Michael Chabon grew up in the 70s, a semi-practicing Jewish child of divorce, often picked on for being different in school. I’m about 20 years younger, lapsed Episcopalian, and while my parents don’t always seem to like each other very much, they raised my sister and I together behind a (mostly) united front. Like Chabon, I was (and am) wildly geeky, but I found “my people” at a young age and don’t have any real memories of being bullied or teased or anything like that. Chabon and I may have very different backgrounds and experiences, but what he writes about being a parent in Manhood for Amateurs rang very true to me, and I found it to be a wonderfully insightful and intelligent book about raising children.
“There are no moments more painful for a parent than those in which you contemplate your child’s perfect innocence of some imminent pain, misfortune, or sorrow. That innocence (like every kind of innocence children have) is rooted in their trust of you, one that you will shortly be obliged to betray; whether it is fair or not, whether you can help it or not, you are always the ultimate guarantor or destroyer of that innocence.”
Chabon talks a lot about what made him the man he is in Manhood for Amateurs, and some of it is kind of rough. The story he begins with — his founding of a comic book club that one other kid shows up for then promptly leaves — broke my heart. He talks about his parents, and the roles they played in his upbringing: his father’s lack of emotion, the divorce that broke his family apart. What I really liked best, though, was how Chabon talks about his own role as a parent and a husband. He takes an active role in his kids’ lives, he cooks, he carries a diaperbag. But he points out that while he does nothing more than his wife or any other mother does, he’s constantly praised by strangers as “such a good father” for doing these things, while no one would come up to a woman in the grocery store and tell her she’s a good mother just for (in his words) keeping her kids alive. He makes some really sharp observations about things I’ve noticed in my own family — my husband is constantly approached and told what a good dad he is when he takes the kids to the park, while I never am (although I do have a pretty severe case of resting bitch-face that might contribute to my own overall unapproachable-ness).
I love Chabon’s writing, and the way he talks about his kids and his family was very touching. Other parts of the book have great humor in them — it’s not all sappy stuff — and overall it balances out nicely.