show your heart, but don’t be too quick to give it away for life.

Things I Want My Son To Know #7 ~ Cook With Your Children

Cook your family recipes; some things should be kept alive. In ethnic families there are rituals, usually tied to the religious, that are important and become part of the legacy and memories. In most families, eating together is a ritual that preserves legacy and memory. Even more, there are foods, cooked and eaten at particular times or times of year, prepared in a particular way, by particular people that especially preserve legacy and memory.

There are things you need to know. How to make the letter cookies your great grandmother, and then I, made when each of us in succeeding generations were small. How to make the cherry filled cookies that your great grandmother made for your grandfather and which are his very favorite. How to make your grandfather’s chopped liver (yes, the secret is in the schmaltz) and your grandma Joan’s lemon meringue pie which is too good to put in a pie, just make a double filling and eat it. I don’t know how you came to dislike brisket but you should still know how to make the best brisket on the planet, and the best potato latkes (you will always have friends at chanukah, guaranteed).

Whether you choose to be an observant or participating Jew, you should know how to make a seder. It is important to pass our story on to our children, year after year. The food is part of it, it is the glue that helps to bind our memories together, it keeps them real. The food is the taste and smell of the past and a path to the future. You know, being who I am, that I will have collected the recipes for you, and bound them in some kind of book for you to keep. But a book on a shelf isn’t enough. A few times a year, you need to take it down, make something yummy, and think of me, of your dad, of your grandparents, and the times we cooked and ate those foods together. And when your children are little, cook with them, and tell them the stories of the food and the memories… and they will live on.

Things I Want My Son To Know #6 ~ Fix What You Can

Ok. So some things really touch your heart, some things are just seriously important and some things just have to be passed on. I am about to pass on the advice my dad gave me when I left for college at a too young age. So this is in the last category, but it is also just plain funny. I was leaving home at 16 and, unlike you, glad to be doing it. I had an adventurous spirit, something I hope you will grow a bit more of. Understand, for the purposes of putting this advice in context, that your grandfather had not lived with us since I was roughly six. And he was a bohemian, creative, brilliant artistic type. He was not your usual dad, just as he’s not your usual grandfather. The thing about your grandfather is that he not only knows how to fix most anything, he deeply believes that anything can be fixed. Sometimes he would like to fix things not worth fixing and while I believe we have become too quick to dispose of things, I also know there is a time to dispose; but that’s a different discussion. So there I was getting ready for college at sixteen and my father’s advice for going into the world was that you must have three things, and with those three things you could fix anything that needed fixing. The three things were duct tape, WD 40 and birth control. There are many jokes to be made here, all of which I have heard from friends with whom I shared this story, none of which bear repeating. While this is funny, there is something important to think about in it. These three things represent problem solving, having the right tool for the job, holding things together, making things work smoothly, being in control of and responsible for your actions, fixing things that need fixing and general self-reliance. These are all values that I wish you to hold dear. Not the least of which is that some advice, however goofy it may seem at the time its offered, just sticks with you.

Things I Want My Son To Know #5 ~ Find Your Passion

Do something you love. You will be going to work, in some way or another, for the better part of your life. Find something you are passionate about and do it as well as you can. Most of us don’t become famous, or celebrated, or publicly acknowledged. There is a deep satisfaction in doing something you truly enjoy and doing your very best. We joke about my career, that I could have made lots of money; but I didn’t. Most of my working life was dedicated to public service. We always had what we needed. But I know that I made a difference in the lives of many and did something I believed in passionately. That gives me a comforting feeling that my life had purpose, meaning. While there are many other things that will give your life purpose and meaning, raising your children for instance, your work will be a big part of your life. Too many people settle for just “going to work” and suffering through the days and weeks. Do something that makes you never want to quit, that makes you glad to go to work. Do something you would do even if you could stay home.That’s what education gives you, the option to do what you love, to find what you love. Cherish that chance and be grateful for it; follow your dreams and don’t allow fear of lacking things stop you from it. Things will come later.