Thursday, June 11, 2015

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Source of book: Borrowed from the library

This book was recommended to me by my friend Amy from law school. Since we were both crazy enough to have a bunch of small children in fairly rapid succession, a book by a guy with five kids held some promise. 

Professional comedian Jim Gaffigan is even crazier than I am, however. We both had 5 kids in about 7 years, but he managed to fit them all in a two bedroom apartment in New York City. And this is no penthouse either. More like the 800 square foot house I was born in, but without a yard.

On a related note, the chapter devoted to how he gets the kids to bed in shifts is worth it by itself. It reminds me of the times we had to put a crib in the hotel bathroom or closet to get a kid to sleep, but Gaffigan has it even harder.

A few other things that sounded far too familiar:

First, the way that “family friendly” is typically a synonym for “terrible.” (Gaffigan cringes when his clean comedic act is described that way.) These places cater to the lowest common denominator of kid taste, or the lowest common denominator of what corporate focus groups think kid taste is. Whichever is worst. In a number of ways, this has been the juggling act in my own family, because some kid-oriented activities are fun. Disneyland, parks, and that sort of thing. Other things, like “family friendly” restaurants, not so much. Particularly for foodies. Thus, we dragged our infants to tasty dives fed them all kinds of weird food before they knew better, because we didn’t want to be eating at McDonalds for 25 years. On the plus side, it worked. On the minus side, do you know what it costs to feed five hungry kids sushi?

Also familiar was the bit about children’s books. Gaffigan notes that some are rather good. (He shares my positive view of Go, Dog, Go!) But others are tedious in the extreme. And these are often the ones the toddler wants to hear seven times a night. And he does have a point that it is hard to read Dr. Seuss without sounding a little drunk. Seriously, have you tried to read Fox in Socks or Oh Say Can You Say and not make a mistake?

Another one that caused a serious guffaw was his kids licking the subway pole. Yes, we were the ones with the little boy that kept licking the bus stops in San Francisco. I have a strong stomach, but, seriously, eww!

The bit about naps was pretty funny too. Gaffigan views naps for toddlers as “payday loans.” You get some money (or quiet time) now, but have to pay it back later at 400% interest. A napped toddler will stay up all hours of the night and be impossible. Actually, for us, we couldn’t even get credit. None of our kids have napped well after turning one, and our eldest needs less sleep than I do most of the time. So basically, we had to settle for “be quiet for a while so your parents can rest.”

This is totally payback for me. I didn’t nap, although I could be quiet when asked. My poor parents.

Gaffigan also gets the problem with having five kids. Everyone does tend to look at you just a little funny. Gaffigan himself was the youngest (naturally) of six. He at least got in the habit of explaining that his parents were Catholic. Nowadays, there are more options. I tend to get asked if we are Mormon. (No.) And then Catholic. (Also no.) Like the Duggars? (Heck no!) Living in New York, Gaffigan also notes “Orthodox Jewish” is an option. He also anticipates my current explanation, “Five kids, Dad Crazy,” although he deems it too honest. But yeah, that’s about the best explanation I can come up with.

And then, of course, one is constantly asked,”Are you done?” Well, since my kids have a friend born after a vasectomy, and I know a few people who tried to stop at [fill in a number] before having twins for the “final” child, I think I will just cross myself and walk away. Best not to tempt fate at this point…

As far as that goes, Gaffigan also gets it right that pregnancy does tend to have a bit of an air of scandal about it. Is there ever a perfect time to be pregnant? (Sometime, I’ll have to tell our story, and how the timing of a pregnancy set the course of our life in a certain path.) As Gaffigan puts it:

Pregnant women are either too young or too old, or it’s too soon after another pregnancy, or she’s going to get in trouble at work. She’s too poor, too rich, too successful, too skinny, too fat, too crazy, too busy, too single, too married, too too.

Gaffigan plays this for laughs, but he recognizes the fundamental truth of the matter: a woman will be judged somehow for getting pregnant. If not with the first, than with the second. And he is right that it is something that has been done since the dawn of time, yet we act as if it is somehow new, that pregnancy (and sex) are a new and nefarious invention of the young people. (It would take another post, but so often public policy seems to be in total denial that people will normally and naturally tend to have sex and babies during their twenties, with the resulting pearl clutching when it turns out that people do in fact do this.)

With his self-deprecating humor, Gaffigan brings to light the inherent silliness of everyday life, but also, like any good humorist, gets at the truth of human foibles. I would hope those who read it would be encouraged to give those of us with small children a little understanding and patience, rather than judgmentalism. After all, anyone who thinks there is a formula for child rearing either didn’t have kids, or is in denial. It’s always going to be messy, loud, unpredictable, and above all, human. And, as a father of five myself, Gaffigan is dead right that if you need one thing as a parent, it is a sense of humor.


  1. Gaffigan is hilarious. I own one of his comedy routines on DVD.

    So right about "family friendly." Combine it with "Christian" and it gets even worse. There are some Christian comedians who are downright terrible, and/or use their act solely to make fun of atheists and non-Christians. Of course George Carlin also made fun of religion, so it's not like atheists never do the same thing in reverse, but Carlin had the advantage of actually being a good comedian to begin with. Christian comedians also have the obligatory thing about never using swear words, which can sometimes make a joke that normally would have been funny just…off, all because they can't say "damn."

    And of course none of those problems with "family-friendly" and "Christian" are limited to comedy either. Kind of like the difference between Elsie Dinsmore and Harry Potter.

    "I would hope those who read it would be encouraged to give those of us with small children a little understanding and patience, rather than judgmentalism."

    This is why I am always so nervous, as a non-parent, to criticize Christian parenting books in public. I have Michael Pearl's book (not because my parents used it, I got it out of a homeschool resource library that was being liquidated), I know it's full of problems, and I can find plenty of parents who agree with me about it. But I just know that if I blog about it, some Christian parent is going to find my critique and tell me that all of it is invalid because I'm not a parent and I couldn't possibly understand - even if I have parents agreeing with me about the book. (Though obviously this is not what you're saying here.)

    1. Indeed. Fortunately, my experience of Christian comedy has primarily been Dennis Swanberg, whose bit on Baptist deacons is pretty funny. (Short tie, big gut, sciatica...I actually know a few.) And some guy who was a relative unknown, whose good stuff was more in the vein of Gaffigan, poking fun at everyday life.

      My least favorite bit of "family friendly Christian" culture would definitely be "Christian" cinema. Just poke my eyes out already. It would be less painful.

      For what it's worth, the Pearls are so out there that even a non-parent can see that they advocate control and abuse. But I feel ya on that one.

      What is worse is those parents of adult children that seem to have *completely* forgotten what real life children were like. I mean, it's *possible* that theirs were in fact perfect, but I doubt it. All kids melt in public some time, and it will never be a good time, believe me. That doesn't mean the parents are incompetent or need gratuitous advice. (Stepping off soapbox now...)