Saturday, November 19, 2022

Only the Good Die Young

I've been on a big Billy Joel kick lately. 

Maybe it's because I've traveled home to New York City a few too many times this year. Or maybe I'm just getting old and adult contemporary. Whatever the reason, there's now a playlist in my Spotify library called "Billy Joel's Most Fire Cuts" and it makes me laugh at myself. One of the tracks on there is his single "Only the Good Die Young," released the year I was born.

The song tells the semi-autobiographical (?) story of a rough-around-the-edges boy who's trying to convince a Catholic girl to YOLO and quit being such a prude. Some quick Googling told me that for a short, stocky, piano-playing Jewish kid from Long Island, Billy Joel has been doing pretty well for himself. On top of being a gazillionaire, he's managed to marry a tall, blonde, successively-younger shiksa approximately every 15 years and sire babies with most of them.

All of which got me thinking about religion, sex, and parenting. In the movie Stand By Me, set in 1956, juvenile delinquent greaser Kiefer Sutherland tells his best friend, Eyeball Chambers, to forget about the Catholic girls. "If you wanna get laid, you gotta find yourself a Protestant," he advises. "A Jew's good."

It's true. 

We Jews--the secular ones at least--don't seem to place a particularly high premium on chastity. This isn't so much a matter of religion, but rather incidental to some sort of cultural wokery that appears to be embedded into the zeitgeist of New York City. 

My mother was divorced from her first husband before she had me with her second, kept her last name, and went to medical school as one of ten women in her class. Although fully identifying as culturally Jewish, she was (and is) a staunch atheist and pragmatist. The last thing she's ever been interested in is characterizing sex as moral or religious currency. For this I have to thank her and give her a huge amount of credit as I think about how to parent my teenagers through this stage of their lives. 

My mother's message to me about sex was very straightforward and imparted to me from a young age: (1) masturbation is fun, do it as much as possible (in private); (2) you have to protect your body and your mind: (a) you don't have to love someone to sleep with them, but it helps to at least somewhat care about each other, and (b) always use precautions because you don't want to become pregnant or get an STI; and (3) if you encounter persistent erectile dysfunction in the 19-25 year-old demographic, don’t be offended: consider moving on because something is likely amiss. 

Again, I credit my mom's parenting on this front. I am lucky to have made it this far in life without experiencing sexual assault or abuse, and can recall only a handful of times when I felt pressured or coerced into some sort of sexual encounter. 

Sex was never taboo or burdened with any kind of drama in my parents’ house. It was considered a natural and basic human function like eating, drinking, or going to the bathroom, and you approached it the same way. Like any other basic life function, it was "allowed" to occur under their roof. I intend to take the same approach with my kids when the time arrives for this conversation.

If I died today at 45, I'd have statistically died young. Whether that makes me "good," however, is probably just correlation as opposed to causation. 

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