I’ve lately been thinking about my own upbringing and how that helped to inform my behavior as a father, or even how it hinders it. I am talking less about the “what my parents did or didn’t do” part of it and more the environment in which I was raised. I was born and brought up in a middle class, suburban family in a pretty wealthy area of North Eastern New Jersey. We weren’t rich, by any means, but I was certainly never left wanting for much. I think this type of existence had both incredible benefits and provided for some built in handicaps as well. The same, I’m sure, could be said regardless of where you grew up. I had a lot of the same experiences that I think a lot of kids had. I met my friends by riding my back around the neighborhood. I played baseball at the local field. I broke into a scary, abandoned church. Well, I walked into a regular, modern church after hours. But it was scary. Hell, the television show ED was shot in my hometown. When Hollywood went looking for a wholesome American town for Tom Cavanuagh’s character to come home to they found ours. So, there was a lot of good. However, being so culturally isolated, I think that I missed out on a lot of experiences. More specifically, I was ill-equipped to handle some of the things I would later experience.
For me, the most important plus and minus of growing up in Northvale, New Jersey is that I always remember feeling safe. There was just the consistent notion that we were taken care of. New York City was about 20 minutes away, and I grew up in the 80s with the depiction of New York as still this dank, crime-filled pit. It provided an indicator that danger was nearby. But, it wasn’t HERE. We were okay as long as we stayed HERE. I’ve never had to truly taste any type of desperation that wasn’t of the self-imposed variety. Sure, I suffered some rather extreme consequences of my own young, boneheaded actions but I was raised with a stack of pillows under my ass. If I ever fell, I never fell far and always landed rather softly. There was a consistent presence of entitlement and upper class privilege among most of my friends. Essentially, I was raised in a bubble. We were, despite some different spots on the economic spectrum, all the same “people”. There was a financial component to it. A religious component. Certainly a ideological component and, of course, a racial component.
This is entirely contrary to the environment that Jack is being raised in. I have been living in Los Angeles for nearly 14 years. I can recall early on driving by Hollywood High School and wondering what it must be like having spent some of the most formative years of your life in a place like Hollywood. See, now that I live here most of that mystique has vanished. This is, quite simply, my home. However, when I was growing up and when I first moved here I was entranced by the aura of creativity, magic and celebrity that is used to sell the image of Los Angeles. I hung out on Sunset Blvd. on Friday nights, amid the bumper to bumper traffic. I would go to parties in the Hollywood Hills. I would treat celebrity sightings as commonplace events, when in reality I’m screaming like a Beatle’s fan inside at the sighting of “stars” like Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. In those early years living in the City of Angels the idea of having grown up here seemed akin to growing up in a Magical Kingdom. There just seemed something more desirable about it to me. That you’d some how be more grown up and cool if you’d been FROM California.
Jack is FROM California. I am not. Charlie is FROM California. My wife is not. We are, already, outcooled by our children. Which is how it should be. Jack and Charlie are being raised in one of the most racially, economically, politically and spiritually diverse cities in the country. Though, I’m not foolish enough to think that simply being raised in an area know for being racially diverse will suddenly make Jack a beacon of tolerance or that a steady encounter with the masses of LA’s homeless is going to instill in him a sense of charity. I’m just grateful that he gets to have these types of interactions on a daily basis for the simplest of reasons: it’s something that I didn’t get. I love SO MUCH that Jack has kids in his class that have two mothers or that his best friend in school is a mixed race girl. To me, it’s no different than the idea that Jack was on a plane flying before his first birthday, whereas I didn’t get on one until I was 24 years old. I see all of this, the being raised in a place like LA, as just another set of experiences that I can give to my son that I didn’t have. However, I know that that alone is not enough to be the guiding force towards accepting all that he sees for what it is. I know that the guidance of his parents, and the example of our own behavior, will speak much louder than whatever happens to be his current address.
On the other end of it, there are opportunities that Jack is going to miss out on because of where he lives. Just as I did. For example and direct contrast, he will not likely walk to his friends house via the railroad tracks as his father did. Los Angeles is a great town to bike around in, but it’s childhood landscape is more geared towards the “playdate” than the “doing out to find new friends” mentality that was pervasive when I was growing up. While the endless throng of parks, museums and culture provide lots to do and there is no shortage of community in our lives, we are lacking that small town quaintness. There’s a charm to knowing what your neighbors are going to do on each day of the week. Sometimes I don’t know if it’s better to have a thousand restaurants that you have not yet tried, or the only one in town that you truly love going to. Jack and Charlie are going to grow up and they’re not going to be me.
In short, Jack and Charlie are going to have his own experiences and become his own man as a byproduct of those experiences. They will be given more opportunity than I was to interact with a broader range of humanity. Granted, Los Angeles is still a bubble, but it’s a large and colorful bubble filled with an endless amount of things to be done. An infinite amount of worlds to conquer and people’s hands to shake. I love my home. I love both of my homes. I cannot fathom my life with out the times I had growing up in New Jersey. However, I knew that Los Angeles was my home within a few short days of moving here. I can recall the moment that I knew I had arrived. I was in the passenger seat of my friend’s jeep and we were driving down Rowena in Los Feliz. I had my right leg hanging out the window, which is a move I absolutely believe that I patented. At the stop sign, some one pulled up next to us, stuck their hand out the window and smacked me right on the sandal. I recall laughing hysterically. I loved the idea that I was in a place where some one might be creative enough to consider that. It’s something that I’ll never forget. Just as I hope that Jack has similar experiences here that he will never forget.
I’m older now. I do not go to Sunset Blvd on Fridays. Hell, I try and steer clear of Hollywood altogether. The celebrity of the Hollywood Idea behind Los Angeles has certainly faded for me into a more sober ideal. However, the magic is all still there. I can still feel the creativity that lives on these streets and in these mountains. I am still pleasantly surprised that the people I meet here are of some of the highest caliber in both ideas and spirit. This place IS different, but it’s also not. It is almost as though, it doesn’t truly matter where you are in the world. So long as your love your children and you provide them with a handful of options that you didn’t get a crack at then you’re doing and alright job.
Although, you have got to see the sunset over the Pacific Ocean before you die.