I came across something in Food and Wine this weekend that reminded me of the topics I was talking about over at America. The fabulous Joel Stein wrote a piece about hitting the L.A. nightlife scene with some of America’s top chefs. He writes of the following exchange at one of their stops:
At one point, [Chef Jon Shook] disappears from the table and returns with a smiley, dark-haired woman draped over his arm…Cooking, I realize, is much more useful for meeting women than writing for magazines. “You can make them any breakfast they want, ” says Shook. “Eggs Benedict? No problem. Toad-in-the-hole? I can do it.” But they explain that there’s an art to he slow tease; you can’t cook breakfast for a woman too early in the relationship. “She’ll say, ‘But I just slept with you.’ Sure, but cooking is personal. You have to hold something back, ” says [restaurant owner Sang Yoon].
I’m sure Yoon said that last line somewhat jokingly. But the fact is, in modern secular culture, it would not be that uncommon to consider cooking for someone more personal than sleeping with them.
This exchange in Food and Wine reminds me of a startling conversation I had years ago with a coworker named Jim*. Our department went out for a business lunch, and when we were tired of talking about the minutiae of our jobs we started talking about our lives outside of work. Somehow it came up that Jim was stressed out about some legal matters involving a son.
A son?! Jim was the consummate bachelor, known for his free-wheeling single lifestyle. We had no idea that he had a child. “I’ve never met him, ” he said, wiping his forehead. “I guess he’s about nine. I’m not really sure.”
He went on to explain that when he was on a consulting project in Chicago he’d gone out with the guys after work, met a beautiful woman, and “got lucky.” He’d taken the necessary precautions. It was just a one night stand, over and done with. They kept in touch a little bit over the next few weeks while he was in town, but then fell out of contact. At some point later, he was shocked to find out that she had a child, and it was his. This was evidently confirmed through testing.
“I just don’t know how it could be possible, ” he said, wondering how on earth the protection could have failed since he was so careful about that kind of thing.
We asked him if he ever planned to meet the kid. He didn’t know. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He said all he knew about the boy was that he really liked Cub Scouts and was a good student. He’d never seen a picture.
Clearly, my coworker was seriously in the wrong by not accepting his role as father. He was actually a really nice guy, so it was surprising that he hadn’t done the right thing in this situation. I don’t remember what our reaction was, but I hope that my coworkers and I strongly encouraged him to get in touch with his son. What’s striking to me now, though, is how absolutely shocking the situation seemed to him. He was just having some light fun, passing a soon-to-be-forgotten evening with a girl he met at a bar. This was the liberated high life promised to him by our MTV culture, he was just enjoying the glory of consequence-free sex. When he and the girl went back to his hotel that evening, they weren’t thinking about car seats and cribs and diaper bags — why would they think about babies, after all, when they had sex on their minds?
I imagine a little boy, perhaps sitting in a third grade classroom as we had that conversation at lunch that day. I bet he wondered about his dad a lot. I bet there were some awkward moments at Cub Scout events when other boys’ dads showed up. It’s disturbing that we live in a world where nice, normal, educated people can fall into having that much of a mental disconnect between human sexuality and the creation of human beings. The result is children who have moms and dads who hardly know each other, in the unlikely event that they make it into the world at all. It’s a disastrous situation when large segments of a society believe that the act that creates human beings, to paraphrase Yoon from above, is nothing personal.
* Some identifying details have been changed.