No psychobabble for this kid
Jeffrey Stephen Major was born in Parma, Ohio, first child of Jack Major (that would be me) and my first wife, Karla Silberman. How and why we chose Parma Community Hospital, I cannot recall, though we were aware that had we remained in Ohio – where I was the features editor at the Akron Beacon-Journal – Jeffrey would have been subjected to increasingly tiresome jokes about his birthplace. Parma had been designated northeast Ohio's unhippest city, thanks to a Cleveland television personality who created a soap opera spoof called Parma Place, and popularized a song that began, "In Parma, they wear white socks ... "
Perhaps that's what appealed to me about having my first child born there. We Majors like to swim against the tide. Jeffrey would prove worthy of this honor we bestowed upon him. From the moment he began to walk, Jeff marched to a different drummer. It pleased me no end that the two of us usually were in step with each other.
JEFF'S CHILDHOOD coincided with the inexplicable popularity of a child psychologist named Haim Ginott, who emerged as a media favorite during a backlash against Dr. Benjamin Spock. Dr. Ginott's fame rested mostly on two books, "Between Parent and Child" and "Between Parent and Teenager." He made frequent appearances on television talk shows, including "The Tonight Show." Host Johnny Carson may have been the reason Ginott, when applying his philosophy in hypothetical situations, called his hypothetical child Johnny.
"Say you and Johnny are at the park," he said one evening, "and it's time to leave. Don't say, 'Johnny, you must go home now.' Instead let him make that decision."
Okay, I didn't record the program; I'm paraphrasing. But, trust me, I'm true to the spirit of Ginott, who figured adults were smarter than children and didn't need to bully them because they could, with a little ingenuity, maneuver them toward the same ends. His story proceeded along these lines:
"So you say, 'Johnny, we can leave the park now, or you can play five more minutes.' Johnny will choose to stay, of course, but when those five minutes are up, he'll leave ... because that what he chose to do."
Whether Carson bought it, I don't know, but millions of people apparently thought Ginott was on to something. I decided to try this particular Ginott technique on Jeffrey, who from day one was a late-night person. So at 10 o'clock one evening, I said this to my four-year-old: "Jeff, you can go to bed now ... or you can stay up for five more minutes."
And with no hesitation, Jeffrey answered: "How come you get to make the choices?"
I was so proud. It was exactly the response I wanted from a child of mine.
Dr. Haim Ginott died in 1973. I haven't heard much about his parenting theories since, though you can find a lot about him on a Google search, including his best-known quotations. Or cliches, take your pick. My favorite (because it's short and soooo Ginottish) is "Fish swim, birds fly and people feel." People also talk on cell phones while they drive and they have an insatiable craving for news about people named Jennifer, Brad, Britney, Demi, Justin, Angelina, Jessica and Ashlee.
AMAZINGLY, Jeffrey and I were in sync about a lot of things that usually divide parent and child. Music, for example ... and almost everything in the arts and popular culture. But it was music that set Jeffrey and me apart from the rest of the family. Specifically, our love of the late (and very great) Harry Nilsson. Jeff and I shared other favorites – Chuck Mangione, Maynard Ferguson, Jan and Dean (to go from the sublime to the ridiculous) – but it was Nilsson who caused my wife, Olinda, and, later, Jeff's wife, Elyse, much consternation.
Elyse's moment of panic was during her second pregnancy when Jeffrey floated this name possibility, in the event of a son: Emmet Nilsson Major. She flat-out refused, though I appreciated Jeffrey's thought. Emmet was the name of my Grandmother Major's first child; he died when he was 12. Nilsson? That was pure inspiration. Wish I had thought of it ... though when Karla was pregnant with our second child I did suggest naming her Thursday. That became an Abbott and Costello routine: "Why should we wait until Thursday to pick out a name?" "Because the name I picked out is Thursday." "I thought today was Monday." And so forth.
Back to Nilsson. He is best remembered for singing two songs he didn't write – "Without You" (which later also was a hit for Mariah Carey) and "Everybody's Talking" (from the movie Midnight Cowboy). He also attracted a lot of attention for an animated musical, "The Point," which was presented as a television special, and for "Coconut," one of my all-time favorite songs and typical of the things Nilsson wrote early in his career. (Nilsson wasn't quite the same after he became a drinking – and God knows what else – buddy of John Lennon and later when he injured his vocal chords, which limited his range in his later years.)
I still listen to Nilsson a lot, and whenever I do, I wonder if Jeffrey is doing likewise. Not that we eventually didn't come to a parting of the ways, musically. It started when he discovered Rush and I bought a Mister Mister album. We each considered the other had gone over to the Dark Side.
But, hey, we'll always have Nilsson.