(This IS his Job…)
-Book Reviewed by Judith Krummeck–
In the 19th and early 20th century, children were often in the charge of nannies in nurseries. Some birth parents never saw their infant children except to say goodnight. A lot has changed since then. As parents have taken more of a hands-on approach to raising their children, progressive theories have emerged, ushering in new perspectives of family life and parental roles. Along with these theories, numerous books on the subject are now available. Ranging from Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year and Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay: And Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom” by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, to the controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, baby talk is everywhere.
The authors stewarding this genre are mainly women. This is not very surprising given that, with the exception of sea horses, males do not bear babies, and postnatal care has also typically fallen to females. Now, however, there is another seismic shift taking place in child rearing. Fathers are taking more of an active role—some, even a predominant role.
Enter Dustin Fisher, a self-described amateur stand-up comedian, award-winning storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad. His memoir, Daddy Issues, which is part cri-de-coeur and part David Sedaris, tackles the topic of the male as primary caregiver. When Fisher and his wife, Jenn Morrison, discovered that they were expecting their first child, important questions arose—the same queries that baffle many couples. How best to take care of the baby? Should the wife stay home? Should income be set aside for childcare? Or, happening more rarely, should the husband stay home? In this case – you’ve guessed it – the decision was made for Fisher to be the stay-at-home parent.
For years, Fisher had known that he would be “an awesome dad,” and he drives the point home repeatedly in his book. He fully expects this to be the case when his daughter, Mabel, arrives on the scene, and he becomes the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of MabelCorp. “How hard can it be?”Fisher says, “73% of the world does it. Hiking Mt. Everest is hard. I can change poopy diapers and learn to sleep less.” The reality, of course, turns out to be somewhat more complicated.
With self-deprecating humor and refreshing honesty, Fisher takes us into his confidence as he describes the “whoosh” effect of the combination of “insomnia, anxiety, depression, whatever.” He finds out that not earning his own income and having to account for every purchase, big or small, can have a rather emasculating effect. “My bank account,” he tells us “consists of a dilapidated envelope with a steadily disappearing $27 in it, a remnant from a time long ago when I was a whole person, which I hide from my wife so that I may purchase a diet soda on occasion without judgment.”
Then, there is the embedded attitude about the stereotypical role of the father. Fisher faces condescension standing in line at the grocery store when a man inquires, is it “Daddy’s day with the baby?” Conversations with friends depict rigid social norms clashing with Fisher’s domestic awakening:
“Oh, so you’ll be working from home?”
“No, I’m going to stay home and raise my daughter.”
“Oh… so you’re going to work at night now?”
Fisher wrestles with unexpected social dynamics inherent in his new position. Whereas mothers naturally gravitate towards each other, and seamlessly set up play dates and get-togethers, he is confronted with the notion that, were he to do that, he would, essentially, be asking a married woman out.
These issues are tackled with humor and a deft, amusing turn of phrase. Some of the segments are laugh-out-loud funny, like the time when Mabel filled up on pureed pears, and “pooped so explosively, it shot up the diaper and covered most of her back.” (You’ll have to read the book to discover how Mabel earns the nickname, “poophead.”) But there are also passages of pathos and tenderness. Readers will admit affection when Dad lays his “sleepy ball of precious down in her spot” on the night before they start to “sleep train” Mabel in her crib.
There are many “Aha!” moments that new parents will relate to in this memoir, but the writing is so engaging that it will appeal to a wider audience as well. Interwoven into the humor in the book, there is a pulse of deep love and commitment. What is clearly not at issue in Daddy Issues is whether, given the option to go back and do it all again, Dustin Fisher would make a different choice.
Order your copy here!
Post Photo Courtesy of Dustin Fisher