Picture of Author
Author Name
Photo (c) Jerry Bauer

Most days ended with a dozen friends back at my house, sitting around the kitchen. I was at first flattered by the appeal I had for my friends, until I realized it had nothing to do with me; my friends were coming to see my father. My father was different from the other fathers in town: men in gray suits, newspaper under an arm, waiting for the train to the city. My father wore dirty brown pants and T-shirts crossed by lines and a watch on each wrist. "A man with one watch thinks he knows the time," he would say. "A man with two watches can never be sure." He had a job that kept him on the road. If not working, he was at home weeks at a stretch, wandering the house in reading glasses and boxer shorts. He often wore a suede cowboy hat, which, he said, identified him as a High Plains drifter. When a friend of mine, accustomed to the routines of his own father, crinkled his nose and asked, "Mr. Cohen, what is it you do?" my father wiped a plate and said, "Son, I am what you call a house husband."

"My Son Rich"

Because he was a somewhat sickly child, small in stature, yet big in ideas, our son, Rich Cohen to his friends, Richard Mark Cohen to his mother when she was angry, came to see the world as a precarious place where things like longevity could not be taken for granted. The doors of our home in Glencoe, Illinois were never locked and virtually everyone showed up to hang out, or talk, or eat the fancy food that we bought at the gourmet grocery in town. Now and then, I went to simply visit the cakes. At dinner we were always joined by our children's friends and usually we just let them talk but sometimes I monopolized the conversations and this usually made for the most interesting evenings. On occasion Rich and his siblings clashed with us. However, these differences were not just tolerated, they may have even been mistakenly encouraged.

Looking back on Rich's upbringing as the third child, five years younger than his brother, eight years younger than his sister, we now realize that while we pursued dual careers, his primary baby-sitter was the T.V. set, where he modeled even his smallest gestures on Fonzie and the Big Ragu.

While prior generations were involved in, or at least focused on, freedom rides, antiwar rallies, flower children and of course, free love, Rich and his peers had few great causes like overt discrimination, war, poverty and human rights to mark their identities; instead, Rich seemed interested mostly in finding a way to surf in the placid lake. And he was pretty bummed he missed out on that whole free love deal. I too missed it, from the other side of time, so our youths -- father and son -- were staid book-ends on the era of free love. In retrospect, I guess it's no wonder that his generation tends to live more for today, seek "adventures" that provide instant gratification, are less idealistic, more cynical and less trusting of institutions whether it be school administrators or organized religion. Still, there is no one I would rather sit next to at a baseball game. Can you imagine where he would be today if he had only gone to Law School?

Next essay