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My father was fond of telling me that I didn’t have what it takes to get by in this world. Who knows? Perhaps he’s right. You’ll never amount to anything, he would say in disappointment. I was his third son, and as far back as I can remember, he thought I was a failure. He blamed it on my mother. You’ve inherited her genes, he liked to tell me, and then he would add, without humor , You certainly haven’t inherited any of mine. However, if it’s any consolation—and I’m sure it was to my father—my two brothers went into the family business, and they have been very successful. I followed the second son by six years. There was a ten-year difference between the oldest and me. Because I was so much younger than they, we never really hit it off as brothers. I was treated, from the first, as a second-class citizen. The fact that my mother was the only one in the house who had any hope for me didn’t help matters. It was a household run by men, and her views were definitely subordinate to my father’s and my brothers’ views. I was never very active as a child. I’d lay around all day not doing much of anything, and it used to drive my father furious. Why don’t you go out and play. Surely you must have some friends to play with. Fact is, I had very few friends growing up. I wish, retrospectively , that I had had more. But I didn’t. Actually, part of the problem was asthma, so I never liked to go outside and play. Another problem was there just weren’t many 96 G i d e o n ’ s C o n f e s s i o n kids in my neighborhood. The friends I chose tended to be sedentary like me. Unfortunately I was so sedentary that finding other sedentary friends was rather a bit of a challenge . Now that I look back, letting memory do the sorting , I see that most of my childhood friends barely made an impression on me one way or the other. I recall that after a certain point I just gave up on birthday parties (both going to and asking for them). Birthday parties forced me to play with a mix of kids whom I invariably didn’t like. I felt trapped in crowds, misunderstood. I didn’t fit in. On the other hand, I didn’t care to fit in. I was a nervous, self-conscious boy. I was gangly, uncoordinated. I laughed at inappropriate times and openly cried when moved by evidence of strong emotion in others. Great human endeavor , for instance, tended to make me cry. I could watch a sprinter on the track team, and there I’d be at the finish line moved to tears by the emotion of such great human effort. Other kids didn’t like me or understand me, or they thought I was a bit off. OK. That was just fine as far as I was concerned. But when my mother, who, like me, was also awkward in social situations, asked me to do my best and get along with others, I would say, Why? It was a rather insolent thing to say, but I didn’t see the point back then, even as a kid, of killing myself trying to fit in. What’s the point? I would ask my mom, who, despite her pretenses to the contrary, felt similarly. She, like me, had very few friends. Oh there is a point to fitting in. Believe me, Gideon. You will win more friends. I don’t want more friends. You must want more friends. Everybody wants more friends. J o s e p h G . P e t e r s o n 97 I don’t, I said defiantly. And I don’t think you do either , or else you would have more. It was a cruel thing to say to my mom, but I couldn’t help myself. She stood there stunned, not knowing what to do or say. After a moment, she resorted to bewildered pity. Oh, poor boy, she said, patting my head. A c o u p l e o f c h i l d h oo d f r i e n d s did make an impression . Hal Berkowitz was...


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MARC Record
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