June 09, 2016


Rocking Fatherhood: The Dad-to-Be’s Guide to Staying Cool. By Chris Kornelis. Illustrations by Aaron Bagley. Da Capo. $13.99.

How to Be a Man (and other illusions). By Duff McKagan, with Chris Kornelis. Da Capo. $15.99.

     Apparently Guns N’ Roses co-founder Duff McKagan is now a world-renowned expert on manliness and fatherhood. He not only has his own book on the subject but also provided the forward to Rocking Fatherhood by Chris Kornelis. According to Kornelis’ book, it is apparently very important to have a way of “staying cool” amid the ups and downs and towering emotions of incipient fatherhood. If that is indeed your goal, Kornelis’ week-by-week guide is available to help. Kornelis tries relentlessly to be amusingly upbeat – the Aaron Bagley illustrations are a big help with this – but actually manages to produce a rather honest and useful parenting guide, almost in spite of himself. There is an underlying cheat code here: the weeks Kornelis chronicles are those of his wife’s second pregnancy, so anyone who marvels at how much cool stuff Kornelis learned needs to understand that he had practice. The “cool” notion itself is a rather juvenile one, but the discussions in the book are more on the adult side, even when Kornelis tries to keep them light. For instance, regarding swaddling, he writes, “How tight is tight enough? You know how tight taco truck employees wrap those burritos? That’s how tight you are going to wrap up your baby. Seriously. And, no, there is no such thing as a good ‘loose’ swaddle. That’s an inadequate swaddle. That’s a failed swaddle.” That is, presumably, an uncool swaddle. A cool one also involves using a “Metallica: Ride the Lightning” T-shirt for swaddling, which is what Bagley’s four-part illustration shows. In the last part, the baby is happily asleep. But what Bagley does not show is a screaming, twisting, inconsolable baby at the start of the process – this one looks at most a bit grumpy. Apparently real-baby behavior that makes swaddling appropriate just isn’t cool. Still, Kornelis’ heart is certainly in the right place: “Pregnancy and parenthood have become minefields of industry and alarmism, which is why expectant parents hear ‘having a baby changes everything’ more often than ‘having a baby is pure joy.’” Indeed, one chapter title here is “Having a Baby Doesn’t Change Everything,” which is nice to know. Other chapter titles try to keep things light: “Don’t Let Her Microwave Bologna,” for example, and “It’s OK. Nobody Else Knows How They’re Going to Make It Work, Either.” But the underlying information here, despite Kornelis’ penchant for finding people in the music industry to quote (no surprise there: he is a music journalist), is genuinely helpful for those who find the style of its delivery amusing rather than, say, irritatingly coy. Kornelis deals with sex and birthing courses and finances and free time (impossible to find but necessary) and how important it is to “Take Studies, Recommendations, and (Especially) Books with a Grain of Salt.” Bravo for that, and it applies to Rocking Fatherhood as much as any other book. There is plenty of solid advice here; how much of it you absorb will depend on whether or not you find Kornelis’ style as warmly (or coolly) inviting as he wants it to be.

     Kornelis came by his McKagan forward honestly: he helped McKagan write his own book. Kornelis may not be credited on the front or back cover, but there he is on the copyright page. Apparently someone thinks, probably correctly, that McKagan’s name alone is needed to sell How to Be a Man to people who consider McKagan the epitome of manliness, or at least a proof that rock-and-roll fame is sometimes survivable. The very structure of this book’s title is intended to cash in on the popularity of McKagan’s previous book, It's So Easy (and other lies), which told how he got sober at the ripe old age of 30, then went back to school and fell in love and became a father and basically discovered that all the ultra-conventional stuff against which rock musicians rail at considerable length was really a lot better than dying of a heroin overdose at age 20: “There isn’t nobility in dying before you get old.” Anyone who thinks “well, duh” about that statement is not in this book’s intended audience. The book is for dyed-in-the-wool McKagan fans who are prepared to go “oh, wow” at such discoveries as the importance of staying humble, the need to pick the right person with whom to have children, and the value of looking at yourself in the mirror each night and asking yourself basic questions about whether you did the best you could that day. The book is chatty and conversational, with a style notably reminiscent of the style of Rocking Fatherhood, but it is much less of an advice book – even though it has plenty of advice in it – than it is a book for people who will pay attention to the advice specifically because of its source. McKagan deserves credit for escaping the sex-drugs-and-destruction spiral for which rock music has been well known for many decades. He told about that escape in his previous book, which as a result was more gripping than this one, in which his escape is accomplished and he is reveling in being a 50-year-old father who practices his profession, music, with far more care and maturity than he did in his 20s. The lessons here are mostly common-sense ones, and while it is true that common sense is scarcely a common commodity, the extent to which McKagan plays up the revelatory discoveries in his own life is uncalled-for. Fans are as likely to get the book for McKagan’s advice on albums to own and books to read as they are to get it for life suggestions. Come to think of it, the albums-and-books elements come across more smoothly and sincerely than does much of the advisory material.

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