The death of interpersonal relationships

Monday through Friday my days couldn’t be more urban. I spend my daytime hours and, courtesy of an understand wife, many evenings in Manhattan. I consider myself damn lucky that way. On Saturday mornings, however, I do what a lot of suburban dads do; I take my kid to basketball. It’s not my favorite activity but it’s important to my 7-Year Old that I be there so I go without complaining [too much].

One afternoon, she came off the court for some water and said, “Dad…you didn’t see me make a basket. You were looking at your phone.” Don’t you hate when someone holds a mirror up and you don’t like what you see? I was actually pretty crushed. I made a vow. From the time she goes on the court until the final buzzer, my phone stays in my pocket. It’s not easy when I feel it vibrate, but I haven’t cracked yet.

Last week, a mom parked her stroller next to me. While one daughter ran onto the court, she handed an iPad to the tyke in the stroller. The little one donned a set of pink earphones, adroitly plugged in, and zoned out.


She spent the rest of her time playing idiot games while mom, what else?, got on her smart phone to text and peruse Facebook. Neither of them looked up once to see her daughter/sister play. They couldn’t have cared less.


After the game, daughter the first came over and sat on the bench. Mom took the iPad away from daughter the second and you should have heard the blood-curdling scream she let out. You wouldn’t think such a banshee wail could come from such a little peanut. The only way to silence her was to stick another gadget in her hand. The three of them sat there ignoring each other.


Do you know how you’re supposed to be all humble and not think you’re better than anyone? That you shouldn’t judge someone unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes? That you’re not supposed to feel superior? Well, sometimes it’s really hard to not do that.

I see episodes like this all the time. Children will never know what it’s like to just sit and enjoy the quiet. They’ll never learn how to connect with flesh and bone. If we’re not careful, all of our most important relationships will exist on the internet. That can’t be healthy.



The Half King. W. 23rd/10th Ave. 12:20 p.m. Saturday, January 11th


My 12-Year Old daughter has a friend whom I adore. She’s intelligent, polite and can stand her ground in a conversation. Not all 12-year olds can do that. She’s an excellent influence. The kind of kid you’d want your kid to spend her time with. Her father’s a hell of a nice guy, too. He’s a successful investment banker. My daughter extended an invitation on Saturday but it was declined because her friend was away skiing in Vermont.

Skiing is an activity for wealthy, white people. I’m doing okay, but not take-my-family-to-Vermont-for-the-long-weekend okay. This is where my daughter will start to learn what the term economic disparity means. As they get older, my daughter and her friend will start to move in different circles. Their friendship might dissipate like vapor under the weight of their different lifestyles.

I try to teach both daughters that wealth is a lousy barometer for happiness and that of all the unhealthy emotions, envy is the one that will rot your soul the quickest. But it’s hard to practice what you preach sometimes. This being a family-provider stuff can really fuck with your head.

45 thoughts on “The death of interpersonal relationships

  1. My sister spent a lot of time explaining to my nephews what money was, and how much was available.
    They want all the toys, but understand that some just aren’t worth the money.

    She also heavily controls their time on electronic devices.

    We saw Waiting for Godot tonight. Patrick and Ian were excellent. The play itself, not so much. I didn’t like the 2nd half at all, and if I’d made it back to my seat before intermission ended, I’d have asked my wife if she wanted to leave. I thought the 2nd act was much much better, leading to a conclusion that really did make me think.

    • Yesterday, my hair cutter, Bella (a matronly Russian-Jew with a thick accent who is on her way to Tel Aviv as I type this) told me “If you give your kids everything, you give them nothing.” How’s that! That should be on one of those inspirational posters you see in airport traveling salesmen gadget stores.

      Godot is infamous for being about incomprehensible nothingness. I agree with your assessment that the first act can be a bit draggy but the second act really sails. The fool doing his “thinking” is always a highlight, although I don’t think Billy Crudup nailed it when I saw him.

  2. A nice guy investment banker is not something you hear about very often. I wonder what he feels about the public image of his profession, thanks to the movies and high-profile cases of misbehaviour. Maybe you should interview him and put the video on You Tube. I have never felt jealous of anyone going on a skiing holiday. It has as much appeal to me as setting on a block of ice.

    • As tempting as it is, you can’t say that every investment banker is a jack-off. I’ve worked with a few who were decent human beings, so I try to resist the stereotype. But it’s hard. Most of them won’t give you the time of day unless you have something they need.

      My wife and I will never, EVER, take the girls skiing even if we strike it rich. We hate being out in the cold. We don’t go camping, either. I work my ass off so we don’t have to sleep in tents. If my family is sleeping in a tent, something went wrong.

  3. You might be wrong about your daughter’s friend, they may just end up BFF’s… and since i’m the coach of Kid A’s team i see every basket, i’ve also been complimented on how much better my team is from the start of the season until now, i hate to admit that it’s gratifying and in enjoy it but i do, it’s also frustrating as hell and i have to remember that i’m dealing with 2nd graders, we won 26-9 last friday and we gave up a lay-up because no one was back on defense, i shouldn’t have cared but i did, i wanted to yell what the fuck’s wrong with you kids don’t you know the last man stays back to stop the break? then i realized i never taught them this, yep sometimes that reflection is a bitch…

    • Boy, I sure hope you’re right about the friendship thing. I’d love for that to happen. Not all of her friends are, or will be, such a great influence, so I hope that friendship endures.

      Man, I don’t know how you do it. Coaching would drive me insane. Not only do I not have the required knowledge or skill, I have no, and I mean NO, patience with groups of kids. I’m okay one-on-one but more than three and I start to vibrate. I would be all, what the fuck’s wrong with you kids? That’d be me.

  4. I’m sitting in our dining room on my MAC, the MITM is about 30′ away in another room with his new BOSE headphones attached to his iPad on staring at his computer screen. The TV is on in the living room with the 49ers v Seahawks game on. Neither of us is watching, but I am listening.

    Now why is this happening? He’s leaving tomorrow, but working with his website developer and also, dealing with a major fuck-up on an overseas project. To anyone looking in it would seem like a slowly dying marriage, but in reality, it’s me staying out of the way! By the by, I’ve found that if I don’t want to be distracted, but need to keep my phone on (to check later) the best thing is to keep it on silent, not vibrate.

    The krewe really limits the time on electronics for EVERYONE when they are together. xoxoxox

    • Go 49ers! Man, this game is great. I love football. It’s such a great distraction for me. I’ll be so sad when the season is over. I always am. Then…nothing but the cold wind until spring training.

      Cell phones are a greater threat to civilization than terrorists. Of course, I don’t actually MEAN that, but our relationship with them is unhealthy.

  5. I have to admit, there are a couple of times here and there where I use a screen (iPad, TV, XBOX, computer, whatever) to pacify the kids. But I hate it. But when I’m watching them play something, I’m totally there and for them, even though the quality of play leaves something to be desired (okay, they’re 7 and 4, so whatever). I think both are addicted to screens already, so we actively try to do other things. But then again, I’m also addicted to screens.

    The economic disparity is inevitable, I guess, but without having done any research on the topic, I wonder if that disparity is now less than it’s ever been. I know it’s talked about as getting worse all the time, but we’ve come a ways from kings versus peasants. I’m probably wrong on this one, though.

    • It’s so EASY. Wouldn’t you do almost anything for a few minutes of peace and quiet? Letting them watch a screen seems innocent enough. I do it too but I always feel bad afterwards. Does that count for anything? 7 and 4 are kind of the sweet spot. Before 4 is hellish and once they get to 14 or so, it’s even worse. Enjoy it while it lasts.

      I think class distinctions bother me a lot more than it does them. I grew up po (we were so broke we couldn’t afford to say the whole word) and I don’t want them putting up with some of the crap-ola I had to.

  6. i am becoming more openly annoyed when my friends and acquaintances play with their phones during parties, while dining, or when we’re just sitting and talking. a game was developed where diners pile phones in the middle of the table at the start of the meal, and can’t touch them until the bill arrives… i used to think this a grand idea, until i realized how horrifically fucked up it is that we have to construct a GAME to allow us to be in the damn moment at hand…

    that said, i HAVE used a text message to send a ‘rescue me’ flag to Studley when i’ve been trapped at a party. that doesn’t really count! that is technology to the rescue!

    • I have a friend who was telling me a story and I inadvertently picked up my phone to just glance at it. He stopped talking mid sentence and didn’t say another word to me until after I put the phone in my pocket. I was very embarrassed and I haven’t done it again. Message received. As far as the game? If that’s what it takes, then so be it.

      • That’s an effective way of controlling other people’s mobile phone behaviour. I’ve used it a couple of times. Usually, they “it’s OK, carry on” and I no, it’s OK, I’ll wait.

        I’m lucky really–I can’t think of many of my friends who use them so rudely. However, the silent family and group of friends buried in gadgets on a night out, is very common here too. Their loss.

        Re your investment banker friend–I don’t want lots of money, and it doesn’t motivate me at all. But I am constantly aware of the utter gulf between people who have it and those who don’t. I haven’t got any money, and generally, through my education and interests, knock about with people who do have it. The unconscious, well-meant patronising attitude the latter give away all the time is very familiar to me, yet those with money just can’t help not understanding.

        But when my numbers come up, I’m going skiing. We have the World Cup skiing on terrestial (free) TV here and I like watching it. I know I’d like it. It’s fast, dangerous, individualistic and associated with drinking.

  7. ” If you give your children everything, you give them nothing”. I have never heard a life lesson so well and so succintly put . Heartfelt congratulations to Bella.

    • She’s a scream. She’s full of interesting tidbits like this. She’s a hell of a hair cutter, too. And she’s reasonable. Only $14 bucks.

  8. I try not to judge what other people have going on in their life (that might justify staring t a screen) but it really does freak me out when I see a family like that. Granted, when I was a kid it was a book I was staring at while ignoring everyone.

    • I try not to judge or cast aspersions either but in New York City it’s kind of a part-time job. A sub-career that you can get sucked into if you’re not careful.

      When I see my daughters lost in a book, I leave them along. No harm in that seed being planted.

    • Thanks for your kind words but I’m an okay father. Not as good as some, but better than the clod who raised me. (Which isn’t saying much. The high-water mark wasn’t set that high.)

  9. My brother does this thing, where he is on his mobile phone the entire time we’re at the dinner table. Drives me insane. No amount of nagging can convince him to get off his phone. I think it’s just rude.

    • Keep hammering away at your brother! Nag! Nag! Nag! It’s for his, and societies, own good. You’re an avenging angel.

  10. Firstly, yay, it worked, this post appeared in my Reader! My kids and I are sometimes guilty of all being sitting together somewhere on our devices at the same time, but when I spot it I make us stop! I am definitely one for checking my phone regularly, but I really do try and not do it if I’m with others because it can come across as rude, and if I do it’s usually because there’s a genuine reason to and I always feel the need to explain it like “Sorry I just need to check my phone because I’m waiting for my daughter to tell me what time to pick her up” or whatever. Sometimes devices can be useful though if you’re feeling a bit awkward in a social situation where nobody is talking to you and you can look like you’re engrossed in engaging with something on your phone instead! (Or maybe that’s just me!).

    The money thing is a tricky one, it’s true, it can be hard to maintain social relationships with people who have a lot more money because you just can’t keep up with joining in with the things they can do, even without any snobbery being involved, just a practical thing, it’s a shame that it comes down to that, but it’s a reality of life.

    • Why am I thrilled x 1,000 that the Reader alert worked? Perhaps I’m just a whore for attention. I’m probably not the only one in the blogosphere.

      I try to fight the urge to get lost in my iPhone and I’m proud to report that I’ve been largely successful. I walk down 6th Avenue and everyone–and I mean everyone–seems to be buried in their phones. All of NYC around them and they barely notice!

      I am hypersensitive to economic disparities. We didn’t have much growing up and my parents didn’t sit me down and explain where happiness can and can’t be found. I’m hoping my lectures to the girls has a lasting effect.

  11. I’m amazed that I don’t look at any electrical gadgets when in company. I leave my phone in my handbag and forget it… the reason I’m amazed is because I love being online. I must be programmed to be polite… thanks to my Dad.

    • You are more evolved than most. People seem addicted, and I don’t mean metaphorically. They can’t be without them. It’s like their blanky or ba-ba. They’re babies.

  12. The whole phone thing is really kind of a scary thing to me. My phone sits in a drawer because I get very poor reception up here in the hills, and I would rather use my Land line, anyway…..It really does look like people are truly addicted to these devices—Now phone/.computer/camera/and God knows whats to come…..When people come and visit me—they put their phone on the table so IF they get a call, or NEED to make a call—-it’s right there…..And they do both, while supposedly visiting me. I think people have forgotten what it was like before “cell phones”….you were THERE, wherever ‘there’ was….A restaurant, a visit, your child’s sports games….WE ALL MANAGED, somehow!!! I think it has definitely changed the way we interact and not for the better. I so agree with your feelings about this—and one does wonder where this will all end, I know we cannot go backward to the way it use to be before these phones became attached to our ears, but…..Something has to change.

    I think it is wonderful that you have made the decision to NOT take your phone out of your pocket while your daughter is in the middle of her game…..
    It made me think of a dear friend who when speaking at his own father’s memorial said—“….And he never missed any game I was playing in—–I knew I could look up and he would be there, sitting in the stands—-and sometimes he was the only Dad that was there….”. What it meant to my friend was obvious from the emotion in his voice. He knew he had his fathers full attention and that meant, he had his father’s love. And yes, it was Waaaaay before Cell Phones.

    • I’m not trying to win a “best dad” trophy. I’m deeply flawed and, quite honestly, have no idea what I’m doing. I just trying to keep them out of therapy.

      I fear I’ve turned into one of those “Those Damn Kids” people. I don’t understand what attracts the younger generations. At my gym yesterday, there were two girls on the treadmill walking at a pretty fast clip. Both of them were texting the entire time. They looked ridiculous. The dark side of me was hoping they’d fall flat on their faces.

      Read Daisyfae’s comment above regarding cell phones at gatherings. A shame it’s come to that but if it works, I support it.

  13. Ugg this is all so true it kind of hurts a little bit. Right now Anna and I are side by side at the kitchen table both gazing into our laptop screens. In my defense, we just had pizza night with my mom and the gang and we were all talking with one another and no one was on their phone or computer. But to your point, I see this all the time, too. I’m pretty good about not being on the phone when I’m with people, but there’s still so much that probably gets missed when I’m out and about and not paying attention to the other humans in my path…I worry about the Vermont thing also sometimes. We’re surrounded by doctors and lawyers who have two incomes or one that’s as good or better than two. I’m sure those lines will start to get drawn in the sand for Anna as well. I’m hopeful that our consistent donations to charities and practicing gratitude in front of her will help her strike a healthy balance with how she perceives money. It’s always good to remember how much we have to be grateful for : ) Great post Mark – as always.

    • Hi Molly. It’s up to each of us to be vigilant. Of course, I check my phone when in mixed company. But my guard is always up so that it doesn’t become a lifestyle. Have you shopped for a new car recently? You can go online and read email while behind the wheel. If anyone in my family is ever hurt because someone was reading an email (or texting, for that matter) while driving caused an accident, I’m going to go berserk. And I’m not kidding, I’ll lose it.

      As far as rich vs. not rich, so far, the only person it seems really matter to is ME! She and her skiing friend talk all the time. I hope my insecurities don’t rub off on her. Yet ANOTHER thing I need to be vigilant against. It never ends!

      Thank you for your always thoughtful comments.

    • Ach. There you are. Happy new year to you, too.

      You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Can’t fit the toothpaste back in the tube. Can’t un-ring a bell. Pick a metaphor or make up your own. Any way you slice it, society is screwed.

  14. Those stories are two heartbreaks in one, really. One for humanity and one for your daughter when the lesson sinks in.
    I don’t have a cell phone. People are amazed at this. Getting one would be like a recovering alcoholic going to a bar; just a bad idea all around.

    • Hi Ross. Welcome. Sorry about the follow kerfuffle. It’s not you. It’s me. Or, rather my blog.

      Yes, I prefer to compound my sad stories. I do it for dramatic juxtaposition. Count me in with the folks who are amazed that you don’t have a cell phone. Do you know what that makes you? More evolved and less needy than the rest of us. You’ve achieved the sound of one hand clapping.

  15. I’ve just learned that in the next few days they will tear down Parmatown Mall, i’m fucking gutted, haven’t been there in years and yet it is the spiritual home of my youth, it’s where i bought my first Replacements record, entered my first head shop, told some girl at the pie shop i could screw her when she got off and when she did i gave one of my less stellar performances as i got my end in on top of my friends pool table at the tender age of 16, i smoked massive amounts of dope in the parking lot, drank beer across from Byers Field, had monumental snow ball fights on the mountains of snow when they plowed the parking lots, did donuts and fishtails when i learned to drive in said parking lots, i could go on and on… now i’m gonna have a drink…

    • My sister wrote to me yesterday and told me of this impending disaster. When they can tear down your childhood, you know you’re getting OLD, pal. How many movies did I see there? Countless. Rocky when it was first released. Diamonds Are Forever, too. I saw Peter Frampton play at Byers Field a few months before Frampton Comes Alive came out. He was still a nobody. I knew him as Humble Pie’s guitarist. The concert, which also featured Brownsville Station [Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room] and local band Sweetleaf, was sponsored by Parma High. Only about 200 people showed up. The stadium was EMPTY. It was a gigantic failure and the high school lost a shitload of money. I bought my first girlfriend’s Christmas gift at the Things Remembered kiosk. Got my early boners from the trick glasses at Spencer Gifts. A pretty girl in a bikini. When you tip the glass, her bikini disappears.

      I have a link I’m going to send you. It’s a treasure trove of photos of Parma from when we were kids. I’m a bit older than you and some of these things might not be familiar, but there’s plenty that will unclog your memory chips.

      R.I.P. Parmatown.

  16. I think that on the 19th. word of this blog you left out an ‘ing’ because otherwise I wouldn’t know what to make of you.

    • If you men something changed, you should know that these posts are constantly being edited. Even well after everyone has stopped reading a particular post, I’ll continue to tweak it. It’s my demented hobby/obsession!

  17. WHY don’t I know when you post? This is very distressing as this is a great post.

    When I take my kid out to dinner on Saturdays, sometimes his dad joins us. We watch entire families play on their electronic devices at the table. Ignoring one another. We have conversation. We can ignore each other at home for free.

    • It’s being fixed. Our mutual friend, the one you referred me to, is reconfiguring my site for WordPress and following will be much easier. In the meantime, you can go to your Reader page, next to “Blogs I Follow,” click “Edit” and paste in my URL. That should do it.

      Don’t you think the whole cell phone thing is an epidemic at this point? Or am I being a big baby and an alarmist? Verizon has us all by the short and curlies. Thanks for your kind words about this post. It means a lot to me, especially coming from a top-notch scribe such as yourself.

  18. I’m putting my money on real girl friendship and to hell with paltry snobbery.
    It’s not as if your daughter comes from an emotionally, artistically, or any kind of deprived family. I’ll bet she envies the father- daughter relationship you both have. Our nieces and nephew skied in Vermont and they were fairly normal.
    The way you are rearing your girls they can look anyone in the face – go anywhere and hold their own. They just have to believe it.

    • You know what I’m doing here, don’t you? I’m projecting my own insecurities onto my poor daughters. The first step is admitting you have a problem! I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and not discuss any of these imagined concerns with them. God forbid any of it rubs off.

  19. Mark, I can’t agree with you more and yet I know I am guilty of doing this on a daily basis. I don’t know what the solution is. Are we all addicted? I need to turn off. Maybe once a week to start, I will not get on my blog, Facebook, etc. I’m sure it will be a healthy start. Great post!

    • You’ve got to change your evil ways, baby. Lord knows you’ve got to change.*

      *With apologies to Carlos Santana.

  20. Guilty as charged re: gadgets and kids. We’re not too bad in public but if you could get a picture of us behind closed doors, it’s a shameful sight. Every grown up and kid lost in their laptop, device, or TV. I gave up a long time ago, and learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

    • Why do we do it?! Is what’s on the other end of that communiqué more interesting than what’s in front of us? Or more important? It’s a slippery slope. Verizon and AT&T are a greater threat to the family unit than the divorce rate. Welcome, by the way.

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