Just get P.J. O'Rourke, 64, talking about his life as an older parent of three young children — the oldest is 13 — and then stand back and marvel.
Because here is sweetness, light and enthusiasm — all of which may surprise those who know O'Rourke primarily for his sharp-tongued political satire in magazines and journals and his dozen or more books in that same distinctive vein, including the colorfully titled Don't Vote — It Just Encourages the Bastards, Give War a Chance, and Parliament of Whores.
See also: Excerpt from Holidays in Heck.
Oh, the sharp tongue comes out now and then, but not much.
"We all know there always should have been something much more important than ourselves," says O'Rourke. "But I think we have trouble acting upon that knowledge. And I don't know if we feel it viscerally until we have kids. Then, all of a sudden, there's that moment right at birth when now there's something much more important than oneself in the world." He adds: "It's a little terrifying."
O'Rourke's latest book, Holidays in Heck, is a collection of essays about his adventures in far-flung locations such as Hong Kong and the Galapagos Islands with his wife, Tina, and kids in tow — as well as places much closer to home, like Washington, D.C., where he once lived for part of the year. Today, O'Rourke and his family live full time in the New Hampshire countryside, "with not a single house visible from ours." He spoke by phone with the AARP Bulletin recently about his life and work.
Q. Why are families not only a lot of fun but a lot of work?
A. They're fun because once you reach a certain age, you really don't get to see things for the first time. But when you take a kid along, there's a certain kind of innocence. When I took my 7-year-old son to see the last shuttle launch — wow. I think it was the only time he's been fully silent since he was born. He was just over the moon. Of course, I was pretty blown away myself.
Q. What lessons have you learned by having children?
A. I'm not sure I've learned anything other than what I suspected all along, which is I'm a pretty mediocre parent. Fortunately, I'm married to someone who's a pretty excellent parent! Otherwise things would be pretty chaotic around here. But I don't think it's something you learn, really. It's something you feel.