Gene Tenace Does Not Have Shit On My Son: A Heroes Tale

Gene Tenace Does Not Have Shit On My Son: A Heroes Tale

I have always been bad with the concept of heroes and heroism. It did not strike me as particularly heroic that Hercules would battle a Hydra. He was the son of Zeus after all.  He sure as hell wasn’t going to be a crossing guard. Plus he knocked off his sons in a rage and that just pissed me off.  It didn’t make sense to me that a fireman doing his job was any more or less heroic than an Insurance broker simply waking up,  managing to get through the day and feeding her family without blowing her head off from the simple pain of just being alive.  In 1976, my teacher Ms. Foote (a deeply deranged woman who was obsessed with Hawaii, wore Mu Mus, screened endless 8mm films of herself puttering around Honolulu and assigned us Don Ho songs) made us write an “essay” about our personal heroes.  I was so lost in this endeavour that I found a baseball book and decided that my hero would be Gene Tenace the somewhat schlubby Oakland A’s catcher that managed to burst out of obscurity by hitting a bunch of home runs in the 1972 World Series. The next year when posed with the same question I chose Earl Browder the one-time president of the American Communist Party (a choice that did not go over well in 4th grade). What about Martin Luther King Jr. ?  What about my own Grandfather, Roy Kent, who, as an RCAF fighter pilot managed to bomb the shit out Hitler while keeping his crew safe (even making it back over the English Channel with one engine shot out in his Lancaster)?  What was wrong with me that I didn’t get the idea of heroes?

It got worse with 9/11.  I lived just blocks away and my streets were covered in white ash so thick it could have been a snow storm.  It was a day of nausea.  A day of disgust. I never wanted to look at that hole, never wanted to memorialize the event — it was a day of un-deserved death and destruction without point and the concept of turning it into a metaphor (for America, for patriotism) just seemed to rape the memories of those individuals who perished simply because they went to work either as a fireman or as a bus boy working at Windows on the World. Terrorists chose the World Trade Center to create a metaphor for destroying the West — granting them this status by the never-ending tributes just seemed to be letting them win: Never Forget?  Fuck that, I am in the Totally Forget category when it comes to 9/11.  This is not a popular opinion and i have had many arguments about why I feel this way and why I can’t grant the status of “hero” to a cop (who signed up to be a cop and obviously wanted to do a dangerous job) over that of a simple office worker who was probably fighting with the copy machine as he was incinerated when the first plane hit.

Heroism does exist though.  I have located an actual hero and if I could go back to Ms. Foote’s 3rd grade class, I would toss out Gene Tenace and his home runs and replace him with this hero…who is, sappily enough, my son.  It isn’t easy being a father and it is not easy being a son.  Especially when that father decides to cast a wrecking ball to your life and upend everything you have known since birth and move to Japan. Which is precisely what I did. I turned my back on New York — that beautiful, maddening bitch — who, for 49 years,  gave me love, life, misery and more. I decided that maybe New York just didn’t love me like I loved it and it was time to move on to provide for a more stable future.

Now that is great for me.  My choice, my choices.  But for my 11-year-old son, it was the ultimate rupture.  First off, being 11 means you have no control over anything — you have to go to school, you can’t drive a car, you have no money and to add insult to injury, your body itself is changing in such remarkable ways that you might just wake up one day and not even be able to recognize yourself.  You can’t even buy your own underwear. What you do have is your friends and your developing sense of self.  Well, I fucked even that up for my son.  Moving to Tokyo meant that he would be plopped down in an utterly foreign location with no friends and not even a firm grasp on the language (which is precisely the vehicle one uses to define oneself).  And no matter how I justified the move, no matter how I tried to explain myself, no matter how I tried to point out the benefits to him, I knew that moving to Japan was a neutron bomb to his life.  And, of course he was angry and that anger had to be focused on me — the guy with the power, the guy with choices, the guy who had the nuclear codes and flipped the switch.

And than we arrived.  We arrived in this wonderful city, suffered from jet lag, ate bowls of ramen and cheap sushi and adjusted to living in a space so much smaller than our Brooklyn apartment. If it was hard on me — the daily adjustments, the loss of language, the constant stutter-step of always feeling in the way of a new culture that operated differently from Brooklyn — then it was doubly hard on my son because it was not his choice. Then, it was time to start school.  In Japan semesters start in April, so this meant that my son would be entering school in the 2nd semester, in a class that had already been together for months; in a language that, while he knew some words, was still pretty much a mystery; in a Japanese public school that has its own rules, traditions and a completely different cultural outlook than PS 58, the Brooklyn school he attended since Kindergarten. If it were me, at age 11, faced with the same circumstances, I would have fallen apart.  I would have crawled behind the refrigerator and hidden there for a year.  I could barely join a soccer team at that age without drowning in shyness, insecurity and just the burning shame of not knowing what everybody else seemed to know.  My son, though, is just braver than I could ever be.  Stronger.  He has managed.  He gets up and goes to this school and every day it gets a degree better and bit-by-bit his grasp of Japanese falls into place. That step, that one foot in front of the other, that leads him through a world that was thrust upon him, is so heroic to me.  He could have fallen apart.  He could have hidden in his room, drenched in tears every day. He could have let his anger make for an unbearable family life. He could have stopped holding my hand sometimes when we walk. He could have stopped laughing, stopped making his sister laugh; he could have snuffed out that  glow of joy that has always defined him. But, he didn’t do any of those things. He has maintained and he is my absolute hero.  Gene Tenace doesn’t have shit on him.


3 Replies to “Gene Tenace Does Not Have Shit On My Son: A Heroes Tale”

  1. You already know well the esteem and affection I feel for Haru. As much as this radical change will be a trial for the whole family, it will certainly be far more arduous for Haru than any of you because of his age and the precarious impotence of that age that you describe so well. Haru is totally my hero, and I’ve been saying that for weeks, because I cannot fathom what he goes through, and how he GETS through, any given day. I am also immensely gratified to read this post. The blog’s subtitle is “Food, Loss and Life in Tokyo,” and as much as I’m thrilled to read the food entries, there is a ton of meat on the bones of your personal experiences, so I hope you will keep posting entries like this, that let us know what all of you go through to find peace, comfort and belongingness in your new home.

    1. it’s me haru Reid you are a good friend of mine and I am totally honest right now I really don’t now HOW I get around it may not look it, but my japenese is broken and I seriously don’t know how I can get around in an international school an INTERNATIONAL school no japenese except one girl with some engish the english teacher and my homeroom teacher who berely knows any japence and reminds me of tourists but other than that life is good

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