Title: Family Man
Author: Calvin Trillin
Published By: Farrer, Straus and Giroux, 1998
Book Specs: 184 pages
Book Category: Humor, Family Relationships
This book is a collection of 16 essays by Calvin Trillin on the joys and travails of life with children. He has two daughters — Abigail and Sarah — and raised them with his wife Alice in Manhattan. (Although raising a family in Manhattan might make it seem like Mr. Trillin is from a rarefied world inaccessible to most of us, I found his writing to be down-to-earth, relatable and his observations about parenting to be fairly universal.) Mr. Trillin is a gifted writer, and I enjoyed reading his thoughts on family life immensely. He has an obvious love for his family, a great eye for detail, and a wonderful sense of humor.
This was my first time reading a book by Calvin Trillin. I’d heard of him and seen quotes by him and realized he was perhaps an important contemporary writer, but I’d never taken the time to read one of his books. I can unequivocally tell you that I will be reading more by Mr. Trillin as I think he might be the kind of writer who could write about virtually anything and I would enjoy reading it.
This isn’t a book that begs for an in-depth review. It is an easy, humorous, enjoyable read that documents the author’s life with his two daughters and his thoughts on parenting. More than anything, this book made me wish I could live in the Trillin family. Mr. Trillin seems like a wonderful father with an amusing and fun personality. I was particularly drawn to his love of Halloween, his obvious affection for his wife, and the family’s dedication to making elaborate home movies. I wanted to grow up in the Trillin household!
While I was reading, I kept marking sections of the book to showcase passages that I think illustrate what a reader can expect in this book. I ended up having so many that I’m just going to go through and pick three or four that will give you the best “feel” for this book.
When our older daughter, Abigail, was four years old, she attended a progressive nursery school in lower Manhattan that was sweet and nurturing and, if I may say so, a little bit earnest. It was the sort of place where teachers would say to a kid who had just attacked another kid, “Use words not hands, dear.” (At one point, we all began to wonder exactly what the words for sneaking up behind another kid and pulling her hair might be. All I could think of was something like “I’m a nasty little beast who deserves a good hiding.”)
I tried to fulfill the mandate every American has to convince his children that they have a cushy deal compared with the deprivations and tribulations he had to face as a child. At one point, of course, I had to quit telling them that when I was a little boy in Kansas City, my sister, Sukey, and I walked ten miles barefoot through the snow just to get to school every morning. They got old enough to check it out. This is always an awkward transition for a parent — the onset of what I think of as the age of independent confirmation of data. It seems to come rather suddenly. One moment, your daughters are accepting everything you say without reservation…the next moment, you’ve got a couple of private eyes in the house.
But we all felt that keeping a dog in the city would be too difficult. That left cats. When the girls were asked why we didn’t have one, they always said “Daddy hates cats,” to which I always replied, “No, girls, hating cats would be prejudice, and Mommy and I have tried to bring you up to oppose prejudice whenever you encounter it. What might be fair to say is that I have never met a cat I liked.”
At the very least, parents wonder whether they should worry. I always found it comforting when I’d come across something I could decide not to worry about. Then I could cross it off the list. When Sarah was little, she had an imaginary friend named Craig Binnger. “Imaginary friends are supposed to have names like Jack or Popo or Tillie-bear,” I said to Alice. “How come her friend sounds like a life insurance salesman?” Should we worry about that? No.
About the Author
Calvin Trillin is the author 19 previous books, including American Fried, Travels with Alice, Remembering Denny and Messages from My Father. A long-time staff writer for The New Yorker, he also wrote a column for Time and a weekly poem for The Nation. He was raised in Kansas City, Missouri and lives in New York City.
A fun, smart, delightful collection of essays on family life by a gifted writer. I’ll definitely be reading more books by Mr. Trillin. Any recommendations for the next one to seek out?
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