I’ll Embarrass My Son All I WantJoel Stein
I have committed unimaginable crimes against my son. I have published stories in which I call him a pussy and a wimp. I have sat with him for a Today Show segment where I talked about his circumcised penis. I have mocked his nut allergy and his asthma. I have written that he tries to French kiss me, that he asked me to pour water on his penis in the bath and that he likes the feeling of his own feces in his diaper. That last one I revealed just now.
Because I used his real name and because some of this was written for Time magazine, it will likely blot out his own Google imprint. Every date he goes on will metaphorically start with his dad showing a naked photo of him in the bath. A bath where he wants water poured on his penis.
So when Lisa Belkin wrote on the Huffington Post that she thought it was wrong for Dara Lynn-Weiss to reveal how she forced her daughter to lose weight in Vogue, and wrong of Jennifer Coburn to write in Salon how upset she was about her daughter’s first breakup, and wrong of Ayelet Waldman to write in The New York Times about how she was more in love with her husband than her kids, and wrong of Amy Chua to write in the Wall Street Journal about trying to quash her daughter’s independent streak — I felt hurt that she didn’t rail against me.
I repeatedly call my son a pussy in a book that comes out on May 15 and is called Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity. (And can be bought here!) Books last a long time. They’re the kind of things, as reality television has taught us, that your frenemies find decades later and use against you. I should be locked up.
But I’ve been writing about people in my life for more than 20 years. And I have learned what pisses people off and what doesn’t. It’s this: It’s impossible to predict. I write glowing things about celebrities and they get infuriated about one word. I write harsh things about people who wind up finding it hysterical and affectionate. Those people I marry.
But our identity is so divorced from our lives as small children that it’s usually just a minor annoyance to have your parents tell embarrassing stories about you as a baby. And — what I have learned from writing a column about my parents, my wife, my friends and my coworkers — is that you can avoid much of the trouble if you run things by the people you write beforehand and give them veto power, which I will do with my son. Hopefully, unlike my mom, my son won’t be a therapist who uses this vetting process as an excuse to make me talk for hours about non-existent issues I have with him.
It’s unclear who owns information. If you do something to me, is it mine to write about, or do we own it jointly? I believe we both own our own version of what happened. But even if that’s just, there are still repercussions. And I’ve felt those with my college girlfriend, my mom and my friends. I don’t want to cause those problems with my son, but I know there are going to be repercussions for all kinds of things I do even decisions that don’t directly involve him. We live public lives in our communities, and print despite its scary permanence and access isn’t necessarily worse than something I say at a kid’s birthday party or an iPhone photo I text to everyone I know. I have a very Anthony Weiner body.
There’s stuff I won’t put in print because of him: Problems Cassandra and I have in our marriage, which are merely hypothetical and do not exist at all, Laszlo. Anything, in short, that will keep from feeling safe in the world.
People like to judge others. I get that. I do it for a living. Still, it seems too easy for Gawker to write, about Jennifer Coburn’s Salon piece: “Teenage daughter having a hard time in her personal life? Write an essay about it for the entire internet to read! It’s Parenting 101.” This is a website so dedicated to privacy and decorum they have a daily section in which they print where people claim to have seen celebrities in public, often accompanied by photos.
We don’t know what the relationship each writer that Lisa Belkin called out has with her kid. Or if each mom ran the story by her kid first. I met Amy Chua’s daughters and they’re funny, confident and can dish it out to their mom; my guess is that her daughter was fine with that Wall Street Journal essay. And if she did complain, I’m sure she was forced to play ten hours of the Goldberg Variations as punishment for talking back.
At CaféMom.com, April Peveteaux wrote “Mommy Blogging Should Have An Age Limit” in which she said she’s going to stop writing about her daughter Esme when she is old enough to read her mom’s posts. But she’ll always be able to search Time magazine for the story about when Jonah Hill babysat my son and tried to get him to reveal his feelings about the mysterious Esme whose drawings were taped to the wall next to his bed. You can only protect your kids so much.
Pre-order my book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity, (out May 15) on Amazon.
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