Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Talking the Talk"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

When I was about 12 years old, my father and I had The Talk. It was such a traumatic experience that I remember only two things about it:

First, my father told me that what the birds and the bees did (though not with each other) was “more fun than playing football.” I now realize that, unless you’re a little kinky, you don’t have to worry about concussions.

Second, my Aunt Anita (my father’s sister, who was a real pistol) called in the middle of The Talk. My father excused himself and went into the kitchen. I strained to listen to what he was telling her, sweating in fear and embarrassment that Aunt Anita knew I was being filled in on the birds and the bees. It was the worst part of the whole thing.

“Today” and “Morning Joe” co-host Willie Geist never had to go through this excruciating father-son ritual because his father, “CBS News Sunday Morning” correspondent and legendary humorist Bill Geist, never bothered to subject young Willie (or himself) to The Talk.

It’s all explained in Bill and Willie’s hilarious and poignant new book, “Good Talk, Dad: The Birds and the Bees ... and Other Conversations We Forgot to Have.”

I wasn’t embarrassed to have a brief conversation about the birds and the bees with Bill and Willie before their recent appearance at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, where veteran journalist Mike Barnicle moderated a vastly entertaining program in front of about 300 Geist fans.

“You’re one of the first people we’ve met who has actually had The Talk,” Bill told me.

“There’s anecdotal evidence that you should avoid it at all costs,” added Willie.

“I never told Willie about the birds and the bees because I was afraid he’d correct me,” Bill explained. “And I never understood why it’s the birds and the bees. Why not two dogs in the backyard? Bees do it in midair and then the male dies.”

Another conversation they never got around to having when Willie was a kid was the one about drinking.

“We did have it eventually,” Bill said.

“A couple of weeks ago,” added Willie, who’s 39.

“You can’t tell an 8-year-old about the dangers of vodka,” said Bill, who’s 69. “They don’t understand.”

Still, Bud Light gave a teenage Willie the courage to share a rooftop kiss with a girl in his high school class. That girl, Christina, is now his wife.

After Willie turned 30, he went on a road trip to Atlantic City to see a Rolling Stones concert with his Uncle Herb, aptly named because he has worked in the herbal supplement business for years. Uncle Herb has a shrine to the Stones in the basement of his house in my hometown of Stamford, Conn. It would not be giving too much away to say that the trip was memorable because some of it can’t be remembered.

“I couldn’t keep up with Herb anymore,” Bill said, “so Willie had to take up the slack.”

Not all the stories in “Good Talk, Dad” are about fun and games. A couple of years ago, Bill finally opened up to his family about his service in Vietnam, where he was a combat photographer. “Until then, I didn’t even open up to myself,” Bill said. “Denial has always worked for me.”

A few years ago, Bill finally discussed with Willie and daughter Libby what his wife, Jody, had long known: Bill has Parkinson’s disease. “I didn’t want the kids to worry about me,” he explained.

That didn’t stop Bill from getting a laugh out of his condition. Speaking at a gala for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, he began by saying, “I thought at times about ending it all.” The audience at New York’s Waldorf Astoria sat in stunned silence. “But,” Bill continued, “I was afraid that if I tried to shoot myself, I’d miss.”

The program at the 92nd Street Y was sensational, not surprising considering that the book and its authors are, too.

Afterward, I confessed to Bill that I never had a father-son talk with my kids about the birds and the bees, either.

“It was easy to get out of,” I said. “I have daughters.”
Copyright 2014 by Jerry Zezima

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