Jodi Picoult: What I know about men

What I Know About Men

Jodi Picoult, 48, Author


My dad, Myron, has always been a terrific role model. By going to night school to get his degree in business – and going on to become one of the best-known security analysts on Wall Street – he established how much work and drive it takes to be successful. But as much as he was a professional when he was at work, at home he was goofy, funny. He would talk in a Donald Duck voice, and he played with his kids all the time – and he’d later do that with his grandkids too. I imagine he used his daily two-hour commute from Long Island to Wall Street to sleep and decompress, because when he came back to us he was entirely ours. He didn’t bring his work home with him at all.

I suppose dad did become a template in my mind of what a partner should be like, because I wanted someone who loved what they did and was endlessly devoted to their family like my dad. Another thing my younger brother, Jon, and I got to see every day was his devotion to my mom, Jane. For my dad, the sun rises and sets on my mother. That was the relationship I had modelled for me my whole life. They don’t just love each other, they are completely in love with each other. I wanted that.

My brother was the very typical younger brother who was too young and geeky to be my friend. Three-and-a-half years younger than me, he is so unbelievably talented and smart, but back then he got his share of ribbing from me and my friends. But he really grew into himself the four years I was in college, and we soon connected again. It was like he was a different person. He has a very dry wit and we do enjoy each other’s company, and I’m really grateful to him. I think it’s great to have a sibling, especially when you want to complain about your parents.

I’ve always got along very well with guys. I had a boyfriend through high school and a number of great male friends, including one of my best friends, Harry  – who I saw just last week actually – and a guy, Jay, who lived with us for his final year of high school when his parents moved away. He was dating my best friend and was just a buddy. These guys offered much less drama than my girl friends. Girls get all wrapped up in drama and it’s exhausting. Guys tell you exactly what’s on their mind, and usually there’s no hidden agenda. I really appreciated that.

In college I was the only girl on the men’s heavyweight rowing crew. I had literally 30 big – very big – brothers in college. My husband of 25 years, Tim [Van Leer], was the captain of the team, while I was the manager. He was a year ahead of me and we were good friends at first, while I was dating a boy on the basketball team and he was dating a woman on the female rowing team. We’d pal around together but there was nothing romantic between us. But after my boyfriend broke up with me, devastating me, Tim heard about it and called me in my dorm and invited me to visit him in Cape Cod where he was working. I said, “OK, how about this weekend?” I just wanted to get off campus so I wouldn’t have to see my ex any more. And so I went to go visit him in Cape Cod. Well, he was waiting for me at the airport – having driven there in a red Mustang convertible – and he was wearing a suit because he came from the office, and he was holding a red rose. He’s incredibly good looking and when I saw him I was sunk. That weekend we were not just friends. When I came back to school I came back to find my boyfriend who’d broken up with me waiting in my room, sobbing. He said he made a mistake. But I stayed with Tim – I’d fallen hard – and two years later we were engaged.

Tim is different from me in almost every way. He is incredibly athletic, unbelievably fit and outdoorsy, and he grew up on a farm. So he’s taught me things like how to change a tyre and how to feed a donkey! A WASP of the first order – he can trace his lineage to the Mayflower, Tim is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. He is someone who roots enthusiastically for the underdog. He’s interesting that way. If you meet him, you think here’s a guy who has everything going for him. He should be a tough guy, a bully or a jock. But that’s not who he is. I think that’s because he was born cross-eyed, and spent the first seven years of his life like that, having surgeries. I think that made him realise that everyone doesn’t have it easy, and I think that formed his character.

Having children makes you see the world through their eyes and I’ve found that with my three – Samantha, 19, Jake, 21, and Kyle, 23. Part of the responsibility of being a parent of boys is to have a conversation with them – and I’m thinking of the college hook-up scene here that people of my generation find hard to understand. We teach girls that they matter, to not give yourself away for nothing, to make sure a guy really likes you, to not get yourself in trouble. But the way a girl gets into “trouble” is through a guy. So it’s important to have a conversation with your sons as well. To say it is your responsibility to value women and to treat them the way you would want your daughter to be treated. I don’t think a lot of moms do that with boys. I think there’s more of a tendency to be protective of our daughters but not educate our sons.

Jodi Picoult’s new novel Leaving Time will be published on October 14 by Allen & Unwin.

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