It’s a constant truism, no less enduring for being out of date: every girl looking for a husband wants to marry either someone who is exactly like her father, or someone who is the exact opposite of her father. But what happens when a woman’s father somehow manages to turn her off from ever marrying—or even dating—anyone at all? That’s the take I got upon reading about Emily Stern, the daughter of legendary radio shock-jock Howard, who became an Orthodox Jew who became observant in adulthood and recently said that her father’s continuous on-air emphasis on sexuality “kept [her] out of the dating ring”, alienating her from the dating world entirely. “It’s rare I go out on dates now,” Stern said in a recent interview with the New York Post, ostensibly to publicize “Wells of Miriam,” a Mikveh-themed show of her photography which opens November 18 at the Hadas Gallery in Brooklyn (I’m guessing this is the first time the space has gotten such a groundswell of publicity).
On one hand, I sympathize with Emily Stern. It’s mortifying—and not just as an adolescent—to hear your parents discuss anything even remotely sexual. (I’ve always been inordinately grateful to mine for giving me the impression, over the years, that my sister and I hatched from eggs.) This is especially true, I imagine, when millions of people listening to your dad do it day in and day out; this must have really done a number on the teenage Stern girl. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that Howard Stern talking about boobies on the radio— no matter how graphically—can be solely responsible for her lack of a love life. To that, I would look to some of the other points she raises in the Post article: her father’s wounding narcissism, her parents’ messy divorce and his subsequent marriage to Beth Ostrovsky, a woman 18 years her father’s junior. Those are the kind of things that can lead to lifelong issues with men. (As for the naked Kabbalah play, in which Stern fille played Madonna, presumably before she adopted the Orthodox tradition, let me just say this: I understand, and we all did things as young, uncertain, recently graduated Tisch students that we might not do today.)
What’s most interesting to me, however, is how Emily Stern seems to prove yet another truism, one that has particular resonance in this age of hyper-anxious parenting and endless debates on what one must do to get the best results out of their carefully designed children: whatever you want your kids to wind up being, you should be the opposite. Want artistic rebels? Be a straight-laced 9-to-5er. Want dutiful, responsible caretakers? Be a wild “cool” parent who sets no discernible boundaries. And want a modestly attired, chaste Orthodox Jew? All you have to do is become a vastly successful radio shock jock describing graphic sex acts to a rapt audience of millions. Howard Stern should write a parenting book.