I hate being a disappointment to my son, but I know that I am. Caleb is a tattoo artist; as I reported on Thursday, Jeanne and I have been witnesses of Caleb’s transformation from a tattooing rookie working on a friend in our dining room several years ago to an international rock star tattoo artist who owns two tattoo shops, a tattoo school, and takes several trips annually with our daughter-in-law Alisha to conventions and guest artistships in Germany, Italy, France, England, and all over North America. He’s a success in his field by all measures; we are inordinately proud and direct people to his Facebook sites to be astounded by his artistry as often as we can. But I know that deep down he considers himself to be a failure. Why? Because even though he has been perfecting his craft and growing his business for almost a decade, he has yet to achieve his greatest professional goal—tattooing his father and stepmother.
This is not for lack of trying. Caleb and I have had regular conversations about this:
- Come on, Dad, you’ve got to get a tattoo.
- Not happening.
- Why not? You like them, you talk about them all the time. Come on! You’re a liberal! What could you possibly have against tattoos?
- I have absolutely NOTHING against tattoos! It’s PAIN that I’m not in favor of!
And so it goes. Once a couple of years ago, I mentioned to Caleb that if I ever got a tattoo, it would probably be the iconic silhouette of Nietzsche with his trademark eyebrows and mustache. Unfortunately, Caleb interpreted my hypothetical situation as evidence of incremental movement toward actually getting one. He was mistaken. As he should have known simply from being my son, philosophers love to delve into hypotheticals.
- If you lived in 1940s Nazi-occupied Belgium and were hiding a Jewish family in your attic, would you lie to the Nazi officer at your front door to keep him from finding out?
- If you were on a life raft with a half dozen other people in the middle of the ocean, would you be willing to kill one of our fellow raft inhabitants so the rest of you could stay alive by eating him?
- Would you be willing to murder someone for the good of mankind?
- If Captain Kirk and Captain Picard got into a fight, who would win?
Stuff like that. My hypothetical about tattooing was nothing more than the “if . . . then . . .” puzzles that are the bread and butter of all philosophy professors.
It’s not as if Caleb has ever hidden the fact that getting a tattoo hurts. A lot. He has a full back tattoo involving dinosaurs in a prehistoric landscape that his friend and tattooing mentor Lisa did over several sessions and many hours a few years ago; Caleb made it clear that the process was painful. Actually he said “It hurt like a motherf**ker.” On the wall of his original Connecticut tattoo shop facing the door hangs a large sign that says YES IT HURTS. I know that my pain tolerance is very low, so excuse me if I don’t willingly subject myself to something like that, no matter how beautiful and special the result might be.I turned sixty exactly a month ago. Knowing that we were headed for a week with Caleb and Alisha, as well as my younger son Justin, my brother, and my sister-in-law, I chose to delay the spectacular celebration of my six decades on earth until we got to Florida. What exactly is the appropriate way to mark such an auspicious event?
Chances are we’ll be going to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, maybe to one of the billions of tourist attractions in the Orlando area, perhaps even back to Key West (although if we do, this time we’re taking the ferry rather than driving—the traffic jam going and coming last time was abominable). But none of those are sufficiently unique for this once in a lifetime occurrence. Knowing that deciding and planning would take several weeks of rumination and decision making, I started thinking about it last fall. And before long, it became clear what my sixtieth birthday present to myself would be.
Caleb and Alisha visited over last Thanksgiving week. As Caleb sat on the couch poking away at his phone as is his custom, I rocked his world.
- Caleb, I know what I want for my sixtieth birthday.
- I want a tattoo when we’re in Florida in April.
- Wait a minute. You want a tattoo? Are you shitting me?? You’re not having a senior moment???
- No, I’m serious. I want a tattoo.
- What do you want, that Nietzsche thing?
- (I show him a picture on my laptop) Can you do this?
- You want a FRIEDA tattoo? (uproarious laughter) Why am I not surprised? Yes, I can do that.
- Then that’s what I want for my sixtieth birthday.
- You’re not going to fucking back out of this, are you? You’re not going to change your mind?
- No, Caleb, I want a Frieda tattoo.
Sometime in the next seven days I will be getting a tattoo. If you hear screaming from the direction of wherever Florida is related to you, it’s me. I’m quite sure that an account of the experience will make it into a blog post soon! A good friend of mine once defined a miracle as “something that everyone says will never, ever, ever, ever happen—and it happens anyways.” If so, there’s a miracle on the horizon. I’m getting a tattoo.