EPISODE SEVEN: GLAMOUR VS GREATNESS
When my six-year-old son, Nicholas, returned to school this fall, there was the usual round of one-upmanship among his chums about their summer highlights. Some waxed nostalgic about hitting a grand slam at baseball camp; others tracking kudu in the Serengeti. Not Nicholas. "I walked down the red carpet," was what he offered as his shining hour. Never mind that the red carpet was nothing more than two rows of chairs in a church basement where, as part of acting camp, he pretended to be a movie star working the press line.
"Ah, yes, Erica," he said to a counsellor who was gamely interviewing the kids, Entertainment Tonight-style. "My new film is called "All the Treasures of the World"," he added before launching into a Jagger-esque strut down the runway. A DVD of his performance has been in heavy rotation at our house. When unsuspecting guests drop by for cocktails, they are greeted by a boy in pyjamas belting out "Willkommen" from Cabaret. Nicholas then leads his stunned prey by the hand to the flatscreen in the living room before announcing, "Just to tell you: I was in a film this summer. Would you like to see it? I have it right here."
While most boys run away from glamour, my son runs toward it. At his age, my idea of a good time was taking a magnifying glass to an anthill, so my son's fascination with all things fancy has got me thinking about the role glamour should play in a healthy, well-adjusted life. Glamour and its overeager little sister, Celebrity, are much more a part of children's lives today than
they were part of mine growing up. Back then, glamour was elusive... a chance sighting of Robert Redford walking down Madison Avenue on a Sunday afternoon. And I didn't really get to experience glamour as a full-fledged participant until my teenage years when I started going to black tie parties followed by nightcaps that turned into daycaps at clubs like Xenon and Area.
Experiencing glamour at the same moment that I was first experiencing so many other adult pleasures may be why I view it the same way I view booze and black tie. In moderation, sure. Why not? And don't be judgmental if others require more of it than you do to feel good. Where the parenting challenge comes in is trying to raise a boy who understands that glamour and greatness are not the same things. My son must grow up to understand that hard work trumps navel-gazing, and excellence is a better point to aim for than fame. One of the biggest differences between Nicholas and my generation is that my friends and I grew up wanting to be presidents and prime ministers; Nicholas and his friends want to be Justin Bieber. Insert your own Young Fogey Rant here about how our current fame-lust has led to a) pre-teen girls dressing like harlots; b) the shortening of our collective attention span; or c) the fall of the American Empire.
The delicate balancing act between nurturing the heir's fabulousness and not raising a total sybarite came to a head a few weeks ago when my wife, Honor, and I were getting dressed for a black tie dinner dance. It was the first time that Nicholas had been awake late enough to watch us get dressed in evening clothes. When I emerged from the shower, he was sitting on our bed. It was a 100-degree day, and I had the air conditioner cranked.
"Dad, what are you putting on?" he said in a reverential tone.
"Wow. Fancy. Is there anything fancier?"
"Yes, white tie."
"Will there be a red carpet at the party?" he asked.
"No, it is at the beach club. They don't go in for red carpets there."
"Oh, too bad... what are those?" he asked pointing at my tuxedo studs.
"Studs," I responded as I began putting a set of black enamel ones into the shirt's pique bib front. "These studs were my grandfather's. Some day they will be yours. I like to wear them because they remind me of where I came from even at the most fancy parties. You know, your great grandfather
started working when he was not much older than you. He grew up in a tenement and shared a room with his three brothers..." Realising that I was trying to sneak a lecture into a fun moment, I stifled myself, as my stealth life lessons almost always turn out as disastrously as my attempts to hide peas in the mashed potato. Also, it dawned on me that a son should be able to see his dad as something more than a drone shuffling home from the office each night. The Homework Tsar should have some moves.
So I just answered his questions, secretly pleased in knowing that there are plenty of fathers who can teach their son how to do a jackknife off the high dive, but precious few who can explain the semiotics of a shawl collar vs a peak lapel. Or why Charvet and Budd are the only two places you should buy a formal bow tie - especially if you like a small, batwing one as opposed to a butterfly. So there we were one equal temper of elegant hearts debating whether it would be OK for dad to go sockless with his black velvet dancing slippers, when Nicholas looked at me and said, "Dad, you look great... you look like one of the Jonas brothers." It had been a Dr No-vintage Sean Connery that I had in my mind's eye as I had got dressed, but no matter. When school begins, the Night of the Dinner Clothes may not come up as one of the highlights of Nicholas' summer holiday, but it was assuredly one of mine.
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