As Unsentimental as It Gets

Michael Lewis has impressive range. I first heard of him in college, when wannabe NYC investment banker classmates were reading Liar’s Poker. I thought it was cool that he also wrote about the other coast, and technology, in The New New Thing. One day in the library, I happened upon Trail Fever, about the 1996 presidential campaign. New territory still. Then Moneyball. Sports. I saw movie The Blind Side, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and was curious (and impressed) to learn that was his work, too.

This week in the library I found An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood: Home Game, his memories of the first year of each of his three children’s lives. He charmed me from the dedication:

For Quinn & Dixie & Walker
If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t do it.

Honest counsel from a writer dad. My poor children get no such warning.

I like memoirs and other personal narratives, especially by writers. Lewis warns us up front that his account is “unsparing.” One of the reviews on the jacket calls it “deliciously contrarian.” I call it unsentimental:

The thing that most suprised me about fatherhood the first time around was how long it took before I felt about my child what I was expected to feel. Clutching Quinn after she exited the womb, I was able to generate tenderness and a bit of theoretical affection, but after that, for a good six weeks, the best I could manage was detached amusement. The worst was hatred. I distinctly remember standing on a balcony with Quinn squawking in my arms and wondering what I would do if it wasn’t against the law to hurl her off it.

Perhaps part of the appeal is that I feel like Parent of the Year in comparison. If I ever felt like dropping a child, I certainly didn’t record that thought for posterity. But he’s honest, and self-deprecating, and he uses that mix to make it funny. In the introduction, he tells a story of hearing his three-year-old daughter defend her big sister from boys at a resort pool, using very bad language. “My first thought: Oh…my God! My second thought: No one knows I’m her father.”

This is a book about parenthood, and even if it is as unsentimental as it gets, a little sweetness seeps in:

After every new child I learn the same lesson, grudgingly: If you want to feel the way you’re meant to feel about the new baby, you need to do the grunt work. It’s only in caring for a thing that you become attached to it.

Fellow mommies, or if any future mommies are reading this: daddy isn’t helping you with his contributions to the care of your child. You are giving him an opportunity to fall in love, with all the highs and lows that entails.

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