Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces by Michael Chabon (New York: Harper, 2018. 144 pp)
One of the most celebrated writers of his generation according to The Virginia Quarterly Review, Michael Chabon was born in Washington D.C. He earned his B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and his M.F.A from the University of California, Irvine. Chabon published his first novel, The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh, from his master’s thesis at the age of 25. His third novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union won Chabon the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award.
The Hardest Job
Parenting is the most challenging thing I’ve ever set off to accomplish. While my second son may have a little easier time with me as a dad, my first has suffered through a variety of missteps to this point.
And before you call Child Protective Services, my confession isn’t one of negligence. Merely, I—like any first-time Dad—have no clue what I’m doing at every stage of development.
I watched my first like a hawk when he slept as a newborn. Inactivity surely means SIDS. I’ll never live with myself if he stops breathing.
I helicoptered over his playground activities, to the point where I doubt he’ll ever have courage. He climbs playground toys slowly, if at all. There are toys children years younger than him are climbing and he’ll only take a step or two before he chickens out. Yea, that one’s on me for yelling, “Careful!” every time he takes a step
My second? He’ll master everything because of the test drive I had to take with the first.
And honestly? I fear these younger years will look easy in short order. As I think about the job of a parent, late elementary school and especially middle school strike fear into my soft heart.
Emotional maturity means honest and challenging conversations. Right now, I must teach my son about how hitting is wrong. But what am I going to do when the way he interacts with others and the tone of his voice might ruin another human being? How will I guard the emotions of my boy if those threats face him?
And even more, am I even charged with protecting those emotional states? As the argument goes, you need to let a child fall every once in a while, to let them truly understand boundaries and overcome fears.
No matter what happens, I just know I’m going to be a mess.
If Michael Chabon’s Pops is any indication, I’m in for a wild ride when my boys start to grapple with adulthood.
The collection of essays in Pops depict a father grappling with the relationships he has formed with his kids.
In the central essay, Chabon follows his son through the streets of Paris during fashion week, discovering how his youngest son has found his people.
“By the time a fourth child comes along, the siblings have usually managed among them to stake out a wide swath of traits, talents, crotchets, flaws, phobias, and strengths. Finding one’s difference can often be a fourth child’s particular burden and challenge” (24).
Fashion, it seems, is the particular burden and challenge of Chabon’s fourth child.
The Weight of Parenting
In another essay, Chabon grapples with the weight of parenting the emotions of his children, and the scars we can leave in a careless instant.
“But it was not until I had daughters that I full became aware of—and duly horrified by—the damage that I myself, in my latent dickitude, was capable of inflicting. I remember once taking my older daughter to the hair salon, and when she rose from the chair with a new cut, an asymmetrical bob, going out on a limb a little bit for a fourteen-year-old in her set, saying, ‘Daddy?,’ seeking my reaction, wanting to know if I thought she looked pretty, I— Well, I don’t know what happened. I had been reading a magazine, there was some random thought in my head. I looked up, my face must have looked blank, seeing nothing new, nothing remarkable, my mind miles away from where it needed to be right then. You needed something? And for a moment her eyes went wide with fear and doubt.
What a dick” (71-72)!
Transforming the World
But through it all, fatherhood is worth it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. And it appears Chabon agrees. To frame this collection of stories, Chabon recalls a moment when an established author shared advice with Chabon during his fledgling years.
That advice? Never have kids.
“Writers needed to be irresponsible, ultimately, to everything but writing, free of commitments to everything but the daily word count. Children, by contrast, needed stability, consistency, routine, and above all, commitment. In short, he was saying, children are the opposite of writing” (7-8).
And here we are, decades later with Chabon having raised four kids and completed many award-winning novels. Maybe it can be done.
Chabon gives me hope that I might not fail in every way possible in the long run.
Verdict: 4 out of 5