Ben Falcone wants you to know he’s not fancy. Take the following passage: “[O]ne of the best ways to be a good dad is to find a great lady to be the kids’ mom[,] … a great wife who is a great mother…. My own mom is a great lady.” Does Ben Falcone, Hollywood director, know a synonym for “great”? He must. At the very least someone at HarperCollins could have been paid to look one up. But that’s not the vibe of Being a Dad Is Weird.
In this short memoir, Falcone is just a simple, nervous guy from the Midwest with a handful of common observations on parenthood (e.g., “All of that pales in comparison to the worrying I do about my kids. I worry—oh how I worry—about my kids.”). The lackluster writing is partly thanks to Falcone not having his normal arsenal of facial expressions and gesticulations to help sell a funny line, but I’m guessing it mostly owes to the manuscript’s origin as an internal memo of sorts, a Christmas present for his dear old dad. But at some point, someone decided to run with the folksy style. Even Melissa McCarthy’s introduction lacks carefully crafted sentences and deep thoughts. I almost stopped reading a quarter of the way in, wondering why anyone would publish something so devoid of literary effort.
But I decided instead to pull over a metaphorical chair and just listen to the stories of this guy who didn’t major in English and maybe had a beer or two. I started laughing. Toward the middle I giggled so often my husband demanded to know what Twitter storm I’d discovered. Falcone certainly has a knack for narrative, and his dad gave him plenty of material:
- The only bright spot of the entire week was getting to watch my dad attempt to ride a bike. My father is good at many things, but cycling is not one of them. Apparently, growing up in the 1950s in a scrappy part of Philly is not conducive for learning how to ride a bike in a super-mellow fashion. He kept falling off the bicycle, becoming more and more enraged, not at himself for his lack of skill but at the actual bike. After a particularly bad fall, he started yelling, “Stupid fucking bike. Stupid island! Fuck you, Ocracoke!” Or I might be making that part up. But it’s fun to think he was yelling, “Fuck you, Ocracoke!” Because no offense, Ocracoke—you might be great for some people, but for fifteen-year-old Ben, you were a real shit-show. My dad has since sincerely apologized for that trip to Ocracoke…. I forgive him, of course. I mean, at least he can admit that taking advice from a bird-watcher, when you are not a bird-watcher, is not a good policy when it comes to your vacation plans. But how was my dad to know how lame Farley’s taste in vacations was? He didn’t have the Internet at his fingertips to google “Best spots to take a wimpy fifteen-year-old on the North Carolina shore.”
- My older daughter was born a devout Christian. Sometimes she looks out her open window, holding a cross. No shit. She stares at the sky, holding her small golden cross. I have to assume she’s praying. So this one morning, my kids were eating their gluten-free pancakes (KA-FUCKING-BOOM! I am a great dad!) and my then-three-year-old looked up at her mom and said, “Boy, God sure did give me an itchy vagina.” My wife looked away, trying not to laugh as I instantly panicked. But my daughter continued. “I mean, man. It’s really itchy.” I began to focus on astrally projecting myself to anywhere but where I was at that moment…. The tiny blond child took a pause. I praised all that was holy that she was done. But oh no. There was more. “Whoooo. It’s just super itchy. So God made me have an itchy vagina.” My older child, being fully pious, gets very offended by this kind of chatter. She was compelled by the spirit to correct her sister, posthaste. “Georgie! God would never give you an itchy vagina. He might kill you, or strike you blind, but he would never give you an itchy vagina.” My wife, no longer able to keep it in, burst out laughing, as my older daughter demanded to know what was so funny. I began to clear the plates from the table (people may have still been eating but I didn’t care). I just had to get those plates to the sink; that way I could put another four feet of distance between myself and this “situation.”
- Kelly wouldn’t miss a beat, and he would good-naturedly yell, “Ben! Get your pop outta the john!” I’d walk in, past the person invariably at the urinal, kick open the stall door, and find my pop snoozing away. I’d nudge him, and he’d say, “What? What’s happening?” Then he’d see me and say, “Hey, buddy,” as casual and breezy as if we were having a quick beer together (not that I was old enough to drink beer, but you get what I mean). “Pop, you’re asleep on the toilet again.” With that, my dad would look down at himself, smile, and say, “So it would seem.” I’d step out, he’d splash some water on his face or whatever he needed to do to get himself together, and go back out toward the band as if nothing had happened at all.
- Whatever my dad had done was bad … [so he] got busy. He knew my mom was coming home from work soon, and time was wasting. I was informed that we were having fish for dinner. I was fifteen and am from the Midwest, so I was not exactly thrilled. But I sucked it up because I knew my dad must have really messed up royally if he felt the need to cook an apology fish. Fish is fancy. Fish is for company. And holidays. And clearly, for apologies when Dad really pisses Mom off.
- Normally my dad drinks white wine (he can just fuck up a bottle of chardonnay), but the occasion seemed to call for the solemnity of a red. I started to tell my dad a story about my grandma, his mom [who had just died]…. Whatever I was telling him must have registered with him in some form or fashion, because he looked at me with a tired, sad look and said, “I’d toast you, son, but you have no wine.” I politely informed him that he had my glass of wine in front of him, as well as his own. Then my brother turned to him and said, “You also seem to have my wine, Pop.”
Problem is, in telling these tales, Falcone proves he can be smart and insightful (e.g., “He taught me to always say what’s on your mind, which is advice I actually never took—my mind is a sea of unsaid thoughts sometimes pried loose with too much coffee or scotch”), as well as convey dry humor in writing (e.g., “I needed an island for uninhibited girls determined to make a man out of husky shy Italian kids. But I got a rainy island full of old bird-watchers. We watched a lot of David Letterman.”). He also occasionally provides real parenting advice (e.g., “My father’s belief, which I have also adopted, is that parents are responsible for attempting to keep their children from the truly big fuck-ups in life. The smaller stuff is the stuff that kids need to navigate for themselves.”). That left me wishing Falcone and his editors had tightened and gussied things up a lot more, moving the reader from one anecdote to another with less filler and more precision.
As it is, Being a Dad Is Weird isn’t terrible. It’s good even. But it could have been great, really great.