On a chilly spring day in 2006, I took the hand of two little boys – one glued to each side of me – and walked the half dozen blocks through our neighborhood to the front door of a Brooklyn garden apartment. “This is it, guys,” I said. “Welcome to our new home.” The ink on my divorce papers had just dried. The Ikea bunk beds were assembled. Now all I had to do was figure out how to raise two kids by myself.
It seems almost unfathomable to me how much has changed since then. Barack and Michelle have come and gone. My previous wife and I have both remarried. And those little boys are grown men, a sophomore and senior in college, tasked with entering a world where jobs are uncertain, the environment is unraveling, and the women they hang out with are rewriting the book on how things are done.
My guys are lucky. Both their mom and stepmom are super intelligent (guess I have a type!) – independent in their careers, finances and lives. Half my job of raising two decent boys was done by two decent women, carving an influential path and modeling a lifestyle where equality is a goal, not a pipe dream. Still, they are growing up in a time when the numerous battles continue to be fought – from equal pay to reproductive rights to the simple idea of treating all people the way one wants to be treated themselves.
It’s hard being a guy, today. Every move we make is under the microscope.
Verbal missteps – even the inadvertent ones – are easy to make for men of a certain age. I have my boys to thank for teaching me the dialogue the way it’s supposed to be.
Raising your boys in today’s world
My eldest is an aspiring sportscaster and he has never been part of the debate over women in sports. He’s come of age to women’s World Cup Soccer, female broadcasters in the booth, and zero tolerance for sexist behavior. He appears occasionally as a guest on one of his college TV shows, produced by a classmate who happens to be a woman. He fully grasps that she is as likely to be his boss someday as he might be calling games for the NFL. It is a symbiotic and utterly equal relationship, one that needs no political grandstanding by anyone. The kids just get it
My younger son is caught up in the adolescent euphoria of a brand new relationship with a terrific guy he met at school. I consider him an activist in the gay community, knowing full well he will bristle at this description. He sees the world as one large cooperative where all people whose rights have been challenged must be spoken for. And he balks at the word “activist.” He simply believes that speaking out for the oppressed or under-represented is what you do.
How did they turn out so well? Did I run a pseudo-liberal household with proper political tomes scattered across the coffee table while NPR cooed softly on the radio? Hardly. Experience was their teacher. My boys have traveled to nearly every state in the country with their peripatetic dad and spent numerous summer holidays in France. They know we live in a wide and not always perfect world.
Our Man in the Kitchen also reflects on the parallel lives couples live in their busy worlds. Click here to read.
Be aware of the world around you
What I did do was immerse them in a universe chockful of differing and sometimes combative opinions – and let them hold forth (often loudly) and form their own. Their powerful mother figures brought their own diverse views to the table, providing them a wide and disparate window on everything from “hashtag Me-Too” to equality in the workplace. No one told them how to be. They learned from living, observing and reacting to the helter-skelter planet that they crisscross every single day of their lives.
How do you teach decency in these seemingly indecent times? Well for one, try modeling it as best you know how at every intersection you stumble across. You can expose your children to the realities we all face. The Internet and all those streaming channels have to be good for something, right? And maybe, just maybe, we can step back from our own entrenched views and feed our young ones on a diet of tolerance and knowledge. It is the information age, after all. What good is that if we haven’t learned a thing?
Filet of Beef and Mushroom Gnocchi
What do you do when one child is an environmental vegetarian and the other is a lover of meat? Split the difference, of course. Political correctness and gluttony can make good bedfellows. Just handle the recipe with tact and love.
- One 1.5 kilo filet mignon roast, trimmed and tied
- 500 g fresh-made gnocchi
- 1 box (approx. 250 g) of any kind of mushrooms
- A handful of any delicious chopped vegetables
- Several cloves of garlic thinly sliced
- Olive oil, salt, pepper (the usual suspects)
- Bring meat to room temperature. Preheat oven to 190°C.
- Rub the entire roast with extra virgin olive oil and then salt and pepper generously. More than you think is the right amount.
- Add 1 tbsp. of oil to a nonstick pan and heat to medium high. Carefully brown all sides of the roast, turning frequently.
- Put the browned roast in a shallow roasting pan and cook in hot oven for approximately 30 minutes (13 minutes/.5 kilo for rare).
- Check early with a good meat thermometer. You want it out when the meat’s center temperature is 55°C. It will continue to cook and the ends will be medium rare, the center rare.
- Let roast rest for 30 minutes and then start the gnocchi.
- Bring water to a boil and submerge gnocchi for just a minute or two. It is done when they float to the top. Remove and drain well.
- Chop or slice mushrooms.
- Saute garlic in a frying pan in 3 tbsp. of olive oil.
- Add mushrooms, onions, or any other vegetable, especially green ones, for color and flavor. Sauté briefly until cooked, but crisp.
- Add gnocchi at the very end and toss with salt and pepper and perhaps a little grated cheese.
- Slice beef in 1.5 cm slices and serve.