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June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9

Unsolicited Advice

Fathers and Sons

by Josh WeinsteinJune 2024

Josh and his father.

This month marks 25 years since my father died. It is also the month my son—my oldest child—graduates high school. My column this month will be not so much advice as a lengthy reflection on time and family.

I’ve always had a touch-and-go relationship with time. On one hand I have spent my life haunted by death-anxiety—the stark and constant awareness that life is a conveyor belt to its own ending. I love it here and hate that I have to leave.

On the other, I am often prone to disengaging from the flow of time like a clutch separating gears or a needle lifting off a record. While this comes in handy for music, which requires being completely present-tense, it is not always handy for the rest of life, which has this pesky quirk of progressing linearly with or without us.

These two states—hyper-awareness and hyper-unawareness of time—are mental stop-and-go driving of the most reckless and exhausting kind. But hey, it’s not brain damage if that’s how your brain comes from the factory.

I was a child of divorce. Dad, as a male at the wrong time, lost almost all custody of his only child when my parents split. It was the defining loss in a life filled with losses.

I grew up craving time with him. I saw him on weekends, every other week. He lived in New York City, and I lived a two-hour train ride away up the Hudson. When I was younger, he used to ride the train upstate on Friday afternoons, pick me up at the station, then ride two hours back down to the city. Then a subway ride to Queens and a stop at the bar before we went to his apartment. After the weekend, same deal: He’d ride the train with me for two hours on Sunday, drop me off with Mom, then ride the train back home.

Sometimes he would miss the last train home and would sleep on the cold, hard wooden benches in the train station until the morning, when he would ride the first train down and go right to work. He never mentioned or complained about this. I only found out later.

For me, New York was my dad, and my dad was New York. He was the last of a certain breed of New Yorker; a sophisticated street tough from the Bronx who fought his way through childhood while reading voraciously and expansively. The New York at the beginning of Dog Day Afternoon is the one I knew and still know the best—and most associate with my father.

I loved those weekends with him. Our time was different in every way from my regular life at “home.” His friends were loud and raucous, the time at his apartment was peaceful and fun and interesting, and I absorbed every sentence he said like it was water. We played chess and wrapped coins and watched Abbott and Costello and talked about anything that popped up. He was incredibly well read. He taught me how to fight and also told me never to fight. He was wise and tough and funny and lightning-quick. He adored being a father, which, as his only child, meant and felt like he adored being MY father. Fundamentally, while flawed and mercurial and the product of an atrocious childhood, he was just a cool-ass dude.

At home with mom, I was one of four children in the house. With Dad, for most of my childhood, I was his only child. That meant we had a bond neither of us had with anyone else. He wasn’t easy and wasn’t perfect. He could overreact to wrongs and had a quick temper you didn’t want to be on the wrong side of. I spent a lot of years with long, rocker hair and earrings and tattooed girlfriends, and this did not sit well with the tough guy from the Bronx. But he was also gentle and compassionate and unique, unforgettable to those who met him, fiercely loyal, and I loved every second of being his son.

If you’ve read the book The Tender Bar and seen the first third of the movie Goodfellas, you have some idea about that part of my childhood. Dad was marginally connected, and a barroom regular, while simultaneously being the one the other guys figured would know the answer to any question—“the smart one.” Throughout my childhood, various characters in our orbit would disappear forever, and Dad would say he didn’t know what happened, which he certainly did. As a father myself, I now understand that he was protecting me from the fear that the same thing might happen to him.

At the same time, he was just flat-out funny. He worked as a Danny Kaye-style comedian as his first real job out of the Army and ran in showbiz circles when my mother met him, going to parties with Paul Newman and Lauren Bacall. The takeaway from his abnormal childhood was that normal was boring or at least unfamiliar. He lived the colorful path—a brilliant man who would have preferred to be a scientist but made the most of his available options.

Much later in Dad’s life, he started dating his cleaning woman—a younger woman with tattoos! He quit smoking and grew his hair long. The tough guy had a ponytail! In my memory he got an earring, too, which I’m probably wrong about but prefer to maintain the inaccuracy for symmetry’s sake.

He called me to ask for information about smoking pot, which I was not an expert at but was a junky compared to him. He was at his happiest and calmest, and it was the time during which we understood each other the best, even as, in a dark ironic power inversion, I had some questions about the motivations of his tattooed girlfriend.

And that’s when he got diagnosed with lung cancer. He was a lifelong smoker and drinker, though he’d stopped smoking by then. I wrote about this part of his life in a previous column. The hardest part is that Dad’s time being sick was one of my needle-lift phases. I did not understand how short his time was (nor did he, to be fair), and by the time the hard reality hit, he was essentially gone. I’m sure this was denial. But time is the Honey Badger. It don’t care.

I shuttled back and forth to see him in Florida, as my father had on the train when I was a child and spent his last night on earth sleeping on a chair next to him in hospice, as he had in the train station all those Sundays. But it was not the same. His time with me was limited by the customs of the era. My time with him, conversely, was my own to spend or not spend. And I let too much slip by.

Now it’s been 25 years and I miss him every day. The world and I haven’t been the same since he died.

He died in 1999. My son was born in 2006. He is named for my father.

I grew up as the last male Weinstein in our skinny family tree. Dad’s brother had two daughters. Their parents were first-generation Americans, immigrants from Europe. I was my father’s only child. So, I was it. I grew up with a lot of pressure to “keep the name alive.”

It’s silly, in retrospect. It doesn’t change who anyone is, and it’s not like the family was “Weinstein” back in Bessarabia. It’s meaningless in the end. But it mattered to my father, so I grew up with it mattering to me.

My ex and I did not find out in advance if our first (or, later, second) baby would be a boy or a girl. Babies don’t care what color their room is, and we were going to love our child the same no matter what.

So as far as I knew, by the time it was time for my first child to be born, all he or she would have had to be was alive for me to be happy about it. The “name” thing had faded away, I thought, beyond knowing our child’s first name would start with an “S.”

When it came time for delivery, I asked the doctor if I could do it, and she said yes. And from the millisecond that my hands touched that tiny head and shoulder, my world—the world—has been a better place. Gravity changed. Light bent.

I forgot to check if our baby was a boy or a girl in that moment. The nurse told us. And in that second, all those years of weight that I’d forgotten had been there, suddenly melted away in a waterfall of tears. In that magic blue-eyed boy—through him—my father would somehow also be alive. Weinstein would outlive my time on the planet. Our son was two gifts at once.

Josh and his son.

And he’s been a gift ever since. This kid has always been magic—curious and philosophical and eager to make sense of the world. As a toddler and young child, he made up words. He loved how language felt in his mouth. He described the world in poetic terms. I once caught a vibe that a parent was implying that boys shouldn’t be sensitive and perceptive, and I said—about my son—“the world needs poets, too.”

He’s always been preternaturally aware of the stream of time that being born means dipping our feet into. He is sensitive and tough, like his namesake. Occasionally I have had the thought that he should just “be a kid,” that there’s plenty of time later to be a grown-up. But his understanding of the world, including knowing that kids grow up into adults, is one of his magic powers.

He’s always been funny—often the funniest human I know. It’s his take on something I know will be the most succinct, clever, unexpected, and hilarious.

As a younger child his eyes were so blue it was as if they were drawing in wisdom from the sky itself. He’d get a dreamy-eyed look, which I knew meant he was working through some idea or concept, and then drop a pearl of reality-unweaving understanding that surpassed most grown-ups. He still gets that look. I know that something spectacular or interesting or novel is about to be said, when I see him spaced out, dreamy-eyed, and immobile. At least that is what I will tell his drug counselor if they ever ask.

No one ever forgets meeting him.

Time with him and my equally spectacular daughter (about whom there will be an equally effusive column in two years!) has tapped both sides of my brain damage. On one hand I have savored it second by second—craved it, as I did with my dad—seeing it as a finite resource careening toward depletion. I contrived an entire career structured around the desire to be present as my kids grew up. On the other, somehow the movie plot seems like it’s skipped decades at time.

I am both thrilled and entirely unprepared for the next phase of life my son (and his sister and I) will be entering. I love that he gets to drop into the amusement-park water-slide of time and, at the same time, miss in advance the sweet, new, eternal promise of that young, sky-blue-eyed magic child at the top of the ladder.

Adoring getting to be my kids’ dad, reminds me of the man who adored being my dad. This year of eddying in the time-travel soup has been emotional, thrilling, nostalgic, terrifying, depressing, and glorious.

It is an odd intersection we are at—the stream of my son’s childhood ending for me, dumping into the same river that is just beginning for him, with both running parallel to the longer flow of time and family that includes my Dad and his (my) name and legacy.

So, I dedicate this column to the memory of the man who raised me, whom time deprived of meeting the next male Weinstein. And I dedicate it to my son, who, whether he knows it or not, has very much met my father, even as he embarks on the path that brings him his own next-generation in time. I am proud beyond words of the incredible young man he has grown into and has always been, and I am honored to be his father, just like I was honored to be my father’s son.

Keep giving them hell up there, Dad. The 25 years since you’ve passed feel like seconds. And don’t worry, your legacy is in the best of hands.

And go get ‘em out there, son! The road in front of you is infinite and so is your potential. Any world that can make you must be pretty damned good. Conquer it and don’t look back. Whether time flows fast or slow, all of it, from now on, is yours.

My dad lit the path of the past; my son and daughter are lighting the path of the future. Between them, the river of time has never flowed so sweetly.

Is there something I should offer unsolicited advice about in future columns? Shoot me a line via the contact form at and let me know.

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