Focusing on famous fathers, these books provide one-of-a-kind insights into the duties of dadhood and the triumphs and trials of parenting.
Let’s Never Talk About This Again
In Let’s Never Talk About This Again, Sara Faith Alterman, producer of “The Mortified Podcast,” tells the strange-but-true story of her seemingly conservative father, Ira, and his surprising career as a popular author of novelty sex books. As a dad, Ira is attentive, loving and, to all appearances, a fuddy-duddy of the first order—the sort of guy who insists on saying “bottom” instead of “butt” and considers coffee an adult beverage. Alterman learns about his writing life at the age of 12 when she discovers a collection of his titles in the living room. Ira’s kinky vocation is a topic that goes unbroached in the family for years, until he’s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and decides to make a comeback in the bawdy book business.
From this surreal family scenario, Alterman has crafted a narrative that’s affectionate yet fierce, filled with lively anecdotes of her Boston upbringing and with soul-searching exploration as she works to reconcile the conflicting sides of Ira, who died in 2015 at the age of 70. “A cheddar sharp cheeseball who couldn’t resist a pun” is how Alterman describes him, but, as she comes to realize, Ira was also a passionate person with a private inner life. Alterman is a top-notch comic writer, and fans of Chris Offutt’s memoir My Father the Pornographer or the podcast “My Dad Wrote a Porno” will especially love this smart, compelling chronicle of family connections and the foibles and contradictions that make us human.
The New One
Comedian Mike Birbiglia comes to terms with his own foibles as a father in The New One: Painfully True Stories From a Reluctant Dad. In this funny, candid memoir, which was inspired by his hit Broadway show The New One, Birbiglia muses upon his former—and profound—aversion to becoming a father, the path that brought him to parenthood and the ways in which playing the role of papa has forever altered him.
Birbiglia is a stand-up comedy star and actor (“Broad City,” “Orange Is the New Black”), and he’s as amusing on the page as he is onstage and on-screen. An affable narrator with humility and good humor, he tracks his evolution from a guy who’s resolute about not reproducing to a father whose laptop holds 4,326 photos of his infant daughter. Along the way, he opens up about the toll of traveling for comedy gigs and his ongoing weight and health struggles.
But his main focus is newbie parenthood with its attendant adjustments, such as when he’s forced to relinquish his beloved couch—the first item of furniture he purchased as an adult—to his daughter, because it’s the only place she’ll sleep. (He describes this experience as being “evicted from your own life.”) His perspectives are complemented by clever poems from his wife, J. Hope Stein, which appear throughout the book. Seasoned and rookie dads alike will appreciate Birbiglia’s comic riffs on family life. His memoir is a can’t-miss gift that’s sure to make ’em laugh.
To Me, He Was Just Dad
Celebrity dads take center stage in the anthology To Me, He Was Just Dad: Stories of Growing Up With Famous Fathers, edited by Joshua David Stein. An intriguing collection of essays written by the children of actors, authors, inventors, sports heroes and scientists, the book gives readers the lowdown on what it’s like to be raised by a legend.
Frequently funny and consistently intimate, the essays reveal surprising truths about their subjects. Erin Davis shares fond on- and offstage memories of his dad, Miles Davis, that belie the musician’s brooding public persona. Isabelle Bridges Boesch recalls cherished childhood moments with her father, actor Jeff Bridges. Having the Dude for a dad, she writes, is “like having the greatest, most imaginative friend in the world.” Zoe Jackson, daughter of Samuel L. Jackson, describes the swaggering, unflappable star as “a big nerd, in the best way possible.”
In the book’s introduction, Stein asks, “How wide is the gap between what the public thinks of notable men and what the sons or daughters of those men experience?” These essays offer an answer. Kurt Vonnegut, Leonard Nimoy, Carl Sagan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are also included in this showcase of prominent papas. Rare family photos give the book extra appeal. Stein, who is editor-at-large at Fatherly, a digital brand that offers parenting resources, delivers a great read for dads everywhere with this touching tribute to family men.