Michael Lewis on Father's Day

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The subjects of Michael Lewis' books are normally the best at what they do. In Liar's Poker, he laid bare the freewheeling culture of Wall Street bond traders; in Moneyball, he broke down the statistical alchemy of managing a pro-baseball team. In his latest book, however, his subject is far humbler, and has much to be humble about. Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood is a memoir of Lewis' own first steps (and missteps) as a father — one who shirks diaper-changing, passes out drunk as his wife prepares to deliver their second child and ponders whether most of his fellow dads are actually faking it most of the time. He talked to TIME about Father's Day, helicopter parenting and learning to love his kids.

Any big plans for Father's Day?
No. I try not to celebrate Father's Day; it's my wife who insists on doing it. If she can ratchet up Father's Day, it means Mother's Day is that much bigger. That's the only reason it gets celebrated. It's a phony holiday.

Do dads really deserve a day?
I'm not sure it's the right spirit with which to approach the task. It sort of implies that you should get a medal. [Fatherhood] is just a thing you do. It's like saying that there should be a Get out of Bed Day.

You seem to have a fairly low opinion of dads, or at least of what you're doing as a dad. Has any father ever come up to you after having read it and said, "This is preposterous. I love my children! How dare you, sir?"
The problem with the type that says, "I instantly bonded with my child. I love my child — how could you suggest that a father feel any differently from the beginning?," is that there is social pressure to say just that, so it's a little hard to know if they actually felt it or whether they are just interested in the self-righteousness of feeling it. More interesting are the many who come up to me and say, "Don't tell anybody this, but it's absolutely true." I don't make any claim that my experience is universal. I thought it was somewhat interesting that I hadn't seen anybody explain the feeling of complete detachment that I felt upon the arrival of my children and that the love that I feel for my children would be something that I'd learn and not something that gifted to me at their birth.

The hostility that I've faced has come from women — almost all, in fact all, from radio call-in shows. Some women were instinctively upset that a man has dramatized his own plight when their plight is so much more awful. Overall, the majority of the responses from women has been hilarity. Which puzzles me a bit.

Ayelet Waldman's book Bad Mother seems kind of like a gender reversal of your book: she boasted that she loves her husband more than her children and wants to have a career. And she was pilloried for this. Is there a double standard there?
Of course. There is no question that it is easier to outrage people by celebrating one's bad motherhood than celebrating one's bad fatherhood. People cut men more slack. Ayelet is writing a much more controversial book than I ever could unless I said something like, "I intend to kill my children."

Are we seeing a tailing off of the trend of "helicopter parenting" — parents who are overprotective of their kids — that has been prevalent for the past few years?
No. I think we are seeing the beginning of it. Helicopter parenting is a luxury of a wealthy society, a society in which families are smaller and parents actually have the luxury of micromanaging their children. I think one day we are going to be deluged with memoirs about how my life was screwed up because my mother managed every inch of it. I think what you are seeing is a spasm of a response to that, though. I think that there are lots of parents who would agree that you've just got to chill a bit more.

Your dedication to your children reads, "If you don't want to see it in print, don't do it." Is that a threat? Have you talked about doing another book?
Oh no, no, no. I'm done. I was writing about a period of their lives of which they have no memory. This book is like a little document that fills in a gap in their lives that they would otherwise know nothing about. The two that can read have read it — it's like they're reading about Martians; they don't [remember] any of the stuff they are reading. They can't believe all that happened, and except for the dirty words that shock them, they are totally amused by it.

You let them read the whole book with the bad words included?
Well, since they said the bad words, it seemed pointless to not let them read them.

Your last two books have been about baseball and football. When you had a son after two daughters, were you cheering in your mind?
No, but I often have a delayed reaction to things. And now, yes — because he's obsessed with sports. He is going to be an athlete. The girls are also very athletic, but it's different. He's like I was. All he wants to do is go out, find a basketball hoop and shoot at it a hundred hours at a time. There is no question that there is a wavelength that we are both on that nobody else in the house is on. It had not occurred to me to expect that, but I can see it now, and it's a delight.

If you had one nugget of advice for expectant fathers, what would it be?
There is no way that you are going to feel and act as you were supposed to feel and act. You should just accept that there is a very broad range of acceptable feelings and approaches to the process. So just chill and don't let people make you feel badly.

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