Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood

To read Michael Lewis’s ruminations on any subject is a pleasure; to review his contemporaneous reflections on new parenthood leaves me with only one complaint: why so short? (He was working on some silly baseball book, apparently.) Like any memoir, “Home Game” offers up some universal experiences and emotions, and others that will resonate with only a subset of readers. Some stories find humor while others most prominently feature commiserable defeat. While Lewis brings his formidable storytelling talent – one characterized by the rare ability to be simultaneously intelligent and easygoing – to the task, his greatest accomplishment may be in providing an honest, open, and balanced paternal voice (most daddy books are either ridiculously sunny and boastful or totally Negative Nancy). I found myself craving more, and not in a good way; this handful of five-star blog posts left me with the urge to head over to Berkeley and stage a sit-in on Lewis’s doorstep, refusing to depart until he agrees to write a parenting retrospective.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

  • “Obviously, we’re in the midst of some long unhappy transition between the model of fatherhood as practiced by my father and some ideal model, approved by all, to be practiced with ease by the perfect fathers of the future. But for now there’s an unsettling absence of universal, or even local, standards of behavior. Within a few miles of my house I can find perfectly sane men and women who regard me as a Neanderthal who should do more to help my poor wife with the kids, and just shut up about it. But I can also find other perfectly sane men and women who view me as a Truly Modern Man and marvel aloud at my ability to be both breadwinner and domestic dervish – doer of an approximately 31.5 percent of all parenting. The absence of acknowledged standards is the social equivalent of the absence of an acknowledged fair price for a good in a marketplace. At best, it leads to haggling; at worst, to market failure.”
  • “[W]ith my incompetence in dealing with matters critical to my child’s survival fully exposed, I was once again well loved. Some sort of natural order had been restored.”
  • “[W]e were walking up and down the hospital halls to accelerate her labor to the point where it generated the respect of the women who doled out delivery rooms.”
  • “I reckon that Tabitha averages maybe three hours of sleep each night, broken up into forty-five-minute chunks. I get more like five broken hours, and while I should be pleased about that, I am, in truth, pissed off. That’s what happens when you don’t sleep properly for long stretches: You get pissed off. At any rate, that’s what happens to me. My wife grows melancholy.”
  • “I get home and find my wife in tears. Often I try to hide, but usually she spots me, and when she does, she will usually say something poignant. ‘I feel like I am going through this alone,’ for instance. Or, ‘I don’t know how much more of this I can take.’ Whatever she says neatly undercuts my belief that I am carrying far more than my share of our burden . . . .”
  • “‘Once you lose good habits you can’t get them back,’ she said. Never having had good habits myself, I was poorly situated to argue the point, and if I had, I wouldn’t have been believed.”
  • “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. 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. I also recall convincing myself that official statistics dramatically overstated the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome – when an infant dies for no apparent reason in her crib – because most of them were probably murder. The reason we all must be so appalled by parents who murder their infants is that it is so easy and even natural to do.”
  • “One of the many surprising things to me about fatherhood is how it has perverted my attitude toward risk. It is true that there are many kinds of risk – emotional, social, financial, physical. But I can’t think of any I enjoy taking more than I did before I had children . . . .”
  • “The ideal Berkeley birth has probably never actually happened, but if it has, it happened far from civilization, in the woods, without painkillers or doctors or any intervention whatsoever by modern medicine. Along one side of the birthing mother was a wall of doulas wailing a folk song; along the other, all the people she had ever known; at her feet, a full-length mirror, in which she watched her baby emerging; at her head, a mother wolf, licking and suckling. Incense-filled urns released meaningful, carbon-free odors. The placenta was saved and, if not grilled, recycled.”
  • “A family is like a stereo system: A stereo system is only as good as its weakest component, and a family is only as happy as its unhappiest member. Occasionally that is me; more often it is someone else; and so I must remain vigilant, lest the pleasure of my own life be dampened by their unhappiness.”
  • “With that she scrambles gleefully up and into the space between mother and father, and proves again that a California king-sized bed is so big that it can comfortably sleep three adults or one six-year-old child.”
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