“Fatherhood is failure,” our antihero, Josh Lansky, proclaims in resigned defeat. His wife has been away on business for the entire week, and he’s at his wits end after watching his two young children 24/7 for the past week. As hard as he tries to be a model father, he knows he’s failing miserably. Fathermucker follows Josh on the last 24 hour stretch before his wife is due to arrive back home, and from the beginning, it doesn’t look good: his horoscope says it’s going to be a two-star day, his kids are climbing the walls, and at a play date later that day, one of the moms drops the bomb that his wife might be having an affair.
As a screenwriter who hasn’t written, much less sold, a script in ages, Josh is a SAHD (stay-at-home dad) by default; it is his failed-actress wife who goes out and brings home the bacon doing a job she hates. He tries to supplement their income by freelancing, he hasn’t been too successful at that, either. As such, most of his time is spent carting his children around to school and play dates, gossiping with the handful of stay-at-home moms who have become his friends. Where once Manhattan was his playground, he has lives in suburbia trying to salvage what’s left of his masculinity, but mostly resigning himself to the state of his adult life.
I kept trying to picture Josh as a cool Manhattanite, but I couldn’t; he’s too far gone. Now close to forty, Josh is a man with wry, self-deprecating, sarcastic sense of humor. He knows an alarming amount of celebrity gossip — I now know way more than I ever wanted to about Josh Duhamel and Fergie — and lives for the new issue of US Weekly to arrive at in his mailbox each week. His daughter is strong-willed, and his son has Asperger’s, so he has to be creative in different ways with each of his children. And when it comes to sex with his wife, he says they’re on the Ferber Method:
When you Ferberize a toddler, you put him in the crib and let him cry for, say five minutes. Then you go back in a comfort him, before leaving him to cry again. The second time away, you wit ten minutes, then fifteen, then twenty, and so on, until the toddler finally falls asleep on his own. Over time, and in theory, the toddler learns to fall asleep without the visit from Mom or Dad. With intercourse, it works the same way. you go a few days, then a week, then three weeks, then a month, then…you get the idea.
What’s left is a ne’er do well guy who loves his family to death and means well, but is also substantially neurotic. The thought of his wife having an affair sends him into a tailspin, and the twenty-four hours that comprise Fathermucker are filled with negative flights of fancy on what his wife is doing at the moment, squeezed in between moments of trying not to completely lose it in front of his kids.
Greg Olear is a clever writer who manages to make the most mundane parenting routines funny. As you can probably gather from the title of the book, the writing is peppered with well-placed expletives and irreverence. It’s saucy and sometimes over-the-top, but it’s also an entertaining take on a different kind of masculinity.
These were a couple of my favorite quotes from the book.
Fathermucker was released on October 4, 2011 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.