Ever wonder what goes through the head of a book author when they’re writing about parenting, fatherhood and the incredibly personal world of their family and relationship with their children as they push the keys on their keyboard? Imagine having thousands of people read your words, people who aren’t part of the online world but the rest of everyone too. And imagine your children reading the book 10-15 years from now too. Yikes.
Fortunately, when Tim Myers and I crossed paths and he told me about his book Glad to be Dad: A Call to Fatherhood he was actually willing to share his experiences with me. I mean, hey, the book’s already published, what’s left to keep hidden in that proverbial kimono, right? 🙂
Q: What’s it like to write a book on fatherhood?
Downright wonderful! Writing a book is a mountain’s worth of work, but my life as a dad had filled me not only with passion for parenting but with many particular opinions and hard-earned principles too. Besides, fatherhood and parenting in general are NOT light topics. The book is full of humor, just as parenting is (if you let it)–but we’re talking about the future of the nation here, even the planet! And even more profound: This is my child, the quality of his or her life. So, being the waggish and profuse Irish-type guy that I am, I had a lot in me that wanted out. Even though I wrote and rewrote and re-read and then re-wrote some more, I basically felt like a mockingbird in spring. Just let it rip.
And it was deeply satisfying. There are two general types of writers, I suppose. The first kind judge success by how their books fare out in the world. Don’t get me wrong; I seek that kind of success too, and it’s marvelous, not least because it makes you feel like you’re making a genuine difference. But I’m more the second kind of writer–I see it as my job to get the thing said and said right. That’s where my greatest satisfaction lies.
Q: Best positive feedback you’ve received?
What a wonderful question–no one ever asked me this before!
A woman who read my “Lost Children” chapter commented, “Your daughter has the best playmate ever.” Meaning me. And while my ego was of course gratified, what I felt even more strongly was that most precious of parental feelings: Knowing I’d done right by my kid, to the point that it was obvious to a stranger just reading about us. Another woman wrote “And particularly lovely for it to be written by a Dad”–which I know you’ll understand, Dave, since we agree so wholeheartedly that the world needs a great shift in its understanding about how natural and profound fatherhood is for most men. Along similar and equally gratifying lines, a reviewer wrote, “More than anything, these vivid glimpses in Glad to Be Dad make the case: To be a father is to be a hero, something a man might aspire to do with greatness and much bravery.”
The book also got some wonderful attention in more formal ways. It made #5 on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases in Fatherhood” list, was featured on the Parents Magazine site, quoted on Disney’s BabyZone site, won the Ben Franklin Digital Award, and has gotten excellent reviews.
Q: Most surprising negative feedback you’ve received?
I’ll never forget the response I got, with a rejection, from an editor years ago when I first submitted the manuscript. “This topic is no longer a novelty here in the Bay Area…” Wow. Rejection I can deal with. But to write off fatherhood as somehow passé–and the new committed fatherhood!? I’ve now been living in the Bay Area for 14 years, and believe me–this issue is as important now, and here, as it ever was.
But then, such a response wasn’t all that surprising. Even today, our default position is that parenting = mothering. Which sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy of a really dangerous kind.
Q: As a fellow writer about parenting, I’m always astonished at how frequently readers will assume they have the full story and then judge you on your parenting skills. What’s your experience with that?
Maybe it’s part of the Internet Age, but this kind of thing has become increasingly common, hasn’t it? I’m old enough that I never really experienced it, since my wife and I raised our kids pre-Internet. (I did once get one old guy freaking out at me when I took my two-year-old daughter into a men’s room with me–like I was going to leave her alone!).
But this public judging via comment sections or blogs or whatever–and, like you say, by people who somehow think they’ve got it all covered–sheesh! Let me just say that some people have a lot of nerve.
I’ve been judged in a fast and loose way on the web, but not about parenting. Well, let me qualify that. I did ask one national-level expert for a blurb for the book, and she pretty much tore into me as being way too liberal, etc.–my sense is that she’s pretty much against the whole “child-centered” approach. She didn’t do anything wrong; she’d warned me about this before reading my manuscript, and she was only being honest. But she was very, very uncomfortable with an approach that I see as having very broad appeal. That surprised me.
Q: How many kids? How old? What do you imagine they’ll grow up to be?
How sweet it is to be able to answer this based on facts rather than speculation! My sons are 35 and 33, my daughter 23. One son is a professor of composition and rhetoric at CU Boulder–the other is on a full-ride PhD at Cornell, working on history. My daughter works at a fantastic children’s bookstore and has just finished her fourth novel.
Holy cats! I didn’t even imagine how awesome they’d turn out to be!
Q: What motivated you to write a book? That’s a lotta work!
Some of us simply live by language, and I’m one of those people; writing is one of the most central ways in which I express myself. My keen worry, in fact, is that I’ll die before I get all the books written that I plan to write (and that’s with the 19 I’ve already published).
But there was more to this book too. Fairly early in my adult life I began to realize just how powerful our childhood and adolescent environments are in shaping us, and of course parents are at the heart of it all. And it’s pretty clear that the quality of the world we live in depends on the quality of the individuals within it, however many billions of them there may be. We only really change the world one heart at a time, it seems to me–and, despite some of the wonderful things human beings have already achieved, we desperately need to make the world a better place. So I’m just one of a growing number of people who believe that one of the best places to do this is in the family. And as I fell in love with fatherhood and with my children, I began to realize just how “under-utilized” men were as fathers, and how much good could be set in motion if that changed.
Q: Tell us about “Glad to be Dad”, what are you hoping to accomplish with its publication?
Genuine change is always a matter of many people working in unison, in some kind of harmony, however separate or distant, when it comes to values. I want this book to be a voice in that process, to be part of what I see as the inevitable shift to gender equality in parenting and the liberation of so many men as they become deeply-committed, passionate, nurturing fathers and better husbands. And I’m particularly interested in helping change the idea that parenting is somehow nothing but drudgery, not to mention of minor importance. For me, being a parent is often hard work, can certainly be boring, and has a sometimes-wearying endlessness to it–but it’s also dramatic, exciting, and satisfying, and often just flat-out funny as hell.
Q: When you were writing the book, did your spouse / partner read the drafts and correct things? And how did that go?
My amazing wife (I could go on and on) doesn’t take the editor role with me. But of course I was writing about OUR life, OUR shared parenting and parenting ideals, so I was always conscious of how she’d react. Well, actually, I knew how she’d react; we’re pretty damn close.
When she first read the book, however, she loved it, but she also had another reaction, one I understood completely. It’s quite strange when you think about it. A committed father, one who publicly expresses parenting values and exalts partnership with his spouse–well, he tends to get some very positive responses. A lot of women, not surprisingly, are delighted and say so. And yet a woman can work her ass off as spouse and mother for years, for decades, can slog through it all, deny herself, work herself to a frazzle, all the rest–and nobody says a word. It’s the norm, it has no novelty. It’s expected, whether in a sexist way or not.
So she expressed–and like I say, I UTTERLY agreed with her–a certain frustration at that aspect of this whole phenomenon, making it clear all along that she applauded the change in men and would do all she could to support it.
Far more importantly, when I kidded her in the book–like pointing out how she compulsively stacks orange peels and freaks if I drink straight from the milk carton–she laughed. So I knew I was okay. (For the record–I don’t drink milk straight from the carton. It was the mere possibility that flipped her out).
Q (suggested by Tim): How is it even possible for you to write a book that’s so funny, so inspiring, so moving, and yet with real social content? I mean, how’d you ever pull that off?
Q: Where can people learn more about you, your fatherhood book and your other projects?
I’ve got two new children’s books coming out soon. The Thunder Egg is a Native American literary folktale and comes out in July from Wisdom Tales Press; it has magnificent illustrations by Winfield Coleman!
Full of Empty will soon be out from Familius, with fantastic illustrations by the talented Rebecca Sorge. I’ve just had a book of adult poetry accepted; Nectar of Story will probably be out this summer from BlazeVox Books.