July 11, 2007

Define "Real"

A few weeks ago, just before Father's Day, a publicist or agent or some such being contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing a book. I love to read. I love books. I said sure. Then the book - Philip Lerman's Dadditude - arrived in the mail. I was instantly turned off by the subtitle - How a Real Man Became a Real Dad.

Now, my mom always told me not to judge a book by its cover. In this case, it's not even a metaphor. But that subtitle about real men becoming real dads...who says that? First, the real dad thing. You're either a dad or your not. You have kids or you don't. It's a pretty binary type of arrangement. You can be a good dad, a bad dad, a cool dad, a lame dad, a dorky dad, a hot dad...but every dad is a real dad. The part that bothered me most, though, was the real man thing. I'm sure Mr. Lerman is a fine guy. I even bet he can write a decent sentence. But what is a real man? Is there a weight requirement for testicles? Perhaps a mandatory number of hours spent at Hooters? Must one qualify for the real man title by logging time with a specific number of football, baseball, or hockey games in a weekend? Or maybe there's a high lapdance to forehead beer can crushing ratio you have to maintain? I wouldn't know because I didn't read the book. I was turned off by all its realness.

I realize, in the process, that I'm slighting Mr. Lerman and, perhaps myself, by not reading the book. I'm tired, though. I'm tired of feeling like I have to possess some insanely bizarre set of credentials to be a guy and, worse, to be a successful dad. Honestly, I'm more concerned about being a good person and about being the best dad I can be without being held up to some twisted set of standards with which I honestly want nothing to do.

Training Update: Training still sucks. Key thing I've learned so far? Sucks to get stuck in forty straight hours of training. Granted, I'm only halfway done but I can extrapolate. I was worn out when I got home last night so I blew off some steam with my daughter. She wanted me to wear a hat. Only the hat she wanted me to wear was actually her pajamas. I obliged. Then she wanted me to wear her shorts. Only not as a hat. As shorts. Luckily they were insanely stretchy. And pink. I think that's the closest I've ever felt to gayness. You might chuckle, sure, but I have the last laugh since that's the scary-ass image I'm leaving you with. Adieu.

Posted by Chris at July 11, 2007 6:26 AM

We're right back to real men don't eat quiche, aren't we.

That was written tongue in cheek but this guy evidently takes himself much too seriously.

Posted by: ann adams at July 11, 2007 7:27 AM

Aside from donating the sperm, my father was not a dad. So guess he was a bad dad. But years later I met a wonderful man at church and he and his wife sort of adopted me and then I knew what a dad should be. Also because my father is such a jerk, (still) this other man showed me what a real man was. So you see, sometimes easy words don't tell the entire story.

Posted by: Maribeth at July 11, 2007 7:28 AM

I am teaching a class in Dulles in August and you are making me feel really bad about the class and it haven't even started. Thanks. ;)

Posted by: Arwen at July 11, 2007 8:15 AM

Hey don't be dissing the Lap dance ratio.

Posted by: William at July 11, 2007 8:21 AM

I'm pretty sure that a real man would post a picture of himself in the pink shorts.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 11, 2007 8:28 AM

That book sounds "real dumb," how about that. "Real man," my ass. Anyone who has to assert that he's a "real man" probably ... well, isn't.

Posted by: Fraulein N at July 11, 2007 8:39 AM

The notion that simultaneously being a dad and a "real man" is something that has to be consciously attempted comes from those men who understand neither.

Being a dad is being a man. It's being someone our kids can respect and admire and appreciate. It's being someone who can, as needed, make them feel loved, protected, cared for, safe, or whatever.

Anyone who feels that there's some art to remaining a real man once becoming a father shouldn't be breeding in the first place.

Posted by: SciFi Dad at July 11, 2007 8:46 AM

I concur with Maribeth. There were a bunch of ads around Pittsburgh malls for a while that said, "Any guy can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a dad." The implication being, actually be there for your kids. Or you're not a real man. Which, you know, was nice to see. Also, the pictures in the ads were adorable. Young men cuddling their really cute offspring. Maybe this guy saw the ads (or, like many authors, he wasn't allowed to even name his own book), and based it off of the ads?

Posted by: alektra at July 11, 2007 8:46 AM

What? No pictures? Pink shorts definately rate pictures...

I'm in total agreement with your analysis of the book. I would have a hard time getting past the title.

Posted by: sue at July 11, 2007 9:46 AM

I love this entry and am so glad I looked through the comments so I could read what SciFi Dad wrote too. You guys are awesome.

Posted by: Laura GF at July 11, 2007 9:58 AM

Scary ass. Yes.

Posted by: Heather at July 11, 2007 10:09 AM

One of the things I learned as a book reviewer (and a writer at the local alternative paper) is that authors often don't get to choose the title of their work. Sometimes...yes...if they're already a name. No one tells Salman Rushdie what to title his books or articles, but Mortimer Stump gets fewer options because they're looking to appeal to a particular demographic. Just as you are turned off by the title (as I am), they're looking to appeal to the more...uh..."common" male who can't easily dovetail the duties of a good father with the image of a "real man"...whatever the HELL that is. Once, when I did a huge story on a church in our city that was aimed aimed at embracing the gay/lesbian/bi/transgender community here (led by both gay and straight ministers), the PULBISHER of the alt weekly stepped into the editor's office and decided that he would choose the title of the piece, which turned out to be "Does God Love Gays". I hated it immediately because, truthfully, the article wasn't asking or answering that quesiton and the editor didn't really like it either. We had no choice. The publisher had spoken.

I'm guessing (and I could be wrong) that the people who are behind the publishing of "Dadditude" aren't interested in converting guys like you to the embracing of fatherhood. They're out there trying to reach the idiots out there who believe that changing a diaper makes them gay...or just less of a man.

A review can go both ways and that means that you don't have to like (or write as though you did) anything you read. Give it one chapter. One. If if turns out to be different than you thought, keep going. If it's just ridiculous enough to make you laugh (like the Bridges of Madison County did for me)...keep going. And then write about what you really think. If you hate it and it makes you want to hurl, give it back and say, "thanks...but no thanks". The joke around the office at the time was that even if you hated that particular assignment, you got paid for it and clinging to that philosophy just made us whores...not bad or lazy...just whores. A comforting thought. Sorry to hijack the comments.

Posted by: wordgirl at July 11, 2007 10:27 AM

A real man is one that knows he's a man even when wearing his daughter's stretchy pink shorts.

And on that note, all I can say is Thank You Sweet Heaven Above for not posting a picture.

Posted by: Karen at July 11, 2007 10:32 AM

Very well put. Having spent an extended period of time in the military, I can tell you from first-hand experience that a lot of the "real men" I've dealt with desperately need therapy prior to being allowed near impressionable youth.

Fun to drink with. Great to serve with. Just keep them away from the kids, at least for awhile.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at July 11, 2007 10:38 AM

I'm with maribeth above.

My biological father was a piece. He abused my mom, always chose alcohol over us, couldn't hold a job, lived with his entire family (who were also as equally awesome as him). Years later my mom met my Dad now. He adopted me and my little sister. Because of him I know a good/real dad and an amazing/real man. That is how I see it any way.

So yeah, maybe read the first chapter. See what he has to say. He might of been in the same situation as a child or knows someone it happened to so he uses real in that way.

Posted by: Stephanie at July 11, 2007 11:32 AM

I agree with Cassandra..I'd like to see the picture of a real man/dad in the pink shorts!!!

Posted by: Li'l Foot's Mommy at July 11, 2007 11:38 AM

Wordgirl has a good point... Yeah, the subtitle sucks, but perhaps some of us are reading something into it that really wasn't meant to be. C'mon, Chris, give it one chapter! (And don't forget to fill us in on your findings!)

On the other hand, I also have been guilty of snubbing a book simply because the title and/or cover sucked. Hey, in my mind, the cover and title are there to ENTICE me into reading the book. That doesn't always mean that the contents of the book relate closely to the cover/title, but at least it got me to read it...

Anyway, give it a One Chapter Chance™. Please? For your loyal readers? ;-)

Posted by: ironic1 at July 11, 2007 11:48 AM

The important thing - did Mia collapse into a fit of hysterical giggles?

Posted by: Beth at July 11, 2007 12:01 PM

i'll take your training over the training i'm doing these days...toilet training...

Posted by: ali at July 11, 2007 12:17 PM

A more interesting title would be, "How a fake man became a Mom."

Posted by: Tink at July 11, 2007 4:12 PM

You should read it just to see if there is some meaning behind why he named the book that.

I'd at the very least let him know you weren't going to read it and why.

Posted by: been there, done that at July 11, 2007 4:22 PM

"Then she wanted me to wear her shorts. Only not as a hat. As shorts. Luckily they were insanely stretchy. And pink."

Now THAT is a real man being a real dad. LOL.

Posted by: oakley at July 11, 2007 6:05 PM

I think a real man IS a good person. I think that a man who is not a good person is a sackless, soul-less waste of matter.

Posted by: Sphincter at July 11, 2007 7:50 PM

I'm with Ann, my dad was a bad dad... and watching Bryan shows me what a good dad is. But I am with you. Real dad? Sounds like something Sly Stalone would say. Ick.

Posted by: aimee/greeblemonkey at July 12, 2007 9:21 AM

You in baby pink shorts? That mental image made me laugh out loud. :)

Posted by: Allison at July 18, 2007 12:34 AM

Hey all,
Thanks for the interesting ruminations on the subtitle of my book. I must say they've been illuminating. For those who asked -- no, I didn't pick it. But I don't mind it, either. For me, a Real Man has nothing to do with Hooters or beers in the forehead. Here's how I defined a "Real Man" in the book:

"Because when we talk about Real Men, we’re not talking about NASCAR, beer, and that woman with the humongous breasts from the GoDaddy ads that keep getting bounced off the Super Bowl (the ads, not the breasts). I’m talking about the rest of us -- dutifully taking our Lipitor and eating that shitty fiber cereal to keep our cholesterol down, dutifully showing up at parent-teacher night to sit in the tiny chairs with our knees sticking up to our noses so we can hear about how we can help our children develop fine motor skills by hiding pennies in the Play-Doh, dutifully working year after year for people who are not smarter than we are so that we can afford those moments on the weekend where we take the kids to the toy store and don’t have to steer them away from the aisle with the big remote control trucks. We just try harder. Does that actually make us better parents than mothers? I don’t know. But I do know that we try harder, and it’s that reality (along with our unswerving, unshakable, and totally mistaken faith in our ability to reason with our children) that makes us who we are. This is what we need to get out a press release on."

As for "Real Dads" -- well, we'll leave that for another time (although I promise, it has nothing to do with Sly Stallone.) But thanks, again, for taking so much time to discuss this. It's really very helpful to get honest reactions -- even if they're not all so flattering, they do help me understand how people are receiving the book.

Cheers, and call your dads,
Phil Lerman

Posted by: Phil Lerman at July 25, 2007 4:59 PM