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"elders"

By Michael Rosen on July 25, 2010 11:42 AM | 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks

My son Ripton isn't passionate about books. To say the least. Except for Juan, none of our "boys" (now young men), read for pleasure. They read and write text messages, Facebook posts and emails (seemingly less and less). They read the ESPN sports website.

Thom Jones? John Updike? Jhumpa Lahiri ? Nathan Englander? John Cheever? Hardly.

People say it's our Time. Bookstores go out of business. Remaining booksellers aren't selling so many books. Publishers and journals struggle at best, close at worse.

I love to read. My friend John loves to read. Some years ago, talking about Ripton growing older, never touching a book that wasn't assigned and only then reluctantly, we decided to build a book club around my teenage son. Davon, Jon & Evan. Rabbi Charlie used to come before he moved to Jerusalem.

Davon is from Jamaica, originally, and I've written about Davon before. He's one of the main gears at WHEDCo. Jon is from Norway. He used to lie in the snow and wait for the Russians to rumble over the snow covered mountains. When he was with the Norwegian army. Now he's a daddy and works in new media. Evan is younger. He makes watches and other things people consider precious. John builds companies. Charlie builds a better world, or tries to. So does Davon. That's a circle.

No women. Women read good books, short stories and poetry. Far more than men.

We decided to build a safe place for Ripton. What we hoped would be an exciting place. Of ideas and conversation, food and laughter. Clean and ribald. Male. A place for us to be together.

And we are. We read two short stories before each book club meeting. We talk about the stories during a dinner. We used to meet once a month. Now we meet when Ripton comes home from college.

It was very hot when we met two weeks ago. We read Jhumpa Lahiri and Isaac Beshevis Singer. Only Davon and I liked the Singer story. It was about a dybuks and lost worlds. Everyone liked Lahiri. It's easy to like Lahiri.

This is Jon, on the left, and a visiting friend of his, Paal....
reading-group1.jpg

This is a bad photo of Ripton, and a good one of our food...
reading-group2.jpg

Evan started dipping a napkin into cold water. Most of us followed. It was very hot. That's Evan in the middle, Ripton to the left, John to the right...
reading-group3.jpg

Davon took the photos, and I'm apparently not photogenic (??), so he and I aren't in these.

Last summer John, Ripton and I went fishing. I thought I'd put in two of those photos here...
Fishing John & Ripton2.JPG

In the nuclear family moved far from grandparents, aunts and uncles, in our mobile society, in our inner cities of urban poor, communities of men mentoring the next generations don't have the place of prominence people speak about when I've heard some speak of their "elders." I'd not quite thought of my friends as "elders" with Ripton, but they do let him into their worlds, share their thoughts and concerns, and it always works.

fishing John & Ripton1.JPG

Our group feels special. Yet it's something we can all make in our lives.

I know one person who makes a living on the water of the Gulf of Mexico.

Many tens if not hundreds of thousands do. And I know people who make their livings in towns and cities there, but only one man who does so out on the water. Not that being out on the water is a distinction of one sort or another. Disaster is disaster. But when I think of the water, I think of Captain Doug Stewart. Boca Grande. Gasparilla Island. Florida.

Captain Doug 1.JPG

We met Doug when Ripton was 7 years old, I think. Something like that. A dozen years ago, more or less. Doug started to call Ripton "the zen fisherman," because Ripton took to the water and fishing in a preternatural way. Ripton saw into the water. He wouldn't stand for anyone keeping fish. He lived inside the fishing.

I'd sit in the boat and read. Doug and Ripton fished. For red drum, snook, sheepshead, sea trout. Fish and names I've probably forgotten.

Doug and Carol made their family - two boys who love baseball! And we stayed in touch but stopped fishing. More or less. Until Ripton wanted to go fishing again. He was big enough for tarpon, and Doug fishes tarpon with a type of respect that falls into sanctity.

Ripton and I went out with Doug a couple of years ago, then with our friend John Howard last summer...
Captain Doug2.JPG

The man beside Doug is Richard Volpe, who is filming a documentary history of tarpon fishing around Gasparilla.

I think of Doug on 4th of July's... Because I know that Doug and his family are the best of what I dream of for America. Doug and Carol are good church going Christians, and I'm not quite church going or quite Christian. Doug (and I don't know about Carol) is a pretty seriously dedicated conservative and Republican. And I'm not quite Republican or quite conservative. And Doug knows my views on things. And he calls me "Brother," and phones to see how I am from time to time, and cares about my life, and my family, exactly as I care about him, and Carol, and their boys who thankfully love baseball.

Doug cares pretty much about the same things that I do. Loving our children. Making a good home. Working with those around us who have less to have more. Helping to protect the earth. Living in thriving communities. We come to these concerns from different directions, but we are in the same place. Which happens with circles.

There's no grandstanding with Doug. No pontificating anger or animosity in front of a microphone.

So I think about what America really is each 4th of July. And I think about Doug.

And the day after, I wanted to say that.

Captain Doug3.JPG

 

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