I feel incredibly lucky to have known, to still know, and/or to have obsessively loved each of these guys.
First of all, let me full-stop say that my husband is a wonderful, incredible man. He’s a wildly fantastic father. He’s sweet, sensitive, strong, and truly invested in raising our son. He’s a huge influence on our kid, and they’re totally bros.
Having said that, when it comes to actions I take or things I say that play a part in how our son’s personality, perspective, and general self is shaped, I draw influence from all over the place. Music, movies, books: They’re all involved in my parenting process.
I introduced my son to Harry Potter at three on purpose, because I want him to be a lot like Harry, Dumbledore and Sirius. These things matter.
The other day I was driving and listening to U2, which is always an emotional roller coaster for me because so many U2 songs are tied to past and present experiences. So if I put on U2, I’m basically freely giving myself over to nostalgia for a little bit.
While Bono was wailing and warbling (and I do mean those words in the best possible sense – I unpologetically love that man’s wails and warbles), I realized that I have five key relationships, crushes, or experiences with boys that are super connected to U2… and that these five boys all play a role, however slight, in the kind of advice and knowledge I dish out to my kid.
THE UNREQUITED MIDDLE SCHOOL CRUSH
When I was in middle school, I was a really weird kid. I was also one of those girls who harbored massive, ridiculous, unrequited crushes on boys. Like, we’re talking about obsession.
There was one boy in particular, who I’ll call T., who was just… the dreamiest person I had ever laid eyes on (except for Leonardo DiCaprio, obviously).
Instead of trying to get to know him like a normal person, or even talking about him a whole bunch to mutual friends like a shy person, I basically just stalked him mercilessly.
Talking to him would have been next to impossible, and all the books I read just seemed to encourage this kind of pseudo-stalking obsessive behavior, so… that’s what I did.
In retrospect, I am wildly embarrassed of this relentless crush. As a mother of a son, I know that I would totally lose my mind if a girl was that obsessed with my kid. It must have been super obnoxious and weird.
I don’t know a lot about where this guy ended up. I moved away at the end of middle school, and have only asked a mutual friend about him once, so the last I heard he was traipsing around Europe and probably being amazing.
Of all the guys on this list, his impact is the smallest: In fact, it’s almost non-existent, except I now teach my son that no girl should ever be that obsessed with him.
THE HIGH SCHOOL MAKE-OUT FRIEND
In high school, I continued on with my crush-harboring ways until my best friend and I met a pair of male best friends who, we were convinced, were our soulmates. We were ready to phone it all in at 16.
Unlike middle school me, I actually became great friends with this particular guy, N., and remain friends with him (and his wife!) to this day.
My attraction to N was largely rooted in a) any feature that resembled Robert Redford, who became my high-school version of Leo D, b) his hair (see a), and c) his genuine conviction for life.
He was motivated in large part by Christianity, which I chose to overlook because it’s not my jam, but he was, and still is, just a really great person. Color me crazy, but I’m always attracted to people who are just… good.
After spending a few months cutting N.’s hair, listening to a lot of Jeff Buckley, and making out one time, the crush largely fizzled. He moved away for college, met his incredibly amazing and perfect wife, and now has a daughter who is named after a Beatles song (because guys I like always have the best taste).
When I think about the impact N. had on me as a high school girl who had a big crush on him – namely that he was the first guy who was NICE about my weird brand of obsessive love – and how he has gone on to be an adult who truly cares about humanity, I realize that these two qualities are things I want to imprint upon my son.
I’m glad that I knew N. at that time so I could absorb the goodness he sent out, because I think it does indirectly impact my kid. I am definitely cool with my son being a man who is a lot like the one N. is these days.
THE ANGUISHED YEARS-LONG STAR-CROSSED LOVERS GUY
This one gets real. I also met M. in high school, gave him a ride home from school and promptly decided I was in love with him the Friday before I made out with N.
I let M. borrow a George Harrison album and he returned it with a note inside the following week. We didn’t hang out again, because I’m shy and weird and he’s shy and amazing, and while he occasionally crossed my mind the first year of college, I didn’t devote huge swaths of time being obsessed with him. (That was saved for one of my professors, because of course it was).
Color me happily surprised when he reconnected a few years later – he was in town for a handful of days, and wanted to hang out. Which in retrospect I realize was probably code for get laid. This also happened to be the same handful of days that I was having my wisdom teeth removed, so we mostly made out until that happened and then he left.
I was crushed and proceeded to mope and listen to a lot of U2 during this time. I was convinced every song was really about him, and dedicated to figuring out how to reunite us.
Meanwhile, he was out in the world doing whatever it was he was doing. We stayed in touch via email, but that all came to a grinding halt when I got eloped with my husband out of the blue.
We got back in touch when both of us were expecting our first children, and they were born about six months apart from one another.
He gradually transitioned from being the guy that I was convinced was the other half of my soul (OMG, movies have really played a number on me) to being the other half of a truly incredible friendship.
Since first meeting 15 years ago, we’ve talked each other through a lot of intense moments, wonderful moments, and everything in between (while living in different countries). We’re now in touch sporadically, but we’re always happy to hear from one another.
When it comes to how M plays a role in the way I raise my son, it’s pretty easy: I want my son to love music the way M does. I want my son to love me, his mother, the way M loves his own. I want my son to have a thirst for travel and to know when to something is too hard or too toxic to keep on with, and I want him to be a dreamer.
THE ONE I WAS KIND OF MEAN TO
In between re-meeting M and meeting my husband, I dated J. I met him through work – we both waited tables at different locations of the same chain. He told my manager that I was the most beautiful girl he had seen and she promptly pulled me into her office and told me I needed to take this seriously.
I clearly remember her looking in my eyes and saying, “This is not the kind of thing you ignore.”
At the time I was all mopey and convinced that what I REALLY needed to be doing with my life was pining for someone who lived across countries and continents, not, you know, dating a nice guy who lived 10 minutes away.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but all of the sudden I started getting sub shifts that the restaurant where J worked, and we started hanging out. He was in a band, wrote songs that I liked, and was (and is) a really amazing, nice human being.
He likes nerdy space and alien stuff and good songs and would let me rattle on about whatever I wanted to rattle on about, and I more or less treated him pretty awfully. Instead of opening my eyes and realizing that Hey: this guy is actually really nice.
I ultimately ended the relationship because I met the guy I married (and am still married to, over eight years later), but I don’t even know exactly what I said to J.
Luckily, even though I was the worst, we’re still friends (mostly online, but we’ve met up once or twice since). When it comes to my kid, I hope to all eternity and back again that my son is equally into nerdy space and alien stuff, dabbles in the creation of music, and is nice but not so nice that he’ll let someone date him even if she shouldn’t be doing so.
THE ONE THAT I MARRIED
Short version: I met my husband in a Sociology class in college. In fact, I saw him as I was walking to a different seat in the classroom and promptly walked over and sat right behind me.
I comment on his handwriting, he commented on mine, and that was that. We both found ourselves at a meeting for the Student Sociology Association a few weeks later, and we both volunteered to be the President.
We ended up working as co-Presidents. Our first date was a 13-hour (each way) road trip to see Beck play in Philadelphia, and after we got home I just kind of moved in with him. We eloped three months after that date.
Obviously I think my husband is an incredible human being. We’ve had our intense ups, our intense downs, and we’ve dealt with a ton of shit in between. He’s a gentle, patient, loving father to our son, and he is the number one guy ever in my life that I would want to raise a kid with.
He’s beyond supportive as a husband, has put anything and everything I wanted to do at the forefront of our marriage (to his detriment, but we’ve worked it out). My husband, as the man he is today, is the best.
But the boy I met in 2006? That boy… that boy was the sweetest guy. He was also crass and wild and opinionated. He was gentle and patient and would listen to “Poison Cup” by M. Ward over and over because I wanted to, because I said it made me think of him, even though he hates the intro to the song with a fiery passion.
When I think about who I want my son to be, I think of the boy I knew in 2006 who met me at the top of the mall parking lot and watched cars drive by while the sun set. I think about the boy who was funny and charming, the boy who trusted me so immediately with deep secrets, the boy who got me in a way that I wasn’t full prepared for.
That boy is my guy, and he’s turned into the man who is raising my other guy alongside me… and it’s a dream.
When I sat down to write this, I worried that it would sound… weird. I don’t think we’re generally encouraged to glorify our exes, or even speak highly of them in most contexts, let alone publicly on the Internet.
But I’ve always been a big fan of staying on good terms with people who have meant something to me, and I’m a bit of a lifer. I feel incredibly lucky to have known, to still know, and/or to have obsessively loved each of these guys.
I’m glad that I can draw on my experiences with them to help shape the dude I’m helping put on the track to adulthood.
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