It’s a wonderful life

“We know people suck, that our extinction is the world’s only chance,” Mark Jacobson declares at one point during his 12,000-mile journey around the world. “It’s just that when you have children, you need a little optimism.” Tell me about it. As a relatively young 20-something father supposedly in tune with the zeitgeist and all, I occasionally ask myself, say, after watching one of W’s press conferences or reading the day’s headlines, “What the hell was I thinking bringing life into this crazy, screwed-up world?”

In 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-Dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe, Mark Jacobson addresses this question and quite a bit more. However, I think it’s fair to say that Dr. Laura won’t be quoting from his book anytime soon. The one-time contributing editor to Rolling Stone, and the author of Gojiro and Everyone and No One, Jacobson is an aged hipster out to reclaim family values for the rest of us. Utilizing a three-month family journey around the world as his narrative vessel of choice, Jacobson’s latest book conveys a genuine spirit of family and the secular faith it inspires.

Fancying himself a sort of post-modern prophet of the humanist persuasion, Jacobson explains one of the many reasons for the journey: “Like Moses, I would lead my children from pop bondage. Because it wasn’t enough to sit around congratulating ourselves because half of Rosie’s school was Russian and Billy’s class list contained names like Omar, Juan, Natasha and Amidou. Brooklyn was full of names, multi-culti hues; that’s why we liked living there. But with each passing moment, it mattered less which far-off land these kids came from. They were playing Wrestlemania 2000 and collecting Pokémon cards like everyone else. Their parents were probably doing the same.” Somewhere out there in The World, Jacobson tells his not-so-merry band of fellow travelers, real, tangible, downright-dirty diversity and the magic it promises can still be experienced firsthand.

Jacobson uses his children as a cultural barometer and notes, with much horror, their responses to the numerous exotic locales they visit. “For the hundredth time since we’d arrived in The World,” he writes early on, in India, “I raged against their lack of wonder. … They had no zeal to peek behind the wizard’s curtain, to see what was really up. Spoiled brats. Primitive dimbulbs. … How did we manage to bring up such morons?” As symbols of American entitlement, Jacobson’s kids receive the occasional spanking.

But Jacobson’s kids aren’t all bad, and he knows it. Sure, they prefer to watch Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx in their hotel room rather than join Dad on a walk through Deer Park, where the Buddha delivered his first sermon. And of course, Billy, age 9, took a bit too much glee in pointing out the fire extinguisher mounted within a few feet of the living descendent of the burning bush. “You never know,” he chuckled hysterically.

Toward the end of the book, however, recalling standing before the chaos at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Jacobson writes, “I wished my wife and I had had more kids. … My wife and I should have had 25 kids—50, maybe more.” This brings us to the real guts of 12,000 Miles: For Jacobson, breeding is the ultimate act of faith. More than an investment in tomorrow, the decision to bring life into the world can be interpreted as the supreme revolutionary act, a radical affirmation of life.

Neither sentimentalist claptrap nor chic deconstructionist gobbledygook written by yet another lonely grad student out to historicize away the family’s soul, 12,000 Miles is a sincere book written by a very funny dad. An ambitious work artfully cloaked in the vestments of the clown, 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time is sure to give hope to even the most jaded parent.