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Volume 4, Issue 66: Mark McGwire
"The times have changed since Big Mac's heyday, and he has receded from the spotlight."
It was initially very weird to email with my dad. I suppose it still kind of is.
My father has been—is—a terrific father, supportive, warm, funny, but he is still a Midwestern dad: There is a part of him that will be always be a little bit stoic and taciturn, forever at a slight remove. His view of fatherhood was shaped that way as a child, for better and for worse, and so was mine: Your father should be there for you whenever you need him but also at a bit of a distance, someone you’re always trying to impress, even if you’re not sure he’ll even notice. (That you’re not sure if he’ll noticed just makes you want to impress him even more.) My children are the most important creatures on the planet to me, and I rise and fall on their successes and their failures and their joys and their heartbreaks. But, being a Midwestern dad at heart, I absolutely do not want them to know that. I don’t know if that’s the right way to go about it or not. But it is who I am, just like it’s who my dad is, and who his dad was. Every generation just tries to be a little better, but we are still who we are.
Which is why it was a little weird when my parents got online. It took them a while. My dad was an electrician and my mom was a nurse, which meant they didn’t have jobs where they sat around at a desk; they were both on their feet all day, and therefore, if they had something they needed to tell someone, they just walked over there and said it to them. (Wild concept, I know.) Email wasn’t something that fit into their lives—it mostly just seemed frivolous and unnecessary, one of those silly toys Will and his friends liked to play with. Eventually their workplaces made them have an in-house email address, but they each treated those accounts like they had no practical effect on their lives at all, like the whole idea of sending a message electronically was a big dumb joke. I actually have one of the first email exchanges I ever had with my father. It is indicative of his overarching attitude toward the medium.
(I was in New York City when I sent that, working at a doctor’s office and unaware of much the world would change a month later. My dad had just turned 52 years old, 4 1/2 years older than I am right now. On and on we march.)
We’ve gotten a little better at online communication since then. I’m a notoriously terrible texter—the best way to get a hold of me, quickly, is and always will be to email me; I have yet to evolve (or devolve) into one of those people who looks more at his phone than his laptop, it’s forever 2007 in this house—but my dad is an avid texter, so if I want to talk to him, I have to text with him. We mostly complain about the Cardinals (we’ve been doing this a lot of late), and it is undeniably nice to be able to chat with my father like that, to reach out to him in real time and get an immediate response. There is nothing unavailable or distant about my dad when you get him talking about the Cardinals. I’m like him in that way too.
But that immediacy is still a little strange, I have to confess. One of the things I’ve been doing, as my kids have gotten older, is trying to imagine how my parents looked at me when I was their age, and how that connects with how they look at me now … and trying to extrapolate how I will look at my kids as they grow up. Parents see their children constantly, in the most vulnerable, needy and undignified positions imaginable. My parents changed my diapers, watched me pick my nose and eat it, heard me cry because I didn’t want to eat my brussel sprouts, tracked every horrific awkward moment of puberty, have witnessed just about every stupid mistake I have made in a life that’s jam-packed with them. They know it all. But so much of adulthood, I’ve found, is faking it: So much is making it look like you are a competent, formidable adult that the rest of the world should take seriously even though deep down you know you still feel like a little kid who doesn’t know anything about anything and are terrified someone is going to notice and expose you.
Most people don’t do that, can’t do that, because they haven’t seen you at your worst, at your most foolish. But your parents have. I’ll put it this way: It has to be awfully difficult to watch your son give a speech and take him even slightly seriously considering some of the insane, disturbing colors you used to wash out of his underwear. You can never really converse with your parents on a place of equal footing. They know too much.
I love texting with my father about the Cardinals, or my mother about running, but I have the same issue with texting them as I do with texting anyone: I have so much more that I want to say than I can fit in that little window. And it’s exacerbated even more with parents. We have so much history, and are so important to each other, that texting, or emailing, somehow devalues the depth of the relationship: You want to say much more and so much less than you do, simultaneously. It’s like having the Pope’s number but only asking him to pick up some bananas on the way home.
And that’s only my perspective, the kid’s perspective. Imagine theirs. It must seem so strange to get a text from your child, one of your primary reasons for being, the center of your life for several decades, saying something banal like, “hey, I have this weird swelling on my finger, what do you think it is?” See what I mean? There’s just something inherently strange about texting the people who are the absolute closest to you, the people whom you could be entirely lost without, and saying just the stupidest, most pointless, banal shit. Before texting, my time with my parents had to be appreciated, built up to, savored. Now I’m just another set of dots in their phone, right next to the boner ads and the Bud Light Tweets. And that’s exactly what I am to them too.
This is a particularly pressing issue because my oldest son William is about to finish elementary school, which means he’ll be going to middle school next year … which means he’s about to have a phone. We have been among the phone holdouts of most of the fifth grader parental group, to the point that the younger brother of one of my son’s friends, a kid who is legitimately in the first grade, learned that William didn’t have his own phone and actually asked me, “why are you abusing your children?” (We really need to get the kids off YouTube.) But middle school is several miles away from the elementary school (which is just down the road from our house), and will have varying, inconsistent pickup times, which means it’s going to be impossible to figure out where the hell that kid is every day without him having a phone to contact him. (If your response to this is, “well, people used to do that all the time with their kids,” you’re right, and also I encourage you, the next time you’re on a trip, to fly, check into your hotel and coordinate everywhere you’re supposed to be, all while leaving your phone at home, and let me know how that works out.) Unless we’re going to turn him into the kid who is constantly asking all his friends to use their phones so he can call his Luddite parents—and I think that’s just causing him a lot of trouble for some theoretical point we’re trying to make—he’s going to need a phone.
And that’ll be it, right? I cannot imagine what my childhood would have been like had I just been able to text my parents whenever I wanted. Would we have communicated better, or worse? Would we feel closer, or more distant? Would our fights have happened over text? And again: Is that better, or worse?
I am not sure what kind of dad I will be over text. But I know my sons will understand how to communicate in that way better than I will. Which is scary—if not necessarily bad.
To practice, we’ve given William my wife’s old phone, which only connects via wireless and which he’s only allowed to use in his room, and up to a certain hour. We have noticed—instantly—a tighter connection with his friends, who have all had phones for years. His Little League baseball team has a text chain, where they preview every matchup and do a postgame report when they get back home; I wonder what that would have been like for my high school team, I bet it would have been really fun. He texts with friends and relatives who live out of town (he has a fun NBA playoffs trash talk thing going on with his buddy Miller) , he checks sports scores, he offers fantasy baseball trades and, yeah, sometimes he texts his dad.
And you know what? His texts about Illinois basketball with me look a lot like my texts about Illinois basketball with my dad.
(That’s your newest transfer RJ Melendez he’s talking about, Georgia fans.)
And you know what? I like texting with my son about sports just as much as I like texting with my dad about them—and I hope he does too. And I guess that’s enough. The ways we all communicate with each other have changed dramatically in my lifetime, and I have no doubt they will continue to change in my sons’. The trick is to make sure to be there for them when they need you and trust them to make the right decisions when they’re not. I don’t know the proper way to interact with my sons over text, but then again, I don’t know the proper way to interact with them in real life either because there is no “proper way.” You just do the best the can, and try to enjoy the time with them you have. Because eventually they’ll be gone, either off to college, off to their adult life or just off on a three day pot smoken beer drinking benge. I might be an awkward texter. It might not be my ideal mode of communication. But someday I’ll be waiting for those three dots to pop up … and they won’t. So I’ll take whatever I can get, from any of them, while I can.
TWO WEEKS UNTIL BOOK RELEASE
Every week here at The Will Leitch Newsletter, we countdown the weeks until the release of The Time Has Come, my novel that comes out May 16. This is the spot for weekly news, updates and pre-order reminders.
First off, a correction! Last week, while releasing the book tour schedule, I listed the wrong Anderson’s bookstore. The one we are are going to is in Downers Grove, not Naperville. That was my mistake. I am sure this is the sort of thing that happens to Beyonce all the time.
Here is the correct tour schedule:
OK! So I thought I might give you something unique this week, a fortnight out. The Time Has Come ended up running about 94,000 words, which is 22,000 words longer than How Lucky. (Thanks to the glories of indentation and line-spacing, it’s still roughly the same number of pages.) But we still cut a ton: The first draft of the book was 116,322 words. The book is a lot better now: It’s tighter, and moves so much faster. But I still miss some of those words.
So, today, just for newsletter readers, here is a deleted scene from the book. It’s not a scene, actually: It’s actually just a few paragraphs. But it’ll give you a good idea of how the book reads. It involves two of my favorite (and two of the most important) characters in the book: Jason Waller, a rural contractor who owns his own construction company, and Jace, his gifted son whom he loves dearly but with whom he clashes in the wake of the 2020 election. I don’t know if this will make any sense if you haven’t read the book, but if it doesn’t, hey, come back and read it after you’ve read the book and it totally will.
Anyway: Deleted scene!
Jason had first invited Jace to start coming on site with him when he was in middle school. Jace was a terrific athlete, but he was sensitive, like his mother, Jason thought, not derisively, he really quite admired it, he wished he was more like the both of them.
Around the seventh grade, Jace had begun, to everyone’s surprise, to start breaking into tears every time he struck out. Helen thought it was because Jace was putting too much pressure on himself, and Jason figured that was probably true, but he also thought maybe Jace was spending too much time around the other kids in the honors program at school and not enough with roughnecks and thickbeards like the Harolds and the rest of the crew. “It’ll do him some good to get his hands dirty,” Jason had said, and Helen had frowned at him but let Jace go anyway.
But Jace loved it. He loved being around the guys, making dirty jokes, grunting and sweating, working together with men, grownups, on a job all day. Jason could tell that Jace loved making something, starting out with an empty lot and leaving months later with a building, a structure that hadn’t existed before and now might just stand forever. Jace had needed this, Helen had to agree: This was what he had been missing from his academic life, what he had been sheltered from as the “gifted” kid. It made Jace better—better at school, better at baseball, better at talking to people who weren’t as good at math as he was. It was healthy for him.
Jason felt vindicated, but more to the point: He felt useful. He was in awe of Jace the same way he was in awe of his wife, and it made him feel good to know that he, the big dumb hit-things-with-a-hammer working stiff, could provide Jace with something that would help him down the line. This kid was going to be better than all of them. And Jason just had put another tool in his belt.
Next week, I’m going to have a practical, last-minute, very specific guide as to how you, yes you, can help push this book across the finish line. And then this darned thing will be out.
For now, of course pre-order the book, and enjoy the obsessive playlist.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
For the first time: I have nothing for you. This is not because I didn’t write anything this week: There are currently six pieces that I have already filed that have not been posted yet. So next week will be more packed than usual. But yeah: Weird, right?
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Beau Is Afraid,” “Evil Dead Rise” and “Ghosted.”
Seeing Red, yeah, this team stinks.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“While fingers are pointed at Trump and Fauci, the virus was an unbeaten foe,” David Wallace-Wells, The New York Times. My friend (and my former New York editor) David Wallace-Wells had a fascinating interview with Dr. Fauci for The New York Times Magazine, but I think I liked this piece, which explores the idea of “blame” in a confusing and constantly evolving pandemic, even more. It furthers something important to remember: None of us have been at our best for a while now, and we should therefore do our best to cut each other some freaking slack.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Jolene,” The White Stripes. I’ve gotten back in a bit of a White Stripes kick lately—there was a three-year stretch in the aughts where I thought they were the greatest rock band in the world—and this song still blows me away. It blows me away when Dolly Parton sings it too.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
Ran a 5K this morning in Maxeys, Georgia. Finished second in my age group. This lady finished first in hers.
Have a great weekend, everyone.