Public Apology: Dear Step-Nephew

Public ApologyDear step-nephew,

I’m sorry for telling you to suck my dick at Thanksgiving three years ago.

You were fifteen at the time, I think, or maybe sixteen. Needless to say, the expression is an inappropriate one for me to use in that situation. I was 35, after all.

We were in the kitchen at our mutual aunt’s house in Boston. I’d just arrived, after a long drive with my wife and my kid and my mother. You and your folks had gotten there the day before. We were both up from New York, but I hadn’t seen you in a few years. Not since you were much shorter, and much less opinionated about socio-economic matters. Or at least less colorful in the expression of your opinions.


We were catching up, making the sort of small talk I thought pretty normal for a pair of extended family members who only see each other every few years at Thanksgiving.

“So you’re in high school now,” I said. “Cool.”

“I see you’ve grown your hair long,” I said. “Cool.”

I probably used the word “cool” too much. And you probably thought I was trying too hard to relate or whatever. I don’t often talk to teenagers these days. But I remember being one. And I was enjoying how fully you lived up to type. The bored, disaffected tone of voice, the skull with snakes coming out the eyes on your t-shirt, the put-upon half-sneer in which you held your upper lip. You were totally awesome.

And, I’m sure, totally miserable, trapped in Boston with your parents for four days instead of smoking pot with your friends and masturbating in the privacy of your own bathroom. I know I would have been.

Still, I was taken aback when-after I asked and you told me where you lived in Brooklyn and you asked and I told you where I lived in Manhattan-that sneer curled a bit higher and you called me “fucking bourgeois scum.”

I’m not sure exactly what the appropriate response would have been. Maybe a more responsible adult would have gone and told your parents. Perhaps, in times past, someone in my position would have simply smacked you across the face, or marched you over to the sink and washed your mouth out with soap.

But thinking back on it, it was less the language that offended me than it was the accusation. (Bourgeois?! Moi?!) I guess I thought (without really thinking, of course-again, it had been a long drive) that cursing back at you would send a message. My knee-jerk intent was to shock you, to prove that I wasn’t too old, or too stodgy, or too (God forbid) bourgeois to use bad words.

I know better now. You were at a difficult age. And “suck my dick, you little punk” is really never the right thing to say to one’s nephew. Especially at Thanksgiving.


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