Manhood For Amateurs
It says something about who we are and how we manage transitions, I think, that, while Abbi patiently and methodically reads “The Girlfriend’s Guide To Pregnancy,” I am preparing for fatherhood with Michael Chabon’s “Manhood For Amateurs.”
Though the book is lean on the science of what’s to come, it ably address the psychology and philosophy. Chabon recounts with levity and sensitivity the inevitable sense of loss, and failure inherent to the gig. And not a moment too soon.
I often recount standing there with Abbi on Flatbush Avenue as we debated moving to Brooklyn, staring back at Lower Manhattan like a distant Oz, and saying, “It’s just too far.” Later, racing back to Hell’s Kitchen in the subway, we discussed the merits of a second bedroom, a consideration I insisted we address not because I was planning ahead for baby, but because I feared that dismantling my recording apparatus would plunge me into a creative black hole.
We didn’t move to Brooklyn (at least we haven’t yet), though our humble Hell’s Kitchen one bedroom has forced the dismantling of my recording apparatus. And I may not be in a creative black hole, but it does look awfully gray sometimes. I played just eight shows last year, and released a meager two singles. Moreover, there’s no more waking up in on the subway in Harlem, ten stops from home, hungover at three o’clock in the morning. No more Camel Lights, Graphix Bongs or PBR. Sounds like fatherhood, huh?
There is no way to draw the line, to recreate that boundary, without engaging in hypocrisy, without condemning, questioning, or diminishing the importance of the things, from ultra-sugary bubble gum to transfatty snacks to Humboldt County sensimilla, that once stood at the center of my loving world. That’s what sucks about being an adult. Adulthood has always carried a burden of self-denial, or surrendering pleasures, of leaving childish things behind.
That ought to be some pretty valuable learning, this from the guy once accustomed hailing gypsy cabs to the tune of waking birds. Thing is, and what the 29-year-old version of me never considered, is just how much marriage offers. Abbi is my best friend. I’ve never had more fun with someone more consistently, male or female. I’ve never had a better partner in crime (though, rest assured, there are no criminal activities originating from our 700 square foot apartment). Put simply, I’ve never been happier. Bars are overrated next to sushi night. And I’m sure sushi night pales next to going to the zoo with a couple of toddlers.
Still, Chabon warns, fatherhood is fraught with inherent, impossible-to-avoid failure.
A father is a man who fails every day. Sometimes things work out: Your flashed message is received and read, your song is recorded by another band and goes straight to No. 1, your son blesses the memory of the day you helped him arrange the empty chairs of his foredoomed dream, your act of last-ditch desperation sends your comic book company to the top of the industry. Success, however, does nothing to diminish the knowledge that failure stalks everything you do. But you always knew that. Nobody gets past the age of ten without that knowledge. Welcome to the club.
The good news is that, where growing up in general has provided significant ballast against the rolling wives of external opinion and validation, fatherhood apparently leads to a near-total absence of self-consciousness.
“I seem every day to give a little bit less of a fuck what people think or say about me,” Chabon explain.
This is not the result of my undertaking to exercise a moral program or of increased wisdom or any kind of willed act on my part. It just seems to be a process, a time-directed shedding, like the loss of hair or illusions. I am a husband, a father, and a son, whether I think, ponder, or worry about gender, sexuality, my life as a man; and maybe there’s a kind of pleasure to be taken in simple unconsciousness, an automatic way of moving and being and acting in the world.
So ready the murse, and pour me another O’Doul’s, people. Fatherhood, here I come.