I used to think I was the coolest guy in the room — then someone changed the locks on me.
I don't remember exactly when I stopped being cool, but it probably happened soon after my kids were born. All the stuff I thought made me cool — an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music and pop culture, my nonconformist and sometimes combative views on just about everything else, being a loner — was summarily pushed aside in favor of dirty diapers and sleep deprivation. Knowing the provenance of every Beatles song no longer seemed as important as relishing my children's first words and steps.
Now that those guys are walking-and-talking grown-ups, I find myself wondering what it would be like to be cool again and if it even holds the same significance it did when I was young and not balding. When I was in my 20s, coolness was more of a pose. I was more persona than person — projecting who I wanted people to think I was rather than revealing the real me. It's taken me 50 or so years to finally become comfortable in my own skin, and I now see that as the epitome of being cool.
Seeking validation of this new cool theory, I thought I'd consult an expert in the field — so I texted my younger son, Zach, who's a film major at a Florida university.
L: Yo. Can use your help on something I'm writing.
L: What makes someone cool?
Z: Great topic for me!
L: I know.
Z: Well, I'd say some aspects of being cool are being well respected by most and being able to talk to people. I find generally happy people are cool. They walk with a different pep in their step, is the only way I can put it. And having confidence.
L: What about knowing stuff about music, movies or TV? Does that matter?
Z: Absolutely. Like, I control the iPod for most parties. My friends expect me to.
L: Because you're cool!
Z: Yeah, I have the right taste. And I like to turn people on to great new stuff.
L: I always thought good taste was one of the most important things about being cool.
Z: Also always being a step ahead on whatever is the cool new thing.
L: That takes a good deal of time and effort. Being cool sometimes feels like hard work.
Z: I don't know. To me, it just feels like fun. These are the things I love. There's nothing hard about it.
L: Can old people be cool?
Z: Yeah, I think you're cool.
L: How so?
Z: Any dad who listens to J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar is cool.
L: Well, that's thanks to you! Was your grandpa Marty cool?
Z: Incredibly cool.
L: How come?
Z: Well, anyone who was in a photo posing with the Beatles is cool. He had the coolest jobs in the music business.
L: So coolness has nothing to do with how old you are?
Z: I think it's really about what has influenced you and how you became you.
L: Can someone who was once cool become uncool?
Z: I mean, cool people could get a boring corporate job and sit in a cubicle all day and that might make them lose any coolness they had.
L: That's called becoming a grown-up. You'll see.
Z: Can't wait.
L: Why is it important to be cool?
Z: A lot of people are content not being cool, but I think it's important because it helps with my confidence and overall attitude toward life.
L: Do you have any uncool friends?
Z: All of my friends are cool in my book. Even if others think they're uncool, I've always been able to find the cool in people.
L: Do your friends think their parents are cool?
Z: A few, but not many.
L: So it's cool you think I'm cool.
Z: You'll always be cool!
L: Right backatcha! Speaking of which, I'm hanging out with Uncle Stephen tonight.
Z: He's also very cool.
L: Coincidentally, we're going to a lecture called "Deconstructing the Beatles."
Z: You see! That proves you guys are still cool.