Posts Tagged kids

Time of death: guest essay by Ben Tanzer

Experiments in Manhood debuts a new feature: the guest contributor. This month’s essayist, author and e-media mogul Ben Tanzer, explores the effects of his father’s death on his kids and that moment when mortality becomes a fatherly preoccupation.

My father was 59 when he died. I was 32.

I never wondered when I might die or what the world might look like when I was gone and no longer part of it. I didn’t worry about who would come to my funeral or if anyone would even care.

Then I had my own cancer scare. Turned then passed forty. Stopped drinking quite so much or taking so many drugs and went into therapy and learned that in doing all this I would start actually feeling things.

Still, I never actually worried about death before I had kids and became a dad myself.

It started with the boys of course, everything does. Their mere presence makes me think about my father more than I might otherwise. About what he is missing and how much fun he would have had with them.

There is more though. And there always is.

All this thinking about him not living has also got me wondering whether I will outlive him. Maybe? Probably? Okay, but what if I don’t? That’s only sixteen more years. Sixteen. That’s plenty of time to write more, which is good, because there are so many things I want to write about. Like a novel inspired by, or possibly as an homage to, how a character might cope with his father’s slow, though still way too fast death. (Yes, that is a quasi- and probably totally unprofessional plug for my soon to be released novella My Father’s House.)

Sixteen years though is fine, fine for writing.

But the boys, what about the boys?

I am 43 now. Fuck.

Do the math. I don’t want to do the math. I don’t even like math. But that’s just one of the many ways thinking about death starts messing with you, it makes you think about all kinds of things you would rather ignore.

Myles is nine. Noah is five. Fuck. What does that mean? It means, that if I only make it to 59 they will be what, 25 and 21 respectively, and yes, they will be young men, and yes, I will get to see them through high school, and maybe, at least one of them through college, but what about weddings and grandchildren? Not clear.

What about the fact that they could be fatherless like me, what does that mean?

Not sure, not exactly.

It’s funny, because at one time I didn’t really think about them in relation to me. All I cared about was things that could happen to them, irrational things, porch parties and drunk drivers, and Leukemia.

Not that it was all about fear. Some of it was and is, but it has also been about all the great things they might become, documentary filmmakers, explorers, the President, and all the things we might do together, like hiking across the Grand Canyon and then sleeping in the lodge after gorging on enormous steaks and ingesting copious amounts of beer.

Still, good or bad, it was always all about them as separate from me, until it wasn’t, and until I started thinking about time, how much we might have, what we will do with it and do any of us have any control over any of that?

True, I might have cared about death and time and the relationship of all that to my dad as I got older, more sober and therapeutized anyway, maybe. And maybe it would have been unavoidable as I become more like my father all the time, trying to figure out how to live the artist’s life, even eating Maple frosted donuts.

The author's parents, Mike and Judy Tanzer

And when did that start anyway, the latter not the former, though when did the former start taking hold to the extent it has?

Some days, most days, I’m not even sure what I cared about before I became a father, writing for sure; and my wife Debbie, totally, especially if you are reading this baby; and the Knicks, but what did I really care about? I don’t know, because being a father has skewed and fucked everything. The boys are the filter, when I’m happy, or sad, selfish or benevolent, what role did they play in it, what is the affect on them, and what does any of that mean about being the kind of father you want to be, even if you cannot define what that is much of the time?

I wouldn’t go back. If I did who else would kick me in the balls and pretend to be The Beast from X-Men? Or parade around the apartment naked shaking their ass, though Debbie honey, again, if you are actually reading this, you know you are always welcome to dance naked and shake whatever you want. Still, if not the boys, who else would I watch grow-up before me and then someday leave me, us, to have these same kinds of fears, possibly, even as they too grow-old, improbably mind you, and awesome?

Ultimately then, my plan these days is not to die at 59, or die at all if I can swing it, and so any role you can play in accomplishing this would be great. Also, did I mention My Father’s House is coming out soon? Good. But did I also mention it’s currently half-off the cover price if you pre-order it now? Yes, now. There. Perfect. I should add that I’m in no way trying to imply that if you buy My Father’s House it will extend my life, but it could, right? Sure it could. Think about it. And thank you in advance for doing so.

Ben Tanzer is the author of the books 99 Problems and You Can Make Him Like You among others, as well as the forthcoming novella My Father’s House and humor collection This American Life. You can find him online at


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Enough with the candy

Enough with the candy already. And, yeah, sure, I’m the guy kicking poo pellets at the Easter Bunny’s candy-toting ass. Jelly beans, Peeps, fauxcolate bunnies—I’m not sure what the association is to resurrection, whether seasonal or Christian—but fortunately Easter marks the end of the candy season for American parents.

It goes on for over half the year. Two months before Easter is Valentine’s Day, where your kid could get a piece of candy from every kid in his class. Less than two months before that is the chubby and distended Christmas stocking, or whatever equivalent denominational candy purse. (Isn’t it funny how stocking sizes have grown on a parallel with obesity in America?) Two months prior to that is the grand Carnivale of candy season, the Fat Tuesday, the binger’s binge, Halloween.

As a personal note, Halloween is my favorite parent-child holiday. But what the hell are we as parents thinking? On this one day, we let kids give us the finger (sticky) to the failsafe of parental reason and justice, the law of because-I-said-so. We say don’t take candy from strangers: today, Junior, you can go up to a stranger’s home, the threshold of horrors, and beg for it. We say too much candy is bad for you: today, Little Miss, go fill up the biggest vessel you have and create a shrine to it in your pantry/basement/closet/room. Between the school parties and a modest Halloween circuit, kids could score 100 pieces of candy, including or excluding the leftovers from your bin and the sweet treats delivered by loved ones nearby and afar. Presuming that there is a daily ration for most kids, even when you factor in parental taxes, or quality control, or impressing the virtues of sharing—whatever you call looting your little one’s stash—the kid is left with a bounty that lasts months. Just as you and your child are finally ready to pitch the remaining dregs—a congealed candy monster of stray candycorns, generic lollipops, forlorn wrappers—along comes Christmas.

That’s almost seven months of uninterrupted candy consumption. Fourth of July parades might offer a miniscule spike but it’s mere tease for what’s to come. It’s not just culturally accepted but encouraged. I just dumped the remaining candy from my three- and five-year olds’ Valentine’s Day party at preschool to make room for their sweetly nondenominational Spring party. Is the alternative—a pencil and rainbow stickers—that bad? Yes. In a bag full of glittering beauty the pencil is the butthole.

Today, Easter baskets. When my wife asked me what the kids would get if I were in charge, I said nothing. Then I thought about it—I too like a sugary sweet chocolate treat—and said they would get Reese’s peanut butter chocolate eggs.

I’m not anti-candy despite the feature in last week’s New York Times Magazine, “Sweet and Vicious”, wherein the principal source urges that sugar (and high fructose corn syrup) “should be thought of, like cigarettes and alcohol, as something that’s killing us.” Parents have their kids’ best interest in mind, unlike our elected officials, so leave it to us to give our kids candy rations or to let them gorge till they puke. But really, has it always been this everpresent? Is there a parallel rise in affluence? What the hell am I thinking—if at all—by negotiating daily candy rations?

At least I’ll have the off-season to think about it, perhaps over an ice cream or a popsicle.

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