In 1996, Roslyn Heights native Don Cohen published the book “My Father, My Son,” cowritten with his father Dr. Max Cohen and comprising over a decade of letters written between generations, sent from Don’s home in Connecticut to Max’s Long Island residence.
Now, nearly 25 years later, the Cohens’ letters make up another book, “The Inside Ride: A Journey to Manhood.” This second volume comprises writings from late 1990s until Max’s death in 2011, with a foreword by Don’s son Jared and an afterword by his daughter Emily.
Father and son would use the correspondence to analyze their relationship as they faced new experiences in their lives.
Don worked as a marriage and family therapist, while Max was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst with a practice in Garden City. Their contrasting schools of thought would lead to often witty, always thoughtful insights from both sides of the father/son divide.
The earlier book had been a success, and took the Cohens on the talk show circuit while bringing the usually quiet Max out of his shell, Don says.
“It was funny, he really was resistant to the whole project at first, but he couldn’t say no to me,” Don said. “My father had been much more introverted than me, so to see him really enjoy being on talk shows and being interviewed with me was pretty cool.”
But, he says, the relationship took a turn in the year 2000, when they got into an argument in their letters.
“He gave an opinion about how I was raising my son which I didn’t particularly like,” Don said. “We wrote some pretty angry letters back and forth. You think you’ve written this whole book together and everything’s fine and dandy, but there’s still more stuff to think about.”
It took a few years to get back to “being father and son” again, Don says, but the two still made memories like taking Max to his boyhood home, Coney Island, and visiting a statue of beloved baseball players Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. The letters would start up again, too,
Then, in late 2009, Don suddenly stopped receiving letters from his father. Concerned, he drove down to Long Island for a visit, and Max told him why he stopped writing.
“He told me that he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and he wasn’t physically able to write back,” Don said. “So I came up with a way for him to write.”
Don would drive down semi-regularly to visit Max, with a letter in tow. After he read it, the father would dictate a response, which the son would handwrite.
“I didn’t want to stop the letters,” Don said. “I couldn’t lose that connection with him.”
Don would visit his father for another letter on July 24, 2011, his 87th birthday.
“Having my grandchildren and my children is what makes life meaningful,” Max wrote that day. “It’s about love and feeling you have an impact on others. You want to feel like you matter to the people who are important to you, and that they too have the same effect on you. At this point, Donald, I have nothing more to say.”
It would be his last, as Max died that September.
In the following years, Don would begin working on a follow-up to their father-son volume, albeit with a different, more “mature” perspective.
“I became a man who’s now going through a lot of the same things that he went through with me,” Don said. “So I had a different understanding and insight now about what it was like to you know be a father with older children, and then to be a grandfather. It gave me a deeper appreciation for some of the things that I challenged him on in the first book.”
Still residing and practicing in Connecticut with his wife Dee, a native of Sands Point, Don says he is the “proud grandfather” of two grandsons and three granddaughters, who range from ages 1 to 9. He adds that he hopes they can use the book as a way of getting to know their family’s past.
“They’ll get to know what kind of relationship that their grandfather had with their great-grandfather,” Don said. “They’ll get a model of inspiration of a family legacy. They’ll learn a lot about where they came from and where they’re going. And hopefully, it’ll be passed down through generations.”
He adds that he sees the book as “a legacy piece.”
“My father said that his kids were his immortality,” Don said. “Now I see that my kids and my grandkids are mine.”
“The Inside Ride: A Journey to Manhood” is available through Amazon.