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June 21, 2010

30 Days of Dads: Paul Ruben, "But It's My Blog"

The dad-blog-o-sphere is stacked with stories of raising young kids. But as more and more dads start telling their stories online, we're getting to hear the voices of those whose "kids" are all grown up. Paul Alan Ruben, a writer and two-time Grammy award-winning producer who lives in New York City, sent us this story of a discussion he recently had with his older son.  


“But it’s my blog.” I protested.

"Dad, you can’t put your essays on the blog.”


“Because that’s not a blog’s purpose.”

“It’s my purpose.”


Uh-oh. His tone, still compassionate, has defaulted to "Right, I am talking to a Luddite" mode.

"Look, you don’t post formally written essays on a blog, unless they’re published. Then you can provide a link to them. One of my old Columbia professors has a blog."

My twenty-five year old son graduated from Columbia University in May with an MA in English Literature. A philosophy guy, he favored literary theory over ‘the novel’. Rather than dissecting a specific novel in order to draw a conclusion based on a particular theme, he preferred delving into how we should read fiction in the first place; like, the philosophy of novel reading.

"Look, I really don’t have to go to your professor’s blog."

"You should."

Now the father who graduated in the middle of his class from Yankton College, S. Dakota, is getting a teeny bit defensive. "Why, because she’s from Columbia?"

"Trust me. It’ll help you blog properly."

Our eyes swerved to the kitchen counter; Brandon swiftly grabbed his vibrating cell phone and, like he always does, pressed it to his ear as if Obama were on the other end. "Yo! Julian, ‘sup…my bad, but I’m down for tonight." Brandon’s voice faded as he left the kitchen. "No, just talkin’ to my Dad..."

There I stood, alone, holding the blog, so to speak.

I thought, so my Columbia alumnus knows more than me about literary theory and how blogs work.

As if he were still facing me I stood up straight and silently argued: where’s your Blog Theory degree? Do you have a blog? Noooo. Maybe you read more blogs than me.

His retort rang in my ear. Dad, I’m just saying, viewing her blog will help you.

Okay already.

Sitting at my computer, I stared at his professor’s ruminations. Interesting. Leaning back I wished Brandon could have eased me towards her blog more supportively, and forgiven my ignorance over how a blog works while indulging my desire for one.

Wishful thinking. Because, in my experience, that’s not how things work between fathers and sons. Lurking inside this anecdote is how things work: a son’s ever-present need for unconditional acknowledgement from his father and his father’s responsibility to acknowledge his son, unconditionally.

To me, the meaning of our encounter isn’t revealed in my fretting over Brandon’s advice, or how his over-sensitive, maybe even a bit jealous Dad, reacted to it. (Of course, if he were rude or out-of-line, I’d have been justified to ask for an apology. But he wasn’t either.) Our encounter’s meaning is located in what propelled my son to engage me in the first place: my recognition of his achievements, my approval of him and his certainty of father’s acknowledgement.

Over the years I’ve failed at times to prioritize this acknowledgement responsibility, particularly during Brandon’s adolescence, when I succumbed to his dismissive attitude and turned into a contentious parent who couldn’t imagine being wrong. When Brandon and I drew a line in the sand the result was conflict: I’m right and you’re wrong. Father and son became intimate enemies. In my zeal to defend myself, to get my way, or at least to be right, I realized I could not acknowledge my teenager’s demands; I couldn’t acknowledge him. Unresolved, angry feelings became our conflict’s legacy, along with emotional disconnection.

But conflict between father and son is normal. Sometimes I am right, dammit! Angry and hurt feelings are unavoidable. I still have them. (You know, I really don’t care what this Columbia professor’s website looks like!)

Truthfully, I might take my son’s blog advice. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I am the father; Brandon is my son. As he engages me – this unlike-any-other über-figure – when I remember my obligation to preserve who we are to each other by acknowledging his spirit, his soul, even his impudence, he and I are emotionally connected. I feel good about myself. I feel privileged to be engaged by my son and to be connected to him, whether or not I listen to his advice.


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