Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Like Father

Pismo Beach, California, USA

January 22, 2012



This essay, Like Father, is the second in a septology about my son Christian:
  1. In The Face Of Commitment
  2. Like Father
  3. From Stick Figures To IMAX 3D
  4. To Get Out Of A Rut, Be  In The Rut
  5. Christian Rocks!
  6. You'll Hear The Rumble
  7. Talk About It
in that order.

It is also the tenth in a group of fourteen on People: I am indebted to my son Christian Laurence Platt who inspired this conversation.




My son Christian called me recently from Santa Barbara where he and his sister Alexandra attend UC Santa Barbara, sharing a home a block from the ocean in Isla Vista. It's nice for me, their father, knowing my son and daughter share a home while they attend college. It's especially nice for me, a surfer, knowing they live so close to the ocean. I need no excuse to visit them whenever possible. It's more than that actually. It's I've set up my life so whenever they say they're available, I can immediately  drive from the Napa Valley where I live, down the majestic California coast highway to be with them. It's about a three hundred and seventy mile drive. If I leave my home, the Cowboy Cottage at 2:30am, I can be with them in time for breakfast on the beach.

Laurence and Christian Platt
Father And Son - Christmas 1999
Now that Christian's living away from home, I don't get as much quality face to face time with him as I would like. So when he called me, I was excited by the possibility of speaking with him (as I always am). He told me Alexandra is driving back to Napa with her UC Santa Barbara acapella  choir "Vocal Motion" (aka "VoMo"  for obvious reasons) to sing in a concert at her alma mater  Napa High School. He told me he would like to attend her concert. He asked if I'd be willing to fetch him from Santa Barbara, bring him to Napa for the concert, then drive him back to Santa Barbara afterwards.

Would I?  Wild horses couldn't tear me away from this priceless opportunity.

Yes he could have taken the train. In fact, if I'd paid for his train ticket I would have spent a lot less than I eventually spent on gas. But that isn't the point. And it certainly wasn't the opportunity at hand. Even if we took the train together, it's not likely we'd spend as much time in conversation as if we drove the same distance together. In driving together we'd sit in close proximity to each other, with not much else going on between us to distract from what's being said. That, plus I've always liked going for a drive. When I was a child and my father Asher Manfred asked me if I'd like to go for a drive, I couldn't toddle to his car fast enough.

That's how in thirty six hours over a cool January 2012 weekend, I added nearly one thousand six hundred miles to the odometer of my Toyota Yaris  while Christian and I completely transformed our relationship just in the process  of going for a drive, sitting together, watching the fabulous scenery go by, and speaking.


Going For A Drive In My Car



When he gets into my car, he has two bags of laundry with him. "Smart" I think, "very  smart.". I don't begrudge him bringing his laundry home. Actually I encourage it. It allows him more time to study if he doesn't have to do it after classes. What I enjoy about it is seeing how my boy, how my erstwhile baby boy  is now responsible for doing his own laundry. And for the life of me, I can't recall the last time I did his laundry for him (there has  to have been a last time I did his laundry for him, yes?). Now there's nothing significant about a college student doing his own laundry. But what it evokes for me is how amazingly fast the time has passed since he was a young child dependent on me to do things for him like wash his clothes. And now this strapping, muscular, bearded, handsome young man getting into my car has two bags of laundry he's responsible for doing himself.

He speaks about the job he has in a restaurant. As objectively as I can say this, he's an asset to any employer. I'm not surprised when he says although he's worked there for just a short while, he's been given extra responsibilities. He wants his life to work. He may not say it in exactly this same language. But that's what he's distinguishing. He's become aware of the need to invest his money wisely. He's managing his own college fund, the fund I set up for him. He's responsible for paying his own college fees and accommodation. Now that he's dealing with the reality of the expense of a college education, he's effusive in thanking me for having the foresight to start saving early for his college education so he'd have enough when he needed it.

He's very open in his questions. He's not simply having a conversation in order to talk, in order to fill the space with noise, in order to make sounds to cover the nakedness of intimacy. No, he's in this conversation to learn  something. We talk in general terms about being smart with money, about short term and long term financial requirements, about the magic of compound interest. He asks questions about individual retirement accounts aka IRAs. He wants me to explain the benefits of IRAs over other investment instruments.

This isn't just an ordinary, everyday chin wag  for me. This is a priceless opportunity for me to really be  a father to my son, to pass on at least some of what I've learned it takes to have a life work in the world, to pass on to him at least some of what I've learned about living Life with ease and at cause.

He talks about his college experience. He can do anything he wants to do at college. And whether I approve of his choices or not, it's his choice to do whatever he wants to do anyway. Even if I did  disapprove, what could I do? I'm not there to stop him. He works out at the gym four or five times a week (it shows). He's fit. He doesn't party much (if Isla Vista is famous for anything, it's famous for being a party town). He doesn't even want to get into surfing because it would interfere with his studies. Nonetheless I promise to buy him a surfboard of his choice if / when he decides to take advantage of Santa Barbara's fabulous waves which are literally on his doorstep.

He thinks  like me. I'm a Mensa  graduate. Over the years, in speaking with him I've come to realize we think alike. No, I don't mean what we think about. I mean the way  we think. One day I suggest to him he may also be Mensa material. So he takes the test. He aces it, ten years younger than I was when I did. He's also experiencing a similar (ie the exact same  similar) shift in moving from high school mathematics to first year college mathematics to second year college mathematics as I did. We both scored top grades in high school mathematics. We both did very well in first year college mathematics. We both then continued with second year college mathematics, only to discover it didn't keep our interest. It's uncanny  how similar our mathematics trajectories are. He's concerned his lack of interest in second year college mathematics will be hard to overcome He's concerned it will drag down his grade point average. I suggest he gets himself a mathematics tutor to coach him. I offer to pay half his cost. He's delighted with the idea. He hasn't thought of it before.

<aside>

A few days later he tells me he's engaged a mathematics tutor who'll coach him at no charge, simply out of the friendship he creates. He says this new possibility has accelerated his momentum to the point where he'll be completely free  of his second year mathematics obligation less than eight weeks  from now.

"That's pretty cool" I think. "From concern to complete freedom in less than eight weeks ...".

<un-aside>

He shares his ideas for making products and marketing them. What's interesting to me is he's an engineering student. Yet he has a natural flair for business, for entrepreneurship. He asks me what it takes to bring newly invented products to market. I'm honored that he asks me - as if  I know. But I don't know. This isn't an area I've had a lot of experience with. I do know of a United States government website which has some great suggestions for entrepreneurs and inventors. I promise to send him the link. I can tell this excites him. I can tell his future is opening up inside of our conversation.

We stop for a few meals along our journey. Over lunch I ask him if he's eating right. He says he is. Actually I already know this, having looked at what he stocks his pantry with. Nutrition is another area like laundry which I once took care of for him, and now he's on his own entirely with it and doing just fine with it, thank you very much. The conversation's now about healthy  food. He turns me on to something I hadn't thought about with regard to what I read on food ingredient labels. He says "If you can't pronounce  it, it probably isn't good for you.". (Wow! Why didn't I think of that for myself?) It's such a great idea. I tell him I'll pay more attention to it next time I shop (and I will too). Now it's not just me teaching him something. Now it's him teaching me ...  Now this child is father to this man (as William Shakespeare may have said).

When we finally arrive back in Santa Barbara, he offloads the two bags of laundry, now washed and fresh. I park and go inside with him. We snack on some chips. I ask him if I can help him fold his laundry before I leave. The two bags of laundry are now emptied out over two big couches. We're folding and making piles of towels, shirts, socks etc. I notice he has no briefs - only boxer shorts. We laugh about this: he's a boxers  guy, I'm a briefs  guy. I tell him a Seinfeld  joke: men want the same thing from their girl friends as they want from their underwear: a little bit of support, a little bit of freedom. It's a guy thing ...   We laugh some more, father and son, all the while folding his laundry.

Then it's time for me to leave for the drive back to Napa, for the fourth  drive between Santa Barbara and Napa in thirty six hours, for the fourth three hundred and seventy mile  drive between Santa Barbara and Napa in thirty six hours. He hugs me. I hug him. He thanks me. He tells me he loves me. I tell him I love him. I turn my face and kiss his cheek. He promises he'll speak with a mathematics tutor soon and will let me know how it goes. He says he's looking forward to seeing the inventor website I'll send him.

I walk out of his home for a few paces. Then I turn around to look at him one last time. He's standing there in the doorway looking at me. I've got tears in my eyes but I don't mind if he sees them. I wave good bye - it's a kind of salute of respect  actually. Then I turn again and leave. This time I don't look back. I'm happy. I'm in a space of ecstasy actually.



When The Past's In The Past, The Future's Wide Open



When Christian got into my car for the first time, we had one kind of relationship. By the time he got out of my car for the last time, we had a totally new  kind of relationship. The relationship we once had is now totally in the past. The relationship we now have is totally of the future:  wide open, filled with love, pulsating with new possibility.



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