So I just read what seemed to me a very sensible blog post by Michael Chabon on the Huck Finn controversy.  The only thing I would add that I wish he'd made more explicit is that there's not any inconsistency between railing against changing the text of a classic to take out offensive words and taking out those offensive words when you read the book to your children.

My kids are a little younger than Chabon's, and I admire his guts in tackling Huck Finn with them far sooner than I'd plan to do it with mine.  On the one hand, I think it's an outrage if that Auburn version of Huck Finn is published as anything other than an adaptation of Huck Finn.  On the other hand, if I found myself reading it to my young kids, I'd be yanking the offensive word out at every occurrence.  I've done it plenty with other books.  The original 1920s Nancy Drews are a blast—lots more action, lots more edge—but when I read one of them to my kids, I had to dodge and weave around all sorts of outdated stereotyping and some stuff that seems downright nasty to us today.  In The Cricket in Times Square, the way the language of the loveable Chinese shopkeeper is rendered is enough to make any modern reader cringe (lots of "so solly" stuff).

Both of these lesser works of literature are thoroughly charming in almost all their other aspects.  But in those parts, they simply are what they are.  And any effort to amend, recast, or whatever makes them into something they are not.  So why am I changing them for my kids?  Because I'm their parent—one of two people who know them best of all, know what they can get their heads around and what should wait awhile.  If they want to take the book off the shelf and ask me why I read something different from what's on the page, we can have that conversation.  (I did get busted once with Nancy Drew when my daughter read ahead.) But that's between my children and me.  At least the book as written is sitting there on the shelf being, for better or worse, what it's always been.

The fall 2010 issue of Brain, Child includes, "Don't Try This at Home," one of the stories from Bad DaddiesBrain, Child is a great magazine I'd only been vaguely aware of in past years.  The articles remind me of the conversations you have with your smarter parent friends.  It couldn't be further in tone from the treacly parenting magazines in the grocery store.  I'm thrilled to have my story between its covers.

"Don't Try This at Home," was the stay-at-home dad story I knew needed to be part of a collection about modern fathers.  Having written for The Washington Post  about being home with my kids, I approached a fictional treatment of the same subject with some wariness.  But the story I ended up with wasn't what I expected, and that's always a good sign. 

Read the opening here.  And then run out and buy the magazine (Some Barnes and Nobles carry it).

So recently I'm in a CD store in Baltimore. I was looking for the new Prefab Sprout (successfully) and the new Brookville (unsuccessfully). 

How I shall miss the library quiet of people flipping through racks of music a few years from now when we're all downloading compressed lo-fi songs to our iPhones or whatever the hell we're talking on then. But that's another entry...

A mom has her four-year-old along while she picks up her new Death Cab for Cutie or whatever.  He's running around putting CDs in his mouth, knocking over box sets that cost more than my car, somewhat normal rambunctious kid behavior.  Her conversation with her son carries throughout the store: "Justin, you need to be next to me here now.  You've shown me I can't trust you to be alone in the DVD section."  "This is why mommy doesn't want you to have sweet snacks in the morning."

What stuck with me about this was not the kid's behavior or the mom's handling of it.  It wasn't even that I couldn't possibly miss a single word of their interaction.  Instead, it was the stagey quality of the mom's speech.  This was not, it seemed to me, an unvarnished glimpse into a particular parent/child relationship.  I seriously doubt this was the way this woman spoke to her child at home.  This was theater.  She was keenly aware of her audience, and in a way she was speaking to us more than to him.  And maybe it stuck with me because it seems to me many (most) of us do this same thing, even the alt-rock parents cruising the CD stores.

It makes me think of a certain kind of guy you see walking his dog on the street--and yes, it's always a guy.  While you wait for the light at the crosswalk, he hisses commands at and gives strange hand signals to his animal in a way that's supposed to make him look in control, but always makes him look a bit desperate and sad.

In the way that women are sometimes said to dress for other women, are a few too many of our parenting choices--especially the ones that happen outside of our homes--made for other parents instead of our kids?  If my kids were old enough to grasp the peculiar dynamics of the adult world, would they call me on this and say, "Hey, Dad, what happened to the slack-ass we know from home?  Who's this show for?"
The pages on this site bring together examples of the two kinds of writing I've been doing over the last couple of years.  On the one hand, there are the stories.  I've been writing fiction for a long time, but the idea for this collection came from the what seemed to me a dearth of stories about fathers in the here and now, modern fathers warts and all.

On the other hand, thanks to a friendly editor at The Washington Post, I've become sort of a go-to guy for modern-dad essays (see the nonfiction page).

In one way, this seems like a logical combination.  But part of me worries that if the Post folks read these stories they'll wish they'd never asked me to write in a semi-authoratative voice about parenting. 

Encapsulations of a few Bad Daddies stories:
  • The college-age son of an arrogant blowhard catches him at his secret cross-dressing habit.
  • Fathers at a children's birthday party try to outdo each other in tearing down each others' wives and children.
  • A man feeling pressure to start a family finds the father of three who lives down the block masturbating in his garage.

Not exactly Family Circle material.  And in spite of the collection's name, I don't consider most of these guys to be bad people--bad fathers, maybe. (I'm reminded of the wizard saying to Dorothy and her friends, "I'm not a bad man, just a bad wizard.")  The idea was to find outward--and yeah, maybe extreme--manifestations of conflicts that are hiding in ordinary parent/child relationships.

So expect to see posts here on both the real-world parents of nonfiction and the maybe-even-more-real parents of fiction.