Like teaching and nursing, writing about children has traditionally been women’s work. Now two literary powerhouses have books coming out this fall tackling the subject matter without apology. I couldn’t be more excited if William F. Buckley, Jr. came back to life and wrote a consummate endorsement of the public option.
Jonathan Safran Foer, father of two, is giving us Eating Animals this November where he expounds upon how having children forced him to solidify his on-again off-again vegetarianism. And this Sunday’s New York Times has not one, but two pieces focusing on Michael Chabon’s (father of four) upcoming essay collection, Manhood for Amateurs.
There certainly has been a generational shift as men begin to take on a more equitable role in childcare and the domestic arts. But this shift is still in motion and in some areas – the area I grew up in, for one shining example – there still exists a huge, gaping equality gap. So in fairness, men/dad writers do face a challenge that their female counterparts do not. When women complain about confusing snaps on cloth diapers it’s amusing in an “aren’t women supposed to know this stuff and damned if I don’t” kind of way. When men do it falls flat. What’s so interesting about another man admitting haplessness in the face of child rearing? Chabon and Safran Foer don’t seem to be traveling down that road (I haven’t read either of their books from start to finish – just reviews and excerpts. Who knows, there could be an annoying potty training story or two.) and instead frame a larger theme – food, in Safran Foer’s case, man business in Chabon’s. The underlying idea of being transformed by your children is up front rather than a mention in an obligatory dedication before the story even begins. This is progress.
At the end of the Times article, Chabon’s wife, Ayelet Waldman (a Mom Lit superstar or anathema depending on who’s doing the telling) makes a simple case of writing what you know:
There are writers, Ms. Waldman said, who choose not to write about their families, “and I respect them for it. But I wouldn’t have anything to say. We have four kids. There’s not a whole lot of life outside that.”
For Waldman, and the mommy bloggers and Erma Bombeck before all of us, parenting is simply the subject matter that consumes during a certain period of life. With two of America’s eminent writers stepping out into the genre, it’s finally okay – most likely even bestselling – for men to be living that life as well. I, for one, am stoked.