05 May 2015


I was a responsible teenager and I came from a culture of responsibility. There was no margin for error. It's hard to explain this to people, particularly outside of the States. I can only do it in anecdotes: I had a friend who was grounded — couldn't go to the cinema for a year — because he saw Titanic without his parents' permission. There were, I'm sure you'll recall, breasts in Titanic. I can recall them because I saw them too and still feel guilty for seeing them if I think about it too much. Or this: I was in a men's accountability group that spent up to an hour each week talking about avoiding sexual temptation. Not having sex, of course, but just thinking about it.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 
I lived my teenage years thinking I was an adulterer, having cheated repeatedly on my wife, whom I had never met, but who I was told would be deeply hurt by all the things I had thought I might think about doing. I prayed again and again — perhaps it would take at some point. I harassed everyone around me: we cannot, must not, lose our purity. Our future marriages depend on it.

What was that I said about lying to your children, or needing to lie to your children. Naomi was crying again this morning, not wanting to go to school, and I have nothing to offer her. I never went to school, I never moved schools. I have no idea what to say: I hug her and put her on the back of my bicycle and say, sternly, You're going to be okay, you're going to be fine. I don't, of course, believe that she will be. I say it as a kind of imperative. What I mean is, Be okay, be fine. Accept this, move on.

Yoko was telling the story of our move to Malaysia, and as I thought about what she was saying, I remembered how ridiculous and hair-brained the whole mess had been. When we got off the plane in Dubai, Mia was crying and the other two girls were sleeping. We had ten carry-ons and three car seats. We're moving, I'm sorry. I remember getting to the gate, the next flight and Yoko taking Mia away for a moment and thinking that this was all going to come undone at some point. Who was I fooling anyway.

And then the story cascaded into another, yes, and it was worse because it was a repeated mistake, one that I had made when we first moved to the UK and had brought fourteen 30kg boxes with us with no way to get them to Milton Keynes. And then repeated again when we came back to the UK and we packed that Chinese taxi full of all our crap and Mei sat on my lap as we raced toward the Kuala Lumpur airport, the old Chinese driver swerving on the road, either drunk or just exhausted. I hadn't learned anything about anything.
In retrospect, Kate Winslet's breasts in Titanic were the least of my worries. Or making out under a streetlamp with impunity, consequences be damned. All this fear of sex and losing my purity. No, you lied to me about the real trouble. In three years, none of it mattered: the real trouble was something entirely different.