Author: Michael Chabon
Type: Non-fiction, essays
Full title: Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces
I read it: July 2018
An admission: I still haven’t read any of Michael Chabon’s critically acclaimed novels. Or, to restate: I still haven’t read any of Michael Chabon’s novels, which are critically acclaimed (or so I hear). I think The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay still sits patiently on my shelf. But damn, it looks like a long one!
Anyway, when my wife gave me Pops as a spot-on Father’s Day present, I knew I’d be into it. Musings on parenthood are plentiful, but even better when it comes in small, digestible doses. This collection puts together many of Chabon’s essays that have appeared in various magazines recently. Fully one-third of the book is “Little Man,” a piece about the author traveling with his son to fashion events, the subject matter alien to both me as a reader and Chabon as a father, his son experimenting with clothes “at this early and still inarticulate moment in the history of his soul.” Lesson one: you won’t know what passions your kids will find or who they will really become.
The rest of the essays are all shorter and vary from direct observation about specific parenting moments—”Adventures in Euphemism” recounts Chabon’s strategies for reading Huck Finn out loud while “Against Dickitude” is about checking in on whether a teenage son is treating a girl right—to slightly broader reflections of traditions, careers, and hobbies that find the author reflecting on being a son as well as a father. These include “The Old Ball Game,” because what would an American book on fatherhood be without mentioning baseball, and the title story, “Pops.”
No matter the topic, Chabon veers constantly between wit, humor, pathos, and revelation, always with a self-deprecatory flair. (If no one told you before, becoming a parent is the swiftest way to deconstruct your ego.) On offering his son the chance to sign up for baseball: “He might very well prove me wrong. I like it when my children prove me wrong; I enjoy the sensation, though not quite as much, perhaps, as I enjoy being right.” When he’s giving an example of his own downfalls in “Against Dickitude,” he describes a small moment when he wasn’t open and available for his daughter, calling himself a dick in his internal monologue, and then following it up with this candid summary:
“Beautiful,” I told her, but I knew it was too late: she had a crack in her now, fine as a hair but like all cracks irreversible. I was shocked by my own thoughtlessness, and ashamed of it, but the thing I felt most of all was horror. Horror is the only fit response when you are confronted by the full extent of your power to break another human being.
Even though I relished the trim size of the book upon receipt, I came away wishing a few of the pieces were longer. Perhaps we’ll get a Pops Pt. II sometime down the line. Chabon has enough kids going through enough stages to fill several books. If nothing else, I’ll be rereading this one when my own kids approach the ages that he’s writing about here. In the meantime, I sliced up the Father’s Day card I received with the book, turning it into an array of bookmarks that happen to match the pretty orange and teal color scheme of Pops. Each bookmark will be a reminder to myself not to be a dick.