June 2009

Michael Lewis

Family guy
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As a first-time mother trying to make sense of a colicky newborn—one who seemingly needed only a few minutes of sleep every 24 hours—only one thing saved me from running screaming from the house. It was Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott, a hilarious, self-deprecating memoir chronicling her experience as a new mom. I read it obsessively, dog-earing certain pages and taking solace in the fact that another mother, somewhere, sometime, had found parenting a newborn as frustrating, stressful and draining as I did.

If only Home Game had been around then.

Michael Lewis, probably best known for his sharply reported look at the finances of major league baseball, Moneyball, now focuses his keen wit and sharp observations on his own family. Married to former MTV reporter Tabitha Soren (who took our cover photo), and the father of three young children, he knows the challenges of parenthood and isn’t afraid to talk about them.

Unabashedly frank, hilarious and sweetly sentimental (“I am addicted to my wife,” he admits at one point), Home Game is divided into three parts—one for each of his children. Lewis spoke with BookPage from his home in Berkeley, California, where he’d just returned from a family vacation to South Beach, Miami. Family vacation, yes. Family-friendly vacation, not entirely.

“My nine- and six-year-old girls, this was more exposed flesh than they’ve ever seen in their lives,” Lewis says of the notoriously scantily clad (and surgically enhanced) South Beach crowd. “There was a man in a gold thong. There was a topless beach. Both girls were saying, ‘Don’t look Daddy! Don’t look!’ It was hard not to. These (breasts) were like looking at the seventh wonder of the world. In Berkeley, all the boobs go down to the navels.”

Such is the life of Michael Lewis, Family Man—an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job, one that has allowed him to write bestsellers about the business of sports and the insanity of Wall Street (Liar’s Poker), and now, about his own life.
“It’s a little weird—I don’t know how to put this—normally, there’s a subject, a kind of substance to what I’ve written,” Lewis says. “Now it’s air—it’s just my life.”

Much of Home Game is drawn from several years’ worth of columns Lewis wrote for Slate called “Dad Again.” It’s a somewhat daring and in many ways groundbreaking book about what it’s like to be a father in modern America. Lewis is incredibly candid throughout, writing about his wife’s bout with postpartum panic disorder, his incredibly awkward vasectomy and the secret so many parents share but rarely talk about:

“The thing that most surprised me about fatherhood the first time around was how long it took before I felt about my child what I was expected to feel,” he writes. “Clutching Quinn after she exited the womb, I was able to generate tenderness and a bit of theoretical affection, but after that, for a good six weeks, the best I could manage was detached amusement. The worst was hatred. I distinctly remember standing on a balcony with Quinn squawking in my arms and wondering what I would do if it wasn’t against the law to hurl her off it.”

Lewis eventually came to love all three of his children fiercely, of course, but admits it wasn’t instantaneous. He theorizes that society has something to do with the fact that more parents don’t acknowledge the hardships of raising a family.

“All you have to do is look around to see that, at least in the middle-class and above, anxiety about being a bad parent has reached epic proportions,” he said. “There were these enormous social pressures I felt: when I really wanted to do x, the world insisted I do y, so I did y, but I was pissed off about it.”

Home Game is intensely honest, and Lewis admits to a bit of nerves now that the book is actually being published.

“Writing the [Slate] columns over the years . . . was purgative,” he says. “It was therapy. Although I was really, really happy to dash off the articles, now I feel somewhat ambivalent about it.”

And how about his wife, who spends much of the book either pregnant, in labor or in tears?

“I think she knows readers will see through whatever I wrote and just feel pity and sympathy for her for being married to me,” Lewis speculates. “Really, though, she really liked that I was getting it down on paper, because you don’t remember so much of it after. We also were both shocked by how many bad things happen that we never knew existed.”

For all his confessional writing, Lewis clearly relishes being a dad. In one of the most poignant passages of the book, he details a night he spent camping with his daughter. Many hot dogs and frustrated attempts to set up camp later, Lewis and daughter Quinn call it a night. She awakens at 4:12 a.m. with an urgent thought.

“‘Daddy, I just want to say how much fun I had with you today,’ she says. Actual tears well up in my eyes. ‘I had fun with you, too,’ I say. ‘Can we go back to sleep?’ ‘Yes, Daddy.’”

After two daughters, Lewis assumed his family was complete. Not so. His wife felt someone was missing. Not long after, son Walker was born.

“Perhaps the only wise moment I had in this process was to be totally aware I had absolutely no say in how many kids we would have and when we would have them,” he said.
Being a writer, Lewis travels often for book tours and speaking engagements. He takes his children with him as often as possible.

“I try to work them into my work life as much as I can,” he said. “Eventually, if you take care of your kids, you’ll love them, but the trick is if you can really like them. I really like my kids.”

As far as writing about Quinn, Dixie and Walker, though, Lewis says he’s through. “I’m done,” he says, “certainly done in the sense that I’m not going to follow their journeys through adolescence with a pen and paper.”

Amy Scribner and family live in Olympia, Washington.



An excerpt from Home Game:

I inherited from my father a peculiar form of indolence—not outright laziness so much as a gift for avoiding unpleasant chores without attracting public notice. My father took it almost as a matter of principle that most problems, if ignored, simply went away. And that his children were, more or less, among those problems. “I didn’t even talk to you until you went away to college,” he once said to me, as he watched me attempt to dress a six-month-old. “Your mother did all the dirty work.”
This wasn’t entirely true, but it’d pass cleanly through any polygraph. For the tedious and messy bits of my childhood my father was, like most fathers of his generation, absent. (News of my birth he received by telegram.) In theory, his tendency to appear only when we didn’t really need him should have left a lingering emotional distance; he should have paid some terrible psychological price for his refusal to suffer. But the stone cold fact is his children still love him, just as much as they love their mother. They don’t hold it against him that he never addressed their diaper rash, or fixed their lunches, or rehearsed the lyrics to “I’m a Jolly Old Snowman.” They don’t even remember! My mother did all the dirty work, and without receiving an ounce of extra emotional credit for it. Small children are ungrateful; to do one a favor is, from a business point of view, about as shrewd as making a subprime mortgage loan.
When I became a father I really had only one role model: my own father. He bequeathed to me an attitude to the job. But the job had changed. I was equipped to observe, with detached amusement and good cheer, my children being raised. But a capacity for detached amusement was no longer a job qualification. The glory days were over.

Reprinted from Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis Copyright © 2009 by Michael Lewis. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Home Game

Home Game

By Michael Lewis
ISBN 9780393069013

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