Dadditude. By Philip Lerman. Da Capo. $19.95.
Baby on Board: Becoming a Mother without Losing Yourself – A Guide for Moms-to-Be. By Joelle Jay and Amy Kovarick. AMACOM. $17.95.
Here’s something rare: a real-life story about fatherhood told from the perspective of an older father. Philip Lerman, former co-executive producer of the hyper-macho TV show America’s Most Wanted, found out that he had to stop trying to be in control of everything all the time when he became a first-time father near age 50. “Well, duh,” say the hordes of parents out there, but the point of Dadditude is that Lerman didn’t know any of that and managed to make a complete mess of things until he started figuring stuff out. Just like the rest of us “well, duh,” parents, if we’re being honest about it. Lerman, however, kept his sense of humor – maybe not while learning the painful everyday lessons of who’s really in control in a parent-child relationship, but certainly after he learned them and sat down to write this book. A sense of humor and its close relative, a sense of perspective, are lifesavers and mind-savers for all parents, and Lerman’s amusing take on this well-known fact of life will give many other parents, of any age, a whole series of been-there moments: “Max was a wonderful audience, and loved it when I would play with him, or sing to him (dads are a little like Doctor Frankenstein: ‘Oh, so no one wants to hear me sing, eh? Well, I’ll CREATE A LIFE that will LOVE my singing! Ha ha ha!’).” But for older parents – dads especially – Lerman will be even more fun. A self-described “fifty-year-old overweight balding white guy,” he is given to such musings about his career as, “How strange is it, for an ex-hippie who spent half his life running from the FBI to spend the second half meeting them for lunch?” Because of his age, the sheer physical difficulty of keeping up with Max is a dimension unto itself, and has something to do with Lerman’s eventual realization that he’d better loosen up and let go of his in-control, Type A personality where his son is concerned – if he wants to be around long enough to watch Max grow up. Despite its many strengths, though, Dadditude does have some irritating flaws: Lerman assumes that all men are sports nuts (granted, many are, but scarcely all), and will therefore use sports in parenting as he does; and he further assumes that all men of his age are rock-‘n’-roll fanatics who argue incessantly about specific bands and songs and can use this characteristic to bond with their sons. Apparently fans of jazz, classical and folk music need not apply. Lerman’s great sense of humor makes up for a lot of flaws, but not for the flaw of excluding so many men who aren’t exactly like him from his paean to the joys of fatherhood.
There’s nothing exclusionary about Baby on Board, which is overtly aimed at every soon-to-be-mother – or first-time mother, anyway. There’s also nothing particularly new in what the book is trying to do: show women ways to remain true to themselves as adults even after having a baby. Joelle Jay and Amy Kovarick, co-founders of a group called Empowered Motherhood, use a chatty style and a series of real-world examples to encourage women to identify and clarify their personal values, delve into their characteristic approach to life, prioritize their desires both for family and for work, then think of ways in which their personality and their life preferences can combine to help them overcome the inevitable (and, for first-time mothers, entirely unpredictable) challenges ahead. The rah-rah-you-can-do-it attitude of the authors is infectious, although the many quotations they offer from other moms tend to be more silly or obvious than inspirational: “I am one passionate and bulldog mama!” “Taking the time to clearly define my values was critical for me.” “I want to be stable financially.” The best elements of Baby on Board are the ones that urge moms-to-be to focus on something other than the coming child – to remember who they were before becoming pregnant and try to figure out whom they want to be afterwards. It has to be said that pre-birth goals are by no means easy to accomplish after a new human being enters a woman’s life – even if she has a supportive partner. So some of the specific techniques in this book are likely to result only in disappointment. For instance, a “My Ideal Year” worksheet (with “month” and “milestones” sections) seems like a good planning tool, but may well provoke frustration after the baby is born, when the new mom realizes how few of her goals she has time or strength to reach. Nevertheless, Jay and Kovarick do moms-to-be a service by urging them to pay close attention to something beyond their upcoming role as mothers, and by providing some useful tools and suggestions that can make that focus easier – at least until the reality of a baby’s constant need for attention hits home in all its frustrating and wonderful ways.