Immortal words of paternal wisdom.
My dad lives by his own set of logic. He's a half-white, half-black, Vietnam veteran who grew up in the South Bronx, near the projects. (My mom's Jewish, so I'm a quarter black and half Jewish; if I were gay, the Ku Klux Klan would have a field day with me.) A friend of mine once said, "Your dad sounds like Bernie Mac and looks like a balding, extremely muscular Saddam Hussein." Fittingly, his advice has always been a little off-kilter. Other kids' parents said "don't do drugs," "stay in school," "be smart with your money." His lines often skewed more to, "Make sure you never sit on another man's lap, because you never know what he might do, or if he'll get wood. Even if it's a family member. Believe me, boy. Trust no one."
I'm twenty-nine and getting married next year, so I've been thinking a lot about my future and my sexual/romantic history. What keeps popping into my head is the advice my dad's given me over the years in regards to the latter. There are five key moments I can pinpoint where my dad shared sex/relationship wisdom. While it was always unorthodox, I have to say that he's (mostly) been right.
1. First sex talk
I was ten. My mother wasn't home. My dad worked the midnight shift at Con Edison and was sleeping in my parents' bedroom. It was around eight p.m., and as I sat in our living room watching The Wonder Years, I hear my dad yell, "Hey, boy, get in here!" Yup, my father calls me "boy." As well as "Jack," "Deedoh," "Leroy," or "Tupac," even though my name is Eric.
I walked into the bedroom and stood by the door. It was mostly dark, with light from the street seeping in through the blinds. My dad was lying on top of the covers wearing a t-shirt and tightie-whities. The ceiling fan above him rotated rapidly, like in the opening scene of Apocalypse Now. "Listen up," he said. "Don't fuck no women."
"You can get all types of diseases. AIDS, herpes, crabs, chlamydia. You know what? Don't even kiss anybody. Or your dick'll fall off."
This is probably not the appropriate thing to say to a ten-year-old. That conversation scared the shit out of me for years. (You try playing Spin the Bottle when you think it'll make your dick fall off.) I have no idea what was going through my dad's brain when he sprung that on me out of nowhere. I don't think he even knows. He just laughs now when I tell him this story.
The flip side to this insane advice is that years later, I understood what my dad was getting at. In my drunken youth, as I contemplated not wearing a condom during random hookups (which was often), hearing "AIDS, herpes, crabs, chlamydia…" echo through my mind wasn't such a bad thing.
2. On oral sex
I sat in the passenger's seat of my dad's black Ford Taurus, near the 231st Street train station in the Bronx. We'd just dropped off my high-school girlfriend at the train. I'd been dating her for five months; I was almost eighteen.
We were stopped at a red light when my dad said, "Hey, Tupac, Mama wanted me to tell you this: don't eat no pussy."
Yes, he said that. I have no idea how I reacted. The light turned green, and for the rest of the ride all that I could picture was my sweet mother standing in our kitchen yelling in her light Bronx accent, "Victor, make sure you tell Eric not to eat any pussy!"
To be honest, I'm not sure what the actual advice was or if my mom had even said anything. She probably politely asked my dad to talk to me about oral sex. But I gradually realized that moms worry about sons the same way fathers worry about daughters. Maybe she was worried that I was dating a hussy, and wanted me to be careful. This added a dimension to my mom that, at seventeen, I had never previously considered; I just had to interpret my dad first.
3. On bad relationships
Again in the car, driving on the West Side Highway, Dad broached a difficult topic. "It's important that you're able to have conversations with your partner. Me and mom, we talk to each other. You've got to build a relationship on that — it's not just about sexin' it up. Do you feel like you can talk to Jane?"
"Sure," I lied. I was in the third year of a relationship in which I'd been unhappy for about half. I couldn't talk to my girlfriend; I felt like we spent most of the time in silence or having surface-level conversations. I wasn't sure why I was still with her.
"Really? I don't know, boy. Something about Jane is off. Seems like the synapses to her brain don't connect properly. She's not so quick."
I acted offended. He laughed and ignored me. "Well, anyway, if you feel like you can't talk to her, you're not married, no kids, you're twenty-three, you don't owe her shit. Break it off, because it's only going to get worse." He was right, and I eventually did.
4. On moving in together
"Things will be exciting for a while," he said, "but soon you'll be jerkin' off in the bathroom."
I love living with my fiancée, Emily. I love eating taquitos together in bed while drunk. I love watching marathons of House Hunters with her. We moved in while we were dating, and after the first year I was ready to propose.
But hot damn, truer words were never spoken.
5. On marriage
I get married next March. I'm pumped. I genuinely can't wait to spend my life with my soon-to-be-wife. But at the same time, some weird feeling has surged in me ever since I've gotten engaged. Soon I'll have a ring, and no one will check me out anymore. I'll be fucking invisible. Just like Lord of the Rings; slide on the ring and, poof, I disappear.
Contemplating my impending Frodo-hood, I've felt a strange wave of sexual energy rising. I find myself incredibly horny all the time. The strangest things turn me on. I've talked to other recently engaged male friends who tell me they feel the same way. A buddy got married last year and said he flirted constantly with women until the wedding.
I don't like to flirt; I haven't had game since 2008, so I don't kid myself. But I do find myself staring at women on the street, on the subway, in line at the grocery store, etc. Not in a creepily intense way, like Michael Fassbender during the opening sequence of Hunger, but a casual linger. Just to see if the woman is looking too. Just to know if I've still got it. Because soon I'll have to stop looking, beyond a quick glance, or I'll be that married sleazeball gawking at the employees wearing yoga pants in Lululemon.
Recently, my dad sensed this, as we sat in his car one morning after working out at the gym. Or if I'm being honest, he caught me staring at some woman in spandex walking her dog. And then a woman in a gray business suit waiting for the bus. And then a nurse in blue scrubs holding a coffee. And then —
"There are a lot of good-lookin' women out there," my dad said, snapping me out of my reverie.
"Yup," I said, still glancing out the window.
"But you know what, Eric? Pussy is pussy and asshole is asshole. Some are just deeper than the others."
I looked at my dad to see if he was laughing. He wasn't.
"All these women may look good, but that doesn't matter. What's most important is the heart of the person you're with. Everyone's looks fade. Titties, balls, and asses all start sagging at some point. That's gravity, motherfucker. The inside of your wife and how you relate to her is more valuable than looks, because you're going to spend more years together looking ugly than pretty. I've seen men fuck around over the years, thinkin' a new pair of drawers will be better. Eventually they have the same issues with their mistresses. It's all the same headache. Now listen up: you found someone very special. Emily is a damn good woman. She has an amazing heart, and that's worth even more than how beautiful she is. So don't forget it."
I haven't. I won't.