In preparation for my Writing Parenthood class last Saturday, I thought I should shift my gaze (at least for a few minutes) from motherhood literature to fatherhood literature. I designed Writing Parenthood, after all, because I had received a few (subdued) pleas that I include men in my Mother Words classes. But you see, I can’t do that. Stories by men about fatherhood don’t seem to be clumped together (and discarded) in the same way that women’s stories about motherhood routinely are. Men are often applauded for writing about parenthood, while women doing the same literary work are met with a shrug. So while there *is* quality writing out there about fatherhood, I generally do not read it, and I reserve Mother Words for mothers alone.
But then I had this class coming up, and I knew I needed to include some male voices, so I reviewed essays I’d read before (some of my favorites: Philip Lopate’s “Delivering Lily” and Scott Russell Sanders’ “Beauty”) and I went out and bought the new anthology The Book of Dads: Essays on the Joys, Perils, and Humiliations of Fatherhood, edited by Ben George, which is full of literary super-stars, writers like Charles Baxter, Richard Bausch, and Nick Flynn.
I adore Charles Baxter, as you know, so I read his essay, “The Chaos Machine,” first. It’s about Baxter’s trip to pick up his son, Daniel, at college, and woven in is the story of Baxter becoming a father, the insecurity and struggle of trying to navigate fatherhood without a role model. (His own father died when he was eighteen months old.) This essay contains everything that I love about Charles Baxter—wry sense of humor, self-deprecation, stellar characters—and Daniel himself has added footnotes, commenting on his father’s narration, making corrections when the elder Baxter takes liberties or goes astray. (You can read the very beginning of the essay here.) I loved it. And overall, this is a really wonderful collection of essays. (Seriously, Richard Bausch? What’s not to love?)
So I opened my arms to father writers, organized my thoughts, planned my class, and then, wouldn’t you know, I showed up on Saturday and THERE WERE NO MEN! I wasn’t terribly surprised, and really, it didn’t bother me. Convened was a wonderful group of mother writers—smart, thoughtful, interested women—and it was so fun to be a classroom again.
Because I’ve been teaching online so much lately, I had forgotten (well, almost) how energizing it is to share a physical space with a group of women interested in the same things. I love teaching online, as well, but I do miss the spark of a classroom. I miss watching people’s faces. I miss the back-and-forth, the way one question builds on another.
And despite the fact there were no fathers in the class, I’m glad I read The Book of Dads. It would make the perfect gift for the literary dads in your life.