& let the words begin

Finals week where I teach* was last week, which means I’m now on summer break. Also known as Dad Time. It’s another summer full of me and the Squatch, only this time he’s mobile and stir crazy. This could get interesting.

*Well, I should say “taught” now. I’m not going to be back there in the fall, but I can’t quite admit it to myself yet. Just let me have this, okay?

This crazy school year being over means three other things, though:

  1. More time to spend with you, the fine people of the Bloggy-verse.
  2. Working on the shift from being the one nobody’s noticing at the front of the class to one of the many in seats playing on Facebook. Or as it’s known more colloquially, from teacher to student.
  3. Reading. Lots and lots of reading.

I’m going to spend a couple of posts focusing on that third one (well, and the first one, obviously) because it’s summer and I’m about to go get all doctored in literature, so it just makes sense. And I don’t need to justify my reasons for posting this stuff anyway. It’s my party and I’ll talk about books if I want to.

WhenIFirstHeldYouA couple weeks ago, I got a package in the mail courtesy of Brian Gresko*, who I know from the DadBloggers Facebook group. It should be no surprise to you by this point in the post that inside was a book—one he edited, in fact, called When I First Held You. It’s an anthology of essays on fatherhood by a bunch of critically acclaimed authors. It came out yesterday, and now that grading’s done, I finally got a chance to read it.

*First, I’ll just say that Gresko is already pretty awesome in my book because his son’s name is Felix, and that’s my kid’s name. So you already know he’s got taste.

Probably my favorite book on fatherhood is by one of my favorite authors—Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. It’s not entirely about being a dad, but it factors into large parts of the book, so I feel comfortable saying it’s about fatherhood. I find it interesting and strange to read what an author whose work I admire so much has to say about being a dad. When you come to enjoy an author’s work, frequently it’s because you’re drawn to something in that work you can identify with; somewhere inside your head, you’re saying, “Me too,” and “I get that,” and “That’s so true.” And often you don’t stop to think necessarily about that author as a person and about those other ways in which you also connect to them.

I’d read many of the authors in When I First Held You previously, and—like with Chabon’s book—I hadn’t really considered that other part of their lives, the part away from the keyboard full of peanut butter sandwiches and Target runs and squeezing little feet into little shoes. So I enjoyed that this book gave the chance to experience, particularly as someone who fancies himself in the same profession as these admittedly more successful gentlemen, that other side of the writing life—the one that doesn’t always show up on the pages of novels, at least not overtly.

Much in the way I do with those novels I go back to time and time again, I found myself doing the same internal agreement dance. When Lev Grossman says, “[T]here’s no point in holding things back. Babies don’t hold anything back. […] You can’t bullshit a baby,” I nod my head. When Ben Percy says, “Becoming a parent fundamentally changed my vision. I cannot help but see the world in sharp angles. I walk into a room and itemize the woodstove, the electrical socket, the scissors, the open window, the bottle of bleach—whatever can hurt. Everything’s a hazard,” my alligator brain answers back, “Me too.”

This book is full of moments like these, where the authors manage to pin down the myriad of quirks and joys and failures of being a parent. That might be one of the traps held in a book like this—these moments are incredibly beholden to the audience they’re reaching. To the childless, the essays in the book might feel a little self-indulgent or mundane. Talking about the existential crises of becoming a parent is fairly hard to pull off in a way that’s enjoyable to those who haven’t experienced it, and many of the authors in When I First Held You manage to do just that. But in the hands of a parent, these essays are a series of co-conspiratorial nods to the reader that cut right to the heart of what it means to be in the care of a little life-changing being. Poignant, engaging, and frequently on-the-nose, the essays in this book are well-crafted and thoughtful reflections on probably the most ubiquitous of life-changing experiences.

The one glaring knock on the anthology is the relative lack of diversity in the authors presented—of the 22 fathers, 18 are straight, white men, though there are some divorced guys in there to provide a little variation in perspective. This certainly isn’t a knock on the quality of the writing, which is largely great. With any anthology, there are certainly some entries that are stronger than others, though this one is full of such high caliber writers that it’s hard to find a true weak point in the writing itself.

I did enjoy the chance to learn new authors I might enjoy, especially in the light of seeing them as a dad first. My favorite was Ben Greenman’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” which tackles the very idea of what parenthood means and laments the myriad of things you won’t remember no matter how much you want to keep it all. I definitely appreciated the essays by Dennis Lehane and Ben Percy for both their resolute honesty and the way they changed the way I see those writers in my head.

Though When I First Held You is a book by dads, it’s certainly not exclusively for dads. Parents, regardless of genitalia, will identify with the men who wrote this book, their many worries and challenges, and—ultimately—the mixed bag of emotions that come along with the raising of children.

Next time, I’ll talk about books some more, but I’ll get Squatch’s help. Stay tuned.

& a review: moms telling it like it is

PeeAlone

I’m going to continue on with another post about cool stuff I got in the mail. Shut up, you love it.

A few weeks back, Kim Bongiorno of Let Me Start By Saying… sent me a copy of I Just Want to Pee Alone, a collection of motherhood essays by “some kick ass mom bloggers.” No, really, it says so right there on the cover.

I had to put off reading it till I wasn’t nipple deep in student papers, but that certainly didn’t stop Karli from picking it up and reading it when it got here. She then proceeded to read selections out loud to me, which seemed to be a good sign. She read me about half of Karen Alpert’s (from Baby Sideburns) essay on taking her family to Disney World, as well as bits and pieces from some other ones.

That seems like a good sign, right? My wife obviously thought it was a pretty funny book, but they didn’t send it to me to get my wife’s opinion, right? I mean, I’m sure the women who put it together would love to hear that she liked their book, but they sent it to me—a dad blogger—to get a dude’s opinion. They’ll just have to settle for me, though.

Now that school’s over, I finally got a chance to comb through it all during Squatch’s naps and while he was playing with knives his exersaucer toys. And I got to see what it was all about.

The book was put together by Jen from People I Want to Punch in the Throat, a KC-area blogger (represent!) and participant in the upcoming Kansas City Listen to Your Mother show this Saturday (buy tickets), also featuring Ashley Austrew (shout-out!) and some other ladies.

So, the question I would put to you is this: Do you like mom blogs? Or parenting blogs in general? Because that will probably affect your opinion of the book.

Why? Because it reads like a blog. Which, essentially, it is—albeit one that’s been collected, edited, and put out in a more tactile format (a la Angry Birds Star Wars). So if your morning is spent rasslin’ some rugrats and perusing your RSS feed full of blogs, then you’ll probably love this book.

That’s not to say you won’t like it if you’re not in love with the blog format. Because this book is pretty hilarious in its own right. With almost every anthology, you’re going to end up with a book that’s slightly inconsistent. That’s just to be expected with you have different authors for every entry. This one is no different, so I didn’t love every bit of the book. But the ones that were on were definitely on. Like Karen’s Disney World essay. And Nicole Leigh Shaw’s (from Ninja Mom) piece about the absurdity of measuring a parent’s worth by how many kids she (or he) has. Kim’s essay about getting a massage was pretty hysterical, and I found myself cringing along with her discomfort as I also have issues with strangers touching me (whether I may or may not be naked in that room with them).

As a dad, there were some in there I couldn’t exactly relate to because I didn’t have the requisite parts, but I certainly tried. I might have skipped ones like “The Tale of Two Vaginas” and “My Akward Period,” and I don’t think you should hold that against me, either. I’d expect a good deal of you to turn away if I happened to post something titled “About That Itch on my Left Testicle.”

Overall, it’s enjoyable, even for a dad. A great deal of it is relatable for any parent, and especially parents (like me) who find themselves responsible for the day-in, day-out childcare. Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday, and if you want something for that special funny-lovin’ mom in your life, this book is probably perfect. If they don’t like funny, I can’t do anything for you. And if you’ve procrastinated long enough that you’re reading this on Saturday and just realizing that you haven’t bought your wife a present yet, don’t fret—there’s a Kindle version, too.


A quick reminder that I’m giving away some free toys, and you have till MIDNIGHT (CST) TONIGHT (MAY 8) to enter. All you gotta do is leave a comment on my May the Fourth post saying you want the Angry Birds Star Wars thing, and you’re entered to win it. Nothing else necessary. As of right now, I think there’s only three people entered, so your chances are pretty good. Seriously, you don’t want free stuff?

Maybe I just gotta stop posting stuff on the weekend. You guys have lives or something, I guess.

& a review: hats and thieves

You might remember from a while back that I had a new favorite children’s book. Changed my outlook on literature as I know it. If you haven’t read about it, go ahead and we’ll be here when you get back.

I also mentioned previously here that we started a Christmas tradition of giving Squatch (and any future kids we might have) a book on Christmas Eve. Here’s what we got him:

NotMyHat

Awwwwwwww, yeeeeeeeeeeah! It’s a sequel, Motherbitches! Okay, so maybe not a sequel, but definitely a related book. It has to do with hats and stealing, like the first one, but none of the original characters show up. There are several similarities, however.

With This is Not My Hat, we’re once again introduced to the idea of the stolen hat, only this time we’re following the thief instead of the victim. The perpetrator in this book is a little fish wearing a dapper bowler hat, which—if we’re paying attention—we’ve already gleaned is not his hat.

Suspect No. 1

Suspect No. 1

This tiny hat, as he is so quick to point out, fits him perfectly. This is why he stole it in the first place. This hat originally belonged to a much bigger fish on whom the hat looks small and silly. I find this to be absolutely believable, as I have known several people (not to be sexist, but most have been girls) who may or may not* liberate clothes from people when it looked better on them and silly on the person it belonged to. As such, this fish thief is a completely realistic character.

*But definitely did

The fish thief, however, is also a very stupid character, as I would not think it wise to take things when the victim looks like this:

This apparently is not the book where Squatch will learn that snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches like little bitches.

This apparently is not the book where Squatch will learn that snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches like little bitches.

Not to ruin the ending, but the thief gets eaten. Again. Which is awesome. I like that Squatch will learn that there are dire consequences to taking stuff that doesn’t belong to you. But it makes me wonder a few things about Jon Klassen.

I love these books. They’re probably my favorite of the ones that Squatch owns. But they make me sort of wonder a little bit about Klassen. Did he have issues with his hat being stolen a lot growing up? Are these some sort of revenge fantasy being played out in children’s books? Or does he just really just not like thieves? Because damn, dude, I thought getting a hand cut off was a harsh punishment for stealing.

I’ve become a big fan of Klassen’s work through these books. As far as I can tell, these are the only two he’s written himself, but he’s illustrated several others that I now want to go get, too. And I need this to hang up in my office, for sure.

I still end all Squatch’s story books with “and then they were eaten by a bear,” because I feel that definitely provides a feeling of closure to the plot arc. I toyed around with the idea of switching to “and then they were eaten by a big fish,” but let’s be honest. We know how things would end up in the wild.

As a wise man once told me, "Bears be bears."

As a wise man once told me, “Bears be bears.”