I wasn’t sure what to expect from Stephen Safer, but distinguished-looking and well-spoken weren’t what I imagined. Mr. Safer is six feet tall, well-dressed, and his gray hair and neatly trimmed beard give him a dignified appearance.
“My great-grandfather, Binyamin Safer, came from Ponevezh and was an Orthodox rabbi in Jacksonville, Florida. My grandfather was Americanized and partially observant, then my father drifted even further from traditional Judaism. I did have a bar mitzvah, but it was more ‘bar’ than mitzvah, and to me it had no spiritual implications whatsoever,” Stephen tells me. He grew up in Savannah, Georgia, where he currently resides.
“Our family was non-observant and middle class, and I went to a Catholic school. I was the class clown from a young age and got myself into trouble frequently.”
After Mr. Safer turned 14, he started a band in his parents’ garage. His bandmates were a few of his delinquent friends. “I was very impressionable and bored. I was experimenting with all kinds of illicit substances ranging from alcohol to drugs.”
Stephen only attended college briefly, too much of a “creative type” to hit the books seriously, and got a job in a record store so he could stay close to the music scene. “Sometimes we’d have a gig in a local bar and be paid with beer. I started getting tattoos and piercings. At first, it was only one or two, but it kept escalating until my neck and hands were also covered.” Aside from the tattoos, he grew dreadlocks, dressed all in black, and bedecked himself with lots of metal “jewelry.”
“It was a pretty dark, pathetic scene,” Stephen recalls with regret. “Looking back, I can say that the atmosphere I was in wasn’t healthy.”
I am having difficulty reconciling Mr. Safer’s words with the soft-spoken person with whom I am conversing. They don’t jive at all with the picture he is painting of himself.
“You’re right,” Stephen admits. “That’s where the drinking played a role. Without it, I was reserved and timid. Between shows, I was typically calm and collected and would listen to everyone else talking about their issues, which is why going into the field of psychotherapy later made sense.”