Four weeks from tonight, if I catapult over some few tiny remaining hurdles (two short reports, an interview, and a scary party—in fact, even if I don’t jump the hurdles), one way or the other, I will turn 40. Forty years old—neither wise nor ready—but at least, I’ve learned to laugh more of the time.
The year my father turned 40, I was 16 years old. I wrote John Updike a fan letter—not on my own behalf, but on his.
“My father reads your books,” I told him. “My father—who incidentally is, like you, a Harvard man—reads your books and thinks about them and takes them apart and shares them with me. And what I think he’d like best of all for his fortieth birthday would be for you to send him—well, even just your signature.”
I was a high-school sophomore or junior—and my father knew his Updike: The Centaur, The Rabbits, several volumes of short-stories. At the time, I could rattle the books off in order. It was only 1985—there were still a manageable number.
I’d take them down from the locked bookshelf one-by-one with his blessing, and read them for insight…into people, into grown men, into the funny, sentimental, brilliant and complex man my father was (and is). I read them to learn the enemy, boys, and the chess board—people, adults, interactions, the tension of wanting freedom, of wanting connection, of never holding onto one’s own wants quite long enough. I read them to learn the Road.
The punchline of this story is that John Updike wrote back!