A Manual For Living With Defeat
Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat is a collection of Leonard Cohen’s observations that offer insight into living in this imperfect world. (For information about how this series differs from other collections of so-called lessons from Leonard Cohen, see Lessons From Leonard Cohen – Introduction.)
Lesson #9: Your Children Are Your First Priority
Until you have children and live with a woman, it’s just dating for the junior prom.1
We are very large beings wheeling through existence, who aren’t even shaped the way we appear. You catch the lint of another’s being on your wheel. And she does the same, and you get tangled up inextricably. The tangle is like a cocoon, out of which another being emerges. My feeling is that until you have children, until you really get stuck, it’s like dating for the junior prom. I believe that in a certain way, having children is the only activity that connects you to mankind and makes a serious assault on the ego.2
It is only when you have children that you’re truly forced to give up looking only at yourself and start worrying about some other lives. If you attempt to respond to a child, you can never think of yourself in the same way again. You stop being the center of your drama, which becomes very secondary in light of your children’s needs, of their urgency. I understood right away that the trap had slammed shut (laughs)… There are many marvelous aspects of course; the beauty is indisputable. But the destruction of your self image is inevitable. There were many things that I didn’t like about myself. I was very selfish, I was only concerned with myself. I wouldn’t admit that other beings were legitimately worth my attention.3
Leonard Cohen’s history as well as his words evidence his love and sense of obligation for his children.
In the early 1980s, for example, he repeatedly traveled from his homes in Montreal, Los Angeles and Hydra to live in a trailer he installed at the bottom of a path leading to the home in the south of France where Suzanne Elrod had moved with their children following their breakup.4
Similarly, when Adam, then 17 years old, was involved in a near fatal road accident, his father attended his bedside daily during his most helpless three months in hospital.5
Suzanne Elrod herself reported
I always felt married. Leonard is the most responsible human being imaginable. He’s always been there for the children.6
Perhaps most telling are Adam’s own observations about his father.
In the kitchen of my father’s Greek fisherman’s house on the island of Hydra, he would often read my sister Lorca and me stories or poetry at the table. … My mother, Suzanne Elrod, left my father shortly before the picture was taken. Lorca and I moved to the south of France with her but would spend Easter and summer with my father. It was a bitter divorce but he managed to remain in our lives through their cold war. As a father now, I recognize the gargantuan effort that he put in.7
It was particularly admirable, I think, the way in which he managed to keep in touch with us despite the … the domestic unrest, shall we say, the post-divorce antagonisms.8
Leonard Cohen On Children Undermining Loneliness
Valerie Pringle’s 1997 CTV interview with Leonard Cohen includes a portion dealing with children and their effect on loneliness. The video is set to begin at the pertinent segment (4:38).
Leonard Cohen: Interview 1997
Leonard Cohen has consistently encouraged and abetted Adam’s own career as a singer-songwriter. Lorca, who long served as Leonard Cohen’s photographer and videographer as well as working in merchandising and other tasks on her father’s recent tours, lives in his Los Angeles duplex.
Leonard Cohen On The Blessings Received From Mature, Independent Children
This video opens with a discussion of Cohen’s fiscal woes following the loss of his retirement funds, which provides context for the description of his son’s response to the situation (at 1:30).
Leonard Cohen & Anjani Thomas at Først & sist, NRK, 2007, part 2 of 3
Video from kaarekjohnsen
And, Leonard Cohen certainly seems to enjoy being grandfather to Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen (daughter of Lorca Cohen and Rufus Wainwright) and Cassius Cohen (Adam’s son, pictured below).
Leonard Cohen, Marianne, And Little Axel
Finally, one should not overlook the fact that Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen, and Marianne’s son, Axel, were in every way a family. Cohen’s role as a father is described in this excerpt from Interview with Marianne Ihlen by Kari Hesthamar (Norway, 2005)9
INTERVIEWER: So how was Leonard as a father?
MARIANNE: Well, actually, he… I was terrified that Axel was going to disturb him, because he had to write. But what happened was that Axel would be lying prone on the floor drawing. And didn’t say a word. He was a nightmare with me. Then he would… uhuhuhu. You know what kids are like with mother. And so then Leonard would elegantly open the door into his tiny atelier, and say: ”Axel, I need your help.” And then it would be deadly silent in there for two hours. And little Axel drew and Leonard wrote. That’s how I experienced it. And little Axel was enormously proud. He called him Cohne.
More Lessons From Leonard Cohen
All posts in this series can be found at
Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post contributed by Leonard Cohen.
- Unful’phil’ed: Cohen & Spector’s Looney Tunes by Hugh Seidman. Crawdaddy: Feb 1978. [↩]
- Leonard Cohen Obscured…A Haunting by Spector by Stephen Holden. Rolling Stone: January 26, 1978. [↩]
- Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Throat Culture magazine, 1992). [↩]
- I’m Your Man – The Life Of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons. Ecco: 2012. P 327 [↩]
- CBC Music [↩]
- A Poet’s Retreat By Steve Dougherty. People: March 25, 1996 [↩]
- Flashback. Adam Cohen interview by Tim Burrows. Sunday Telegraph: May 12, 2012 [↩]
- Adam Cohen: ‘I’ve found my own voice’ by Nick Duerden. Guardian: Oct 7, 2011 [↩]
- LeonardCohenFiles [↩]