by Donald Wilson on April 22, 2011

Mexican Ceviche on Tostada

As I sit here on the plane to Mexico with my son’s sleeping head on my shoulder, it’s hard to imagine that just two nights ago he ran away from home.  Well, running away from home is a bit of an exaggeration, but knowing that he was angry enough to want to leave is enough to give me pause.  Knowing that I was the reason for that pain breaks my heart.   Understanding that Xbox is, again, at the heart of this pain makes me want to break something black, shiny, and electronic.

Andrew said to me recently that the reason he thinks kids nowadays don’t do drugs (his words, not mine) is that gaming is the new weed.

He put it this way, “You see, Dad, weed lets you escape from your daily life for a while.  It puts your mind into another world and for a little while lets you experience a different reality.   Kids today don’t need to take weed because gaming lets you do the same thing without messing up your body or mind.”

He was scaring me a little with his awareness about weed and its effects, but he was making sense.  The fact that he kept saying “taking weed” made me relax and be able to hear what he was trying to say as I realized he is still unaware about certain mechanics of the drug.

“It’s sort of like a glass of wine for you,” getting a raised eyebrow out of me, he continued, “when you come home on Friday night you want to relax and that’s how you do it.  I do it by playing Xbox.  I get to leave my week behind and be in a different world for awhile.”

I have come to believe that Andrew is completely accurate in his assessment.  The problem is that he missed an important and central truth.  If I drank wine like he played Xbox, I would be writing this from the Betty Ford Institute.  A glass of wine is good, but drinking for many hours over multiple days is not.   Kids don’t come home and play one game.  They put on headsets, connect to friends on the Internet and go until you stop them.  Not even hunger or thirst can deter them from trying to push on to the next level.  We have a name for this; it’s called addiction.

I’m acutely aware that I’m writing about a 14 year old and that what I share could easily lead to years of expensive therapy down the road.  So, I will tread lightly on this narrative to protect the innocent.  Suffice it to say that Andrew informed me midweek with a progress report that we both knew meant no Xbox once the weekend arrived and that he wouldn’t have it for at least 10 weeks.   I was surprised at his “non-reaction” but, like an “addict,” the reality of not getting his fix hadn’t settled in yet and he remained calm.

Friday night arrived and I was busily studying for an important exam, but I could see the caged lion starting to stir.  Andrew started pacing about, coming into my room with meaningless reasons to sit and moan at me.  Soon enough, he sweetly asked if he could just have a little bit of Xbox.  When I wouldn’t budge, he went to reasoning with me.  Some of it fairly persuasive, but still I was unmovable.  Next came the anger.  I stayed calm but was starting to lose it myself.  My test was in hours and failing it meant losing my current job.  Not an option.   I pushed back harder than I should have and unleashed the fullness of his anger.  Suddenly, I was an uncaring, hateful, horrific father that didn’t trust him at all.   Rage filled the room, then the house, and then went flying into his bedroom, barely contained beyond the slammed door.  This is the part where I should have left him alone, but my buttons had been pushed.  I went to continue this “conversation” only to find his bedroom securely locked with the dresser and fish tank cleverly blocking my ability to continue.  Now it was my turn to rage.  I threatened the permanent loss of gaming, Ipods, and computers.  Not a chance I was getting through.  The wall he had erected was dad proof.  I was cut off and it really hurt.

I went back to my studies, trying desperately to “un-push” my buttons and find that place that would allow me to be dad again.  I got there an hour later and calmly asked him if he would like Chinese for dinner.  Silence, then yes, and then silence.  I could work with this.  I ordered dinner (remember I had a test and cooking wasn’t an option) and waited.   On arrival, I laid out the dinner and called Andrew.  Just when I thought he was not going to emerge, he opened the door.   We sat at the table, the rawness of the fight still exposed, pain still palpable, and ate in relative silence.  I knew this Andrew.  He was still angry, but strategically planning his next moves.   I was worried, but as we finished, I told him that I was going to run to a book signing down the street and would be back in a half hour or so.

Now I shouldn’t have left the studies, but too many serendipitous signs had occurred the last few days that pointed me to this book signing.   I had met Yvette at Wrap, a cute little party store on my daily dog walk, and she told me about this event she was hosting for a guy who had lost his wife during childbirth and who had been raising his daughter by himself.   The book, “Two Kisses for Maddy,” came out of this experience and he was doing a signing.  Then, out of nowhere, a few people came to me at work and told me about this guy and that his experience reminded them of Andrew and me.  I decided, test or not, I needed to meet the author, Matt Logelin.

I got to the event and apart from Yvette, I was alone and felt acutely awkward and still tender from the last few hours with Andrew.  I scanned the room and spotted Matt who at once seemed incredibly approachable.  We shook hands and an hour or more after we finished talking, I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted.  He had been through the refiner’s fire in a way that I hope I never have to experience.  Instead of brokenness, his loss and pain had opened him up to others and their pain.  He was living a life of giving back through his foundation for grieving families and sharing his experience to give hope to others.  By the time I left, the icy anger that had started to encapsulate my heart had melted, and I left hoping that I could bring this warm feeling back into the house.

I got home and Andrew came out of his room to greet me.  We looked at each other and I could instantly see his ice had melted too. He leaned in close to me, but waited for me to make the move.  I reached out and grabbed him gave him a big kiss on the top of his head (that’s how you kiss a 14 year old) and he leaned in and let me put my arms around him, tell him that I loved him more than he could ever know, and that we would figure this all out.

I looked around his room and saw that he had gathered chips, Chinese food, cereal, hummus, and a handful of other pantry staples.  I was genuinely curious about it and he explained that he was going to lock himself in and prevent me from getting him to his soccer game the next day and Mexico the day after.  I actually chuckled and he asked why.  I told him that I thought it was very smart of him to plan ahead and that I wouldn’t have thought of it.  He quietly picked everything up and we were father and son again.

What I didn’t say was that I realized that he had just run away from home.  I guess Los Angeles is too scary to actually leave the house, but he had done the next best thing.   I also realized that this wasn’t really about (my big fear) addiction to gaming.  This was still about testing my love and if my parenting boundaries were still there to keep him safe even as he screamed for open borders.  The fact that he could run away means I passed the test, again.  Kids don’t really want to run away, they just want to make their parents feel as badly as they do in that moment of their pain and anger.  That can only happen if they believe that their parents love them enough to be hurt by their absence.  I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost Andrew for even a brief moment.  It would kill me and he knows it.   And knowing that is stronger than any adoption paper could ever offer.  It’s the bond of parent and child that can never be broken and it’s the security he will need to someday, at the right time, make his way into the world of adulthood.



Mexican Ceviche with Wahoo

Ceviche is raw fish that is cooked in lime juice and you will just have to trust me with this one.  The first time I ate Ceviche was 25 years ago on a beach in Antofagasta, Chile.  I was with a good friend and his wife and when it came time for lunch they handed me a knife and told me to cut a native crustacean that clung to the rocks just under the incoming tide.  They looked like little tiny volcanoes and when you stepped on them they even rewarded you with a little saltwater eruption.

For about a half hour we raced the tide and each time it pulled back, we ran forward cutting as many as we could before scurrying back to the dry sand.  After we had gathered enough for lunch, they squeezed lime after lime until the little “tits,” as they called them, were completely covered.  A while later, they were drained and mixed with onions and tomatoes and then offered to me with crackers.   I was sure that typhoid was in my near future, but they explained that the lime “cooked” them and they were completely safe.   Since that time, I have eaten Ceviche in hundreds of restaurants and homes.   Buy fresh fish and I promise you it is completely safe.

I call this version Mexican because I’m in Mexico and the recipe comes from one of the people I love most in this world and one of the best home cooks I know.  Agustin lives in Veracruz and has taught me almost everything I know about Mexican cooking.   This meal started in the sea this morning and was washed down with lots of Mexican beer this evening.  It just doesn’t get any better than this!

Andrew picking out the evening's meal!

Agustin’s Mexican Ceviche

2 pounds Wahoo or other firm and mild fish

Limes, enough to get enough juice to cover fish, about 20

1 onion, diced

1 cup cilantro, chopped


1 pound tomatoes, diced

Avocado, diced


Jalapeno chile, chopped (optional)

Habanero and red onion relish (optional) See recipe below.

Chipotle salsa (optional)



If you have a good fishmonger, ask them if they will prepare the fish for ceviche or a 1-inch dice.   Place all the fish in a large glass baking dish or bowl and squeeze enough limes to barely cover.   Set aside and let marinate for two hours.  When ready, pour the fish into a colander and let drain completely.  Alternatively, you can put it in a salad spinner and gently spin until fairly dry.  The dryer you can get the fish, the better the final preparation.

Place the fish in a large bowl and add the onion, cilantro, and salt to taste.   For the salt, start with 1½ teaspoons, check and adjust to taste.

To serve, set the table with the chopped tomato, avocado, tostadas, and chilies, if using.


Habanera and Red Onion Relish

Habanera Chile and Red Onion Relish

This is amazingly tasty.  It is also amazingly spicy hot. The good news is that the heat diminishes with a little time; so if you can’t take a lot of heat, make this a day or two ahead of time.  It will stay good for at least a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, and if you run out of onions before you do the habaneras you can add more.  It’s good on ceviche, chicken breasts, fish fillets, and even mixed into an omelet.

3 to 4 habanera chilies, seeds removed, cut in half and sliced (see note)

2 red onions cut in half and then in thin slices

10 to 12 limes, about ½ cup juice

½ cup olive oil

Salt to taste

Place the habaneras and onions in a glass backing dish and squeeze the lime over the mix and let marinate 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the oil and salt and let marinate a while longer.  It’s ready to use, but gets better with a little time.

Note:  We make this with 10 to 15 chilies and as we use up the onion throughout the week, we add more.   Start with the recipe as is and add more as your tongue loses its ability to feel pain!   I also suggest that you use plastic gloves when cutting chilies to avoid spreading the heat to your eyes or other sensitive body parts.



Agustin preparing the Habanera Chile. Mexicans use gloves and you should too. Leave the macho bravura for the tequila shots!







Michael Kriz April 22, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Truly, Don, you write beautifully. This is a beautiful “recipe.” You are a beautiful father. And you have a beautiful son. What a beautiful family.

Thank you.

Richard Lawton April 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm

I was going to see the same thing about your writing. Maybe it’s time to get the novel out of the drawer. As for the recipe, I will be trying this weekend.

Ken April 26, 2011 at 2:26 am

Wow, I really enjoyed reading this post. I have added your link on my blog also. Thanks for sharing your life story !

Previous post:

Next post: