Love in the Age of Cooties

The one day I wasn't wearing a Starfleet t-shirt

The one day I wasn’t wearing a Starfleet t-shirt

The man perhaps most responsible for my marriage passed away 19 years ago today. No, not my buddy Ted who introduced me to my future bride and encouraged me to keep the faith even though she had a boyfriend. Ted’s alive and well and his little fella is about to turn 1 (happy birthday, Leo!). For while I may have never met Kir without Ted, I wouldn’t have had a shot in the world at wooing her without my Uncle John.

John Sisti was on the surface an intimidating, hard-scrabble Brooklyn boy. He was a black belt in Judo, and was determined when I came to visit to toughen-up his skinny, nerdy nephew with some rather painful throws, as well as trips to the clay pits to shoot the hell out of some tin cans.

But while I have to admit that I enjoyed the manly-man stuff more than I expected, it was in another area that my Uncle John and I truly bonded: women. That bond was formed out of a simple truth. He knew what he was doing with women, and I had absolutely, positively no clue. My Aunt Libby still likes to tell the tale of our walking their dog Ali as the sun set on their Vermont home. John had one hand on Ali’s leash, and the other firmly on my shoulder. He was teaching me the finer points of learning how to make your move on a girl without being too forward. He groped, we laughed, and he told me that it was all about confidence.

It was later that I really understood what John was really trying to do. He saw a smart, kind, sensitive boy that was so uncomfortable in his own skin that it made his heart break. He wasn’t trying to toughen me up or make me into a ladies man. He was trying to get me to love myself a thousandth as much as he loved me. Without him, I’m not sure I would have found enough self-worth to “make my move” when the right opportunity finally rolled around. For that, I will always be thankful.

Tragically, cancer claimed my Uncle before he had a chance to meet my boys. More unfortunate still because they could really use someone better at this whole “girls” thing than their Dad is. Because every time I think to give them advice, the 13-yearl-old in his room listening to the LP of the Star Trek II soundtrack pops up and says, “Uh, you’re giving them advice about girls?” I tend to get a little quiet after that guy shows up.

Even Chuck had more game than I did.

Even Chuck had more game than I did.

And so I look on in wonder as my big guy, the smart, baseball-loving kid who starts each morning watching an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine calmly tells me that he asked a girl to the Valentine’s dance…and she said yes! And the very next day, I pick up my little guy at school, this guy who plays in chess tournaments and is as happy diving into his math workbook as he is a pool. Suddenly, a little red-headed girl straight out of Peanuts scuttled up purposefully, looked my fella right in the eye, and said, “Gunnar, why do you have a crush on me?” He flashed those teeth so desperate for braces, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “You’re nice, so I just do!”

I’m still a bit befuddled by the fact that my two boys have already had more success with women than I had in my first 20 years of life. But, as I’ve thought about it, the one major difference that I’ve found between these two guys and me at their age is that, at no time, do they seem to hide who they are. They may not always be satisfied, and sometimes it exposes them to painful ridicule, but both these guys are who they are, and they’re okay with what they see in the mirror. And so as others shy away from the risk of rejection or ridicule, my guys are willing to put themselves out there.

It’s not confidence. I’ve seen the kids that kind of breeze through life and feel like they can do no wrong. It’s not even an inner conceit; that inner sense of self. It’s something different, something I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s an understanding of who they are, and a willingness to be that—openly, unreservedly—and let the chips fall where they may.

I know the toughest stretch—the teenage years—are still ahead. And perhaps this sense of self will crack under the relentless peer pressure of adolescence. But as my boys get ready for this Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but marvel at how right my Uncle John was about how an ounce of self-worth can make all the difference in the world.

And, most importantly, the girls dig it.

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One Response to “Love in the Age of Cooties”

  1. Melanie Says:

    Once again- I love this blog!

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