FULL TITLE: My Son, The Prince of Fashion
AUTHOR: Michael Chabon
PUBLISHED: GQ September 27, 2016
WORD COUNT: 3,833
READING TIME: 48 minutes
“He knew exactly how he looked” is how Michael Chabon closes the introductory description of his son, Abe, who is 13 years and 3 months old. It’s a very telling statement that sets up what this essay is about. Paris Fashion Week confirmed for Chabon that his son is confident and firm in who he is. Abe is different but doesn’t ever give this a thought. He is who he is.
Throughout the piece, Chabon refers to himself as Abe’s minder. Although he was at Fashion Week on assignment for GQ and had only taken Abe along as a gift for his Bar Mitzvah, it doesn’t feel like that’s the reason why he’s there: Abe is completely in charge of the trip; Chabon is the tagalong, a position perfectly suited for the careful observation of his son. And Chabon saw Paris Fashion Week through his son, but he really didn’t learn anything new about clothes and style. Instead, he learned to understand his son. In fact, Chabon is often mesmerized and in awe of Abe. His son is at once familiar and alien to him.
My first post on Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree briefly touches on how parents come to realize that their children are individuals, beings who exist independently from themselves. There are things parents may find recognizable in their children, attributes that they share, but there will be even more that is completely foreign to them. I think that’s what’s happening in this piece: Chabon is seeing his son as a person.
One moment from the essay that really stuck with me is how Chabon described standing in the doorway of Abe’s room, watching him edit the next day’s outfit.
He would lay out its components, making a kind of flat self-portrait on the bedroom floor–oxford shirt tucked inside of a cotton sport coat, extra-slim pants (with the adjustable elastic straps inside the waistband stretched to button at the very last hole), argyle socks, the whole thing topped with a ubiquitous hat–and I would try to understand what the kid got out of dressing like a pint-size Ronald Colman out for a tramp across the countryside of Ruritania.
Chabon, himself, doesn’t know anything about clothes. He doesn’t love clothes like Abe does, and he wants to understand why clothes could be so important to him. What he really wants to know is “how can my son be so different from me?”
But then Abe does seem to be different from most kids in the sheer fact that he is himself and no one else, and he is comfortable with this. His minder calls this panache. Observing his son at Paris Fashion Week, however, gave Chabon a rare glimpse–among peers, among schoolmates, among friends, Abe appeared undeniably different; he stood out and bore it well. At the fashion shows, Abe was among people who understood him. He was the youngest person at every show he attended but somehow didn’t stand out. Not the way he did back home. Not the way he did with his friends and family. Abe’s minder witnessed him finding his people. Chabon’s essay concludes with a beautiful paragraph that says
You are born into a family and those are your people, and if you’re lucky they even, on occasion, manage to understand you. And that ought to be enough. But it is never enough.