New York Times Review
IT'S not easy being A dad. Few notice as we try our best to do a good job and not ruin our children. It's a hard task because we have been trained by parents who didn't know what they were doing either, so even though we're desperate to end one vicious family cycle or another, we're too damaged to know what change is required. The result: We screw up our kids, at best just enough that they seek revenge by becoming more successful and happier than we are. The modern man generally has good intentions, but that doesn't make things any easier. Nobody seems to care about good intentions these days. I wish they did, because I make so many messes and good intentions don't seem to get me off many hooks. One recent example: A few months ago there were terrible fires in Southern California. As a result of a robocall from the city I thought we were being told to evacuate our home, so that's what I forced my family to do. We packed our most precious belongings into two cars and evacuated in a frenzy of unwarranted terror. I went as far as to force our neighbors, who are in their late 80s, to evacuate as well. I later learned that I had misinterpreted the call and we did not live anywhere near the evacuation zone. It felt like the epitome of the dad mistake: I try to save your life, but I do it wrong. Michael Chabon's new book, "Pops," collects seven essays, each of which shines a light on moments revealing the plight of the modern father. I noticed early in fatherhood that there aren't many people you can open up to about this particular struggle. Chabon's book feels like a late-night talk with a friend about how much we love our kids and how hopeful we are that we're better dads than we fear. In the introductory essay Chabon talks about a great writer who warns him not to have children, because for each child you have, "you lose a book." This man goes on to tell him that a writer needs to travel and have an ever-changing life if he wants to do important work. Children, he tells Chabon, "are notorious thieves of time." I must admit I have had these dark thoughts too, and I am ashamed. How can I crank out another completely unnecessary ribald comedy if I am distracted by my kid's homework and feelings? In the end we all try to find balance. Chabon decides he prefers having children and is willing to take the risk. Twenty-five years, 14 books and four kids later, it appears he made the right call, succeeding as he has on all fronts. Sometimes he wonders if he would have written 18, but then sums up his feelings by saying, "Unlike my children, my books are cruelly unforgiving of my weaknesses, failings and flaws of character. Most of all, my books, unlike my children, do not love me back." Several of the essays are about his children finding themselves. After one of his sons shows a great interest in fashion, Chabon takes him to fashion shows in Paris to support this new passion. He seems genuinely thrilled that his son has found something to call his own. As a parent you hope your sons or daughters will find an obsession to consume them. For me it was comedy. It made no sense. It came from nowhere. No one I knew had any interest in it. Chabon seems to understand the delicate nature of handling a child who is testing the waters of what could be a lifelong occupation or a passing fancy. One misplaced phrase or discouraging comment and something wonderful could suddenly vanish. At the end of the essay his son admits that of all the fashion shows they attended during their week in Paris, his favorite was the one that he went to alone. He tells his father that the best part was the people. "They get it." Chabon realizes he has misjudged what his son's interest was about. "Abe had not been dressing up, styling himself, all these years because he was trying to prove how different he was from everyone else. He did it in the hope of attracting the attention of somebody else - somewhere, someday - who was the same." He had found his tribe. That fashion essay originally appeared in GQ, and at first glance I thought this book might just repackage Chabon's magazine work, with no other reason for being. But then I read the final chapter and it all came together. The last piece is about his relationship with his own father, a superintelligent but also imposing doctor. Chabon describes going along with him on house calls as a child, and how the patients' common question, "Are you going to be a doctor too?," led him to realize that he did not have a doctor's mind - his own superpower, he understood, was telling stories. It was as his father's son that he gained an identity and a calling. In just a few pages I understood why Chabon found such meaning in fatherhood, making it such a priority in his own life, and I was so mad at that great writer for discouraging this path. Who was that writer anyway? I want his name. Was it Herman Melville? Is he still alive? I don't read much. Children, the great writer tells him, We notorious thieves of time.' JUDD APATOW is the director of the documentary "The Zen Diaries Of Garry Shandling" and the executive producer of the TV series "Crashing" on HBO.
Publishers Weekly Review
Pulitzer-winning novelist Chabon (Moonglow) brings together a deeply affecting collection of essays that scrutinize and celebrate the complexities of relationships between fathers and their children. Selections range from the quietly heartbreaking, as when Chabon describes the inadvertent hurt a father can impart on a child, to the hilarious, as he describes his son taking his idiosyncratic sense of style into the ¿heteronormative jaws of seventh grade.¿ Avoiding an overly sentimental tone or rose-colored perspective, Chabon doesn¿t shy away from reflecting on parental failures as well as successes. In the particularly moving essay ¿Little Man,¿ he regrets missing the signs one son sends as he struggles to create his own identity (¿You are born into a family and those are your people, and they know you and they love you, and if you are lucky, they even on occasion manage to understand you. And that ought to be enough. But it is never enough¿). Chabon is a gifted essayist whose narratives lead to unexpected and resonant conclusions. His work here packs an outsized emotional punch that will stick with readers significantly longer than it takes them to read this slim volume. (May)