I’ve been reading this new book by Michael Chabon. Nonfiction: a collection of essays. Entitled “Manhood for Amateurs.” With an every growing pile of fiction that I want to read, I’m pretty selective about nonfiction books. But I’ll read anything by MC.
His novel “The Mysteries of Pittsburg” is still perhaps my favorite early-twenties coming of age novel; I’ve read it three times, and probably will again. For pur entertainment sake, “Wonder Boys” is superb. And what can one say about “The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay” other than it’s an absolute masterpiece, a Pulitzier Prize-winning novel about comic books. How cool is that? And, his short story, “Son of the Wolfman” is so good that reading it is inspiring and makes me want to give up writing simultaneously.
There was an article in the NY Times over the weekend that dubbed this collection “Daddy Lit,” a companion genre to go with “Mommy Lit,” but it is much more than that. What I like about it is that it is a collection. And even though I’m sure much care was put into the ordering of the essays and is intended to be read from beginning to end, just like short story collection, there’s nothing keeping you from jumping around. Plus, short, well-written essays, like short stories, when done well, can really pack a punch. And these essays do- WOMP! BLAM! ZOWEEE!
The second essay in the book, Williams and I, Chabon ruminates on how little a man has to do to be told by a complete stranger that he is a good father. Where as a woman has to do what?
“….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 The Lion King.”
Of course, ultimately the essay addresses the fact that he, Chabon, like a lot of GenX dads these days, does do much more than haul his kid along on a trip the grocery store. Unlike men of his father’s generation, he’s more than a distant, slightly mysterious and perhaps at times menacing bread-winner.
Heck, in my family, I am not the main bread winner. In fact, my wife makes at last twice what I do. My job was selected because it is less demanding and more flexible; I can always be available for my daughter if need be. That way C doesn’t have to worry about skipping an important meeting or rushing an important report in the event that, say, Addy has to be picked up from school sick or something like that. I rarely have meeting, and they are never really that important. Also, because it is a city job basically, it provided good health insurance. And, it is not very taxing so I have brain wattage left over at the end of the day to write.
It doesn’t and never has bothered me that my wife makes more than me. I’m among that 89% of people (men and women) who say that it’s all right for women to not only work but make more money than the man in a marriage. For us, such a circumstance was probably inevitable. C thrives in a corporate setting, whereas I was stymied by it and would prefer not to work in the world if at all possible.
What does bug me, though, is that women still aren’t paid as well as a man for doing the same work. That not only deprives my wife of her due, but my family of income, earned income. And that’s just bullshit on a stick!
Sometimes it’s confusing being a GenX Dad/Man. We’re the transition generation, the first to have to operate under new and very different rules than our fathers’. But it’s cool too, because to a certain dergree we get to make up the rules as we go. We get to be pioneers in a way. We can decided, to a greater or lesser degree, what being a man/Dad means. It can be as traditional or as progressive as we want. No doubt in most cases it ends up being some mixture of the two.
Anyhoo…so far these essays seem like they will serve as good jumping off points to talk about different issues of manhood.