Father’s Day has come and gone, but there’s always time to bond with a man who’s existentially-challenged by the awesome responsibilities of fatherhood. And by bond, I mean laugh at, laugh with, and mock profusely. Which is not easy to do when the laughing at and with makes tears stream down your face and blinds you.
Seriously, do not read this book anywhere folks expect you to be quiet. It’s not silent reading material. And really, is anyone giddy enough these days to squander any laughter in the name of good manners?
The premise is this: Joel Stein sets out to become the manly man he never was when he finds out he and his wife are having a son. If you’ve read his columns in Time or the LA Times, you’re familiar with the love of show tunes and styling products that makes the birth of a boy-child so epically daunting to Stein. As he likes to say in his television interviews–and mentions frequently in the book (along with his very impressive SAT scores)–he had a collection of glass miniatures when he was a kid. I like to imagine lots of unicorns.
I’m sure I can’t do justice to the man with a few colorful quips of my own, but I’m going to woman up and do it anyway. But first, I’ll give you his introduction. As a parent of no one unfurry, I find his angst strangely touching. A hopeful sign that the freaking out isn’t a one-woman show anymore.
This is not how a man feels.
I should be lighting a cigar, high-fiving the doctor, and grabbing my genitals to celebrate that my sperm are manly, even for sperm. But when I look at the tiny splotch of Doppler weather pattern on the screen and Cassandra’s obstetrician says it means we’re probably having a boy, I do not do any of these things. Instead, I have my first panic attack–my hearing and vision receding, my heart pumping as if I were doing something manly that makes your heart pump. Which I am not. I am merely picturing having to go camping and fix a car and use a hammer and throw a football and figure out whether to be sad or happy about the results of said football throwing.
I have to sit on my hands to keep myself from quoting more here. There’s probably some plagiarism fair use principle at stake, and Stein is nothing if not shamelessly earnest about his efforts to get us to buy his book. And I like him too much to be a bad discouraging influence on that front. Plus, the more I quote the greater the odds I will misquote and no one wants that.
But I will say this: Man Made includes the funniest description of the birthing experience from the male perspective ever. Yes, in the history of mankind. I’m talking funnier than Seth Rogen in Knocked Up and the whole pantheon of “Ohmigod he fainted!” nonsense.
Each chapter chronicles Stein’s attempts to master one classically masculine domain. The Boy Scouts to go camping. (Not that he wanted to be one when he was a kid, but his mom thought they were a fascist organization, so it wasn’t happening anyway.) A few days with his local firefighters. Baseball immersion with his buddy Shawn Green, a former pro leaguer and two-time All-Star whose name I actually recognized. (When you’re Jewish, it’s easy to know who your fellow pro sportsmen are.)
The only adventure I would have warned him off of was roof-fixing and general handyman skills with his father-in-law, who Stein seems to have a perfectly lovely relationship with but is still his FATHER-IN-LAW. Happily, all parties including Stein seem to know who they are and exactly who they’re dealing with, and maybe that’s the key to familial harmony. Or at least family comedy. Let’s face it. Everyone who knows a writer has to come to terms with the fact they’re going to end up in a story one way or another unless they flee the country.
Stein doesn’t make anyone sorry for sticking around. He’s got a generous heart and light touch, and like all good comedians–or at least the ones that remain married and reasonably-friended–he saves his sharpest knives for himself. And did I mention he’s funny?
Man Made made me feel like I knew the men in life a little bit better. I’ve been reading them parts, asking them stuff I might have felt stupid about asking if not for the more bravely stupid man whose work I was reading.
I hope I can get my dad to read it as a belated Father’s Day present. But it already did the job in a way by giving us something to talk about besides the Tea Party or Obama. (Pretty much off the table these days.) The good news: unlike the Lambo Superleggera the Lamborghini PR people let Joel Stein test drive, my dad’s sports car doesn’t have its own fire extinguisher. Even better, he’s glad that it doesn’t need one.