'Manhood for Amateurs': Michael Chabon on the everyday grace of fatherhood
"Manhood for Amateurs" is author Michael Chabon's wry and heartfelt look at the new hands-on fatherhood.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of "Manhood for Amateurs" will discuss his book at 5 p.m. Friday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co. Free (206-624-6600; www.elliottbaybook.com). Chabon will return to Seattle March 10 as part of Seattle Arts & Lectures' literary series (206-621-2230; www.lectures.org).
"Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son"
by Michael Chabon
HarperCollins, 306 pp., $25.99
Today's dad who ventures deeper into the raising of his children than did his father, or his father's father, finds himself tumbling down a rabbit hole to a new world, not all of it to his liking.
It's a world in which he's no longer defined by what jobs he's held, how many people have worked under him, or how much money he's earned. Parenthood is a realm — let's be honest — that's often managed far more competently, and with far less fanfare, by moms. Novelist Michael Chabon, husband and father of four, gets this.
There's the woman at the grocery store, for example, who tells Chabon he's "such a good dad" because he happens to be shopping there with his 20-month-old son, even as he looks down to see the boy chewing on a wire twist tie.
"I don't know what a woman needs to do to impel a perfect stranger to inform her in the grocery store that she is a really good mom," Chabon writes. "Perhaps perform an emergency tracheotomy with a Bic pen on her eldest child while simultaneously nursing her infant and buying two weeks' worth of healthy but appealing break-time snacks for the entire cast of 'Lion King, Jr.' "
This new hands-on fatherhood is a place in which a dad's past transgressions are suddenly laid bare by the innocence of his children, as when Chabon's young kids ask him if he's smoked pot (yes), and how many times ("one million," he says to himself, not proudly). When they ask him how it felt to get high, Chabon says, "It makes you think things are really funny that might not actually be that funny at all."
To which his younger, 6-year-old daughter replies, "Like dead bodies?"
It is, finally, a world, Chabon doesn't let us forget, that is touched by a grace that dads almost stumble upon throughout the months and years of diapering, bath-giving, shopping, carpooling, classroom volunteering, cooking, dishwashing and all the rest of it.
If fatherhood is at the heart of these 39 commentaries, each about eight or nine pages long, the subjects are still diverse enough, from the circumcision dilemma to parents' hypermanagement of their children's lives. But there are also pieces that range further out, such as the author's own coming-of-age as a writer.
It was at a fiction workshop where the young Chabon, who'd fashioned himself after lothario, cad and brilliant man-of-letters Henry Miller, found himself in a roomful of women, many in middle age, who fully understood the rare chance they'd been given to seriously pursue their interest in writing at the University of California, Irvine. And they gave no quarter to Chabon's Milleresque pose.
"And so I was obliged, or at least I felt I was, to rise to the standard they set," Chabon writes.
And so there is no pose in these wise and engaging pieces, even from a novelist who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001 for his "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay."
To be sure, not all of Chabon's opinions will win converts, as, for example, he tries to make his case for the man-purse, or "murse." The logic, that a guy needed "a bag that wasn't too big or too small or too heavy," seems irrefutable. But in practice, the murse still seems to belong in that odd, uncomfortable realm of American manhood where kilts and blow dryers can be found.
Like the revelations of our children, Chabon's best seem to come spontaneously, unplanned.
Tucked in the middle of a piece about his failures as a young would-be astronomer, Chabon tells of an evening when he and his older son were looking through a telescope into the depths of space.
"I mean, we're so small," his son said.
"True," Chabon replied.
"We're like, nothing."
"Well, yeah. Except to each other."
Alan Moores, husband and father of one, is a writer/editor living in Seattle.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.