Monday, June 16, 2014

What we didn't say

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, essays, family relations, discussions

My father never had "the talk" with me. My mother did instead. When a guy is 12, and the "extra hair" has begun to grow, it's embarrassing and intimidating! The concept, delivered with almost clinical detachment, seemed unbearably gross…I was still about 10, emotionally. However, later the knowledge thus imparted did help counteract the incredible speculations of schoolyard buddies who had a little actual information and lots of rubbish with it. But really, the "Be-Bopper" ditty passed along all the information truly needed:
Down by the river where nobody goes,
I saw a lady standing without any clothes.
Along came a Be-Bopper, swingin' a chain:
Down came the zipper, and out it came!
Three months later, she was starting to swell.
Six months later, she was fatter than hell.
Nine months later, out it came:
Three little Be-Boppers, swingin' a chain!
Details such as foreplay and so forth would have to come later.

In some families, fathers and sons do get chances to talk together. My father and I spent more time together than was common in the 1950s and we talked a lot (I believe my brothers all could report the same). Late in my college years, a friend came home with me for dinner, and remarked afterward, "Your family's table talk is at a pretty high level!" We're all rather chatty, and not much was off-limits.

The Geist family discussions seem to have steered away from "the talk" and a number of other meaningful subjects. As Bill and Willie Geist tell it, they wouldn't have it any other way. Father and son play literate ping-pong in Good Talk, Dad: The Birds and the Bees…and other Conversation we Forgot to Have. The book is really a 16-chapter mini-memoir for the two of them, a kind of comparing notes on significant events and what they mostly didn't say about them: which sports they did or did not excel at (Willie mainly excelled, his dad, not so much); how they learned to love how they hated going fishing together; what really happened to outrage a teacher, to much merriment all around; and how Willie's way into the TV world was pretty foreordained, having grown up with the living room or kitchen being transformed into a TV studio every month or so.

You can't say that Willie Geist was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. More like a silver pen in hand, or at least silver keyboard. A writer friend confessed to Bill that he'd re-type a column of Bill's "just to find out what writing that well feels like." Reading them both alternately, I find there is a little difference in voice but fully equal skill. They both write extremely well. Nature and nurture conspired to pass along Bill's way with words to his son. With Willie's children still so young, it is a little early to tell if the gift will continue, but I'm optimistic.

I don't really want to reveal more about the book. Whether you are a father or a son, or the wife or sister or mother of one, this book will crack open a window on an interesting family, maybe similar to yours, but more likely not. We're all human, but that umbrella is gigantic. And guys, don't feel too bad if you feel shorted in the father-son-bonding-talk arena. It's more usual than you think.

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