I picked up this book of essays by Michael Chabon the other day at the library. While I enjoy reading Chabon, the book didn’t seem to speak to me as an individual — what did manhood have to do with me?
The first time I had seen the book, it was in a New York City bookshop, and the book, its title with “MANHOOD” in big, bold letters, was in a display with a giant sign next to it reading something like, “BOOKS FOR MEN: FATHER’S DAY.” On that first occasion, there was lots of the word “man” sprinkled about and lots of signals telling me “if you are a man, you will like this.” Why was this book relevant to me, as a non-parent, non-father, non-man?
Now months later, without the pressure of Father’s day billboards, I picked up the book, and it ended up surprising me. In “Manhood for Amateurs: The pleasures and regrets of a husband, father, and son,” Chabon writes masterfully about being a family man by mining at and extracting the emotional core of being a disappointed-child-turned caretaker of children. He writes about fatherhood and being a man in a way that speaks to an audience of disappointed-child-turned something-or-other (as we all are), not just the manly-men-father-son-husband audience I had been expecting.
I found it particularly striking that a book titled “Manhood for Amateurs,” with all of the bravado the word “man” seems to come with as a lauded tag people attach to themselves and others, begins with a vignette titled “The Loser’s Club.” The book starts off with the piercing disappointment of being a child who starts a membership-of-one comic book club in an empty, rented multipurpose room. Chabon finishes the essay by writing, “Success … does nothing to diminish the knowledge that failure stalks everything you do. But you always knew that. Nobody gets beyond the age of ten without that knowledge. Welcome to the club.”
It is a somewhat anti-bang of anti-bravado to begin a book like that. But the successes, shortcomings, and delicate rewards of being this disappointed child turned husband, father, and son allowed me to connect with a book about manhood in a way that transcended gender and gender roles, getting at the core of what it means to have that backbreaking responsibility of being taken care of and taking care of others.