Jerry Stahl on Being an Old Guy Dad

Jerry Stahl on Being an Old Guy Dad

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This post was originally published on August 18, 2015.

If you don’t know who Jerry Stahl is, you are cordially invited to be ashamed of yourself. The now over 20 years sober author of Permanent Midnight—along with eight other books, several movies and numerous hit TV shows (including Maron, currently airing on IFC)—has released OG Dad (which stands for Old Guy Dad), his latest compilation of razor-sharp rantings. The bulk of the essays, which originally made their debut on The Rumpus, might tackle the super square subject of late-in-life parenting but Stahl does that thing he does: makes it cool and irreverent while managing to be totally obsessive and neurotic. Since the 61-year old heartthrob (meet him in person and you’ll understand) has become the proud dad of a toddler and husband to a 33-year old shiksa goddess, some might say Stahl is on top of the world. Unfortunately, it’s not a world he’s comfortable with. Not at all.

Danielle: I’m going to start off by telling you that I had never read anything by you before. But—and I swear I am not sucking your dick—Permanent Midnight is one of my favorite movies.

Jerry: You know I didn’t write that.

Danielle: But you wrote the book.

Jerry: Well, yeah, I wrote the book. It’s my fucking life.

Danielle: Exactly, it’s not like I am obsessed with the movie script. I loved the story. But I never read the book. So, I read OG Dad and almost immediately got angry that I never read anything else by you before. I love your writing style; it’s so full of life and point-of-view. After the first page, I felt like I got who you are.

Jerry: I’d hoped I was more complex than that. Apparently, I’m just a one-page puzzle.

Danielle: I think it’s a testament to how strong your voice is. And my favorite kind of writing is when it’s so compelling that it makes me have to educate myself and look shit up I don’t know. I highlighted stuff throughout the book that I didn’t know.

Jerry: Big words?

Danielle: Not just big words. I’m a moron when it comes to trending topics and current events. I thought, when [block]4[/block], it had something to do with Craig. So when you referenced Monsanto, like at least three times in the book, I had to look it up. Honestly, I am still not clear on what it is.

Jerry: Monsanto is chemical company that makes this heinous pesticide called Round Up. It’s just completely poisonous.

Danielle: So, this is what goes on like crops and stuff?

Jerry: It goes on everything. But even worse than that, they went to India and they bought up the patents to all these seeds, stuff farmers have been growing for 30,000 years. So when these poor Indian farmers would use a little seed for rice or something, they would then get sued. Eventually there was a mass suicide throughout India where these farmers drank the pesticide and died in protest.

Danielle: Oh my God, I can’t believe I didn’t know that.

Jerry: Also they do genetically modified food, that’s Monsanto.

Danielle: Sounds like a conglomerate of assholes.

Jerry: It’s horrible. They won’t even allow them in Europe. But Obama in his wisdom put a former Monsanto VP to head up the FDA. So we are all going to get Cancer probably.

Danielle: I thought that is what everyone dies of anyway.

Jerry: That’s fucking depressing.

Danielle: When I started reading the book, the looming mortality thing came up. It made me remember that I always thought I was invincible until I got sober. Do you think the awareness that we have an expiration date has to do with getting older or having long-term sobriety?

Jerry:  I think it has to do with looking in the mirror and seeing my grandfather’s face.

Danielle: When did that start for you?

Jerry: It just fucking happened recently. When I see pictures of myself—and this isn’t vanity, it’s more like shock— it’s like, who fuck is this guy? Who stuck this plasticine image of Moshe Goldman on my mug?

Danielle: Is that really your grandfather’s name or did you just make that up?

Jerry: No, that’s his name.

Danielle: God, that is so perfectly Jewish. Speaking of Jewish, I love how, in the book, you out yourself as such a worrier about getting cancer—or your family getting cancer— through the phone and the TV. Have you always been like that?

Jerry: No. Having a kid, combined with awareness of the other toxic nightmare we inhabit blithely, has a really cemented that kind of obsesso-concern.

Danielle: What did you worry about before that?

Jerry: I don’t know that I was so much of a worrier. I was more of a regretter.

Danielle: Okay, what do you regret?

Jerry: All the fucked up shit I did. That being said, somehow I’ve had this ability to maintain gratitude and despair at the same time; despairitude, I like to call it. So I don’t want to sound like I don’t appreciate the ridiculous fact that I am not living at the corner of Crack and Balloon.

Danielle: You probably wouldn’t be living at all, to be honest. Okay, I know this might seem like an obvious question, but was the pregnancy planned?

Jerry: No, of course not.

Danielle: So what were you doing coming inside a 30-year old?

Jerry: What was I doing coming inside a 30 year old? I don’t know if I ever phrased like that, but I appreciate you putting that thought in my head.

Danielle: I think it’s something people want to know.

Jerry:In other words, why I wasn’t having safe sex?

Danielle: No, I don’t believe in safe sex. In other words, why wasn’t she on the pill?

Jerry: I don’t know. I guess I figured I was shooting blanks. I had been sick [with Hepatitis C]for so many years and I hadn’t knocked anybody out in a long time. It was the process of deduction.

Danielle: I don’t want children and have always said it’s because of vanity. But it’s also because I have a fear of the other moms. You touch on the weirdness of being surrounded by people in their 20s and 30s with kids the same age as yours. How do you navigate that without at least attempting suicide?

Jerry: I don’t have to deal with it that much. I’ve never had a normal experience as a parent because the first time around, I was the celebrity junkie dad; the guy they pulled their children away from at birthday parties. I was like creepy drug guy. Now, I am just an old guy and that’s creepy, depending on your perspective.

Danielle: Do they know who you are?

Jerry: I seriously doubt it. But the lady who runs the preschool my daughter goes to does. Because it’s the same school I took my first daughter. They did a triple take when I rolled in the door.

Danielle: But your oldest daughter is 26; it can’t be the same woman?

Jerry: It’s the same. She is retiring this year.

Danielle: Holy shit. You were a mess back then. She probably couldn’t believe you were still alive.

Jerry: Let alone fathering another kid like 23 years later. I mean what the fuck is wrong with the universe?

Danielle: One of the reasons I loved this book is that it made me laugh, solidified my lack of desire to have children and validated my acute fear of aging. So tell me, besides changing diapers, what would you say is the worst thing about getting older?

Jerry: Besides all the obvious shit?

Danielle: Aches, pains and aesthetics—is that the obvious shit?

Jerry: I would say death is the obvious shit. But that can also seem like a relief if it’s quick and easy. But I think the worst is if you can’t fucking relax about shit that’s happened in your life and you keep thinking about the right you made when you should have made a left.

Danielle: That’s my worst fear.

Jerry: It’s draining. I am sure there are people who have led lives where it all worked out. I was always very fucking lucky, which I think is why a lot of my exes resent me: because I did everything wrong. I was the guy who was a fucking junkie and began a career—that’s fucking grotesque. So beyond being embarrassed to still be alive, it’s not that bad.

Photo courtesy of Sigurdas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.