A few gentle, words of advice to an athlete, father, breadwinner, and no-good freeriding, grooved-out, yurt-dwelling, patchouli-soaked dirtbag
I don't mind that you took my little sister to Mexico three hours after meeting her in a coffee shop. And it may not be my business that she got pregnant on that trip or that she had the baby in a yurt with a midwife named Sunshine (we'll get to that later) or that you were in another country when my nephew was born or that your first response upon learning of impending fatherhood was to ask, "Is this going to interfere with my rock climbing?"
Even though we haven't met yet, I feel like I know you already—you and your van full of topo maps and empty beer bottles, your carabiner key chain and your telly skis and your fast-twitch response to smooth rocks and rough winters, especially when the alternative is diapers and a job and filing your taxes and the gray skies of marriage and holidays with in-laws. I too have called in sick, snuck out early, gotten lost and stayed lost. I feel a kinship with you. It is not a good feeling.
Oh, you must be a smooth-talking devil to have pulled my sister out of that coffee shop and onto the highway; also, judging from the single photograph of you I have seen, longhaired and clear-eyed and well-muscled and worry-free. I study that snapshot of you and my sister with your arms around each other next to your lime-green 1978 VW microbus with the Grateful Dead stickers and I feel a soul connection. It's a very bad feeling. Certainly you will settle down and grow up. So why can't I stop my recurring daydream in which your Capilene-clad body gracefully executes an unaided, free-solo, airborne descent into some bottomless gorge?
Is it because of your occupation, or hobby, or whatever it is you call your progression from law student to investment banker to Web site designer to part-time carpenter?
Is it because, before your fateful stroll into the coffee shop, you had spent five years climbing and skiing in Aspen, a period I might have enjoyed doing the same had I followed the sybaritic and shiftless impulses that tempt my own slacker soul?
Is it because, shortly after your week of love and tacos, you moved in with my sister, which I at first thought bravely romantic until my older brother, a lawyer, told me you were hiding from the immigration people? ("The INS is turning up the heat in Aspen," he explained.)
I don't suppose I can criticize you for turning your back on your law degree and your MBA. Hey, I've left jobs myself. And the fact that you're from Scotland doesn't bother me, beyond the run-of-the-mill ancient gut hatred I feel toward any strange man snatching one of my tribe's females. (It's the same unpleasant vibe I have felt directed at me by the brother and father of my girlfriend, especially after the time she came home early with a broken wrist from a snowboarding trip we took together, and I stayed for the entire week. Fresh powder. You understand.) That you were here without the necessary documents did concern my father. I persuaded him to hold off on the private investigator, at least until after the baby was born, and suggested that he start referring to you by your given name, rather than "the illegal alien."
"Do you have any idea why the illegal alien's having such a hard time getting a visa?" my father asked me when my sister was eight and a half months pregnant.
"These things take time, Dad," I said.
"It's because he lied on his application. It's because the illegal alien has a felony conviction."
As your future brother-in-law, I must tell you that getting caught stealing a sleeping bag as a teenager is one thing. Lying about it—to INS officials, to employers, especially to fathers with pregnant daughters—is quite another. Neither is it particularly wise to offer, when confronted with your past, the following defense: "A friend of mine was really burnt on this lame job, and we were stoked for this awesome wall, but he couldn't go without a bag, and it was just bloody fiberfill anyway."
I sympathize. Really. When I was young and foolish I might have lifted a daypack or two myself. But I'm not so young anymore, and neither are you, and if ever there is a time to accept responsibility, this is it. Which does not mean, when the father of the woman you impregnated says, "It's time to grow up," that you respond, "Well, dude, your daughter hasn't grown up yet."
And Dude? Calling my dad "Dude" is not, under any circumstances, a good idea.
Like him, and I suppose like you, I love my little sister. I love her generous spirit and adventurous soul and the way she has fashioned a living in sun-kissed little mountain towns where women gather to drink herbal tea and chant at the full moon and where men leave for days and weeks to climb and hike and ski. It's the men I don't love so much, especially the ones she loves—particularly the poet/blacksmiths and waiter/filmmakers and struggling musicians and "any interesting guy, as long as he doesn't have a job or own more than two pairs of shoes," as my mother describes them through clenched teeth. No, I don't love these men, but I was learning to accept them as my grown sister's choices.
And then you came along. And then she got pregnant. And then, the yurt. Your son entered the world on a mattress on the floor of a cinder-block sphere while a longhaired woman in bare feet shook a piece of sage at him and muttered charms. I visited soon after, when your son was a newborn and you were stuck without papers back in Scotland. He had big blue eyes and a pug nose and thick forearms: a climber. Didn't focus much, though. Or do babies focus? "That's his look," my sister replied. She meant you.
Your son is now five months old and you're back in the States at last, with a freelance Web-site design gig. No need to thank me for the immigration lawyer's fee; I already told my sister she doesn't have to repay me. If at any time I said, "When that peak-loving bastard returns, maybe he can pay me himself" or mentioned that "Even Yvon fucking Chouinard works for a living," no offense intended. Now I'm told that the two of you are engaged and, thanks in part to the nuptial plans, you even have a visa. My sister told me when I called last week that you've never seemed happier.
"With fatherhood?" I asked.
"Well, sure," she said. "Plus it snowed."
You happened at the moment to be skiing an avalanche chute with your best buddy, an accountant turned part-time baker who has been spending a couple hours a day trying to get the baby to address him as "Uncle Crack Ho." My sister was happy too. Just the other night she hiked up to the town witch's house with a group of girlfriends to celebrate her birthday. It was a full moon, so naturally they chanted. You actually stayed home that night to take care of your son. I learned later that you invited Uncle Crack Ho over and that the two of you spent hours on the floor in front of the wood-burning stove, drinking beer and imparting to the child the language he would need to unlock the mysteries of the world.
"Bitchin'!" you said.
"Killer!" Uncle Crack Ho said.
"Area skiing is for pussies!" you exclaimed.
"Little dude's not a pussy!" Uncle Crack Ho cried.
"Little dude's not a pussy!" you said. "Little dude is not a pussy!"
"And what did little dude say?" I asked my sister when she recounted the story.
"He just gurgled and laughed. Then he puked," she said, adding, "I'm training him."
She meant you.
After writing this letter, Esquire contributing editor Steve Friedman flew to a small mountain town in southern Colorado, where he attended his sister's wedding.