Book Review: Home Game

Earlier this year, I received a copy of Michael Lewis’s Home Game as a gift. This is definitely the kind of book that I probably would have bought for myself after reading the dust jacket. Here’s an excerpt:

“When he became a father, Michael Lewis found himself expected to feel things that he didn’t feel, and to do things that he couldn’t see the point of doing. At first this made him feel guilty, until he realized that all around him fathers were pretending to do one thing, to feel one way, when in fact they felt and did all sorts of things, then engaged in what amounted to an extended cover-up … The remarkable thing about this story isn’t that Lewis is so unusual. It’s that he is so typical. The only wonder is that his wife has allowed him to publish it.”

Lewis is the author of several sports- and finance-themed books that have been made into movies, which is as much a barometer of success for an author these days as anything (see The Blind Side, Moneyball, and most recently The Big Short). Home Game departs from his most famous subject matter to instead focus on his everyday experiences as a father to three children (his wife, I just learned, is Tabitha Soren, who was on MTV back when MTV mattered).

It’s clear through his anecdotes that no matter where a father falls on the income spectrum, no matter the amount of success, if he cares about and loves his family then chances are he’s going to have some version of the same fatherly experiences. Lewis retells his stories in a way in which, I suspect, any parent could recognize elements of their own lives. Most of them are laugh-out-loud funny, too. Some of the highlights for me: Secret pride as his daughter fends off bullies by warning them that she’s going to pee in the public swimming pool if they don’t leave her brother alone. Camping overnight with his daughter in a theme park in Oakland. The stress and anxiety of caring for his infant son diagnosed with RSV. It’s in this last example that Lewis spells out parenthood in as beautifully blunt a way as I’ve seen:

“If you want to feel the way you’re meant to feel about the new baby, you need to do the grunt work. It’s only in caring for a thing that you become attached to it.”

I think this is, quite frankly, one of the only ways the human race endures. We build up the bonds to our children through caring for them in those tough early days. That, and because they’re cute. There are other areas in the book where Lewis’s bluntness and candor might not be for everyone, but it is frequently hilarious all the same. And since the source material for the book came from the journals Lewis kept after the birth of all three children, it all rings true, making this book a very real peek into the life of a modern family.

As for me, I enjoyed the book – and it was a quick read – but I don’t think I buy the extended cover-up notion wholesale. I do think it’s true that once a baby arrives, the reality of the experience quickly replaces any preconceived fantasies you may have had about having a child. And it’s definitely true that, at least in our case, it takes time to forge a deep bond that goes beyond the initial just-getting-by days. Lewis also has a point with the idea that many modern dads don’t really know what the job entails these days, and we all sort of have to figure it out for ourselves and make it work for our own families. (As a member of the father club, however, I also want to be careful to not destroy the illusion for any of the other dads out there that are playing the long con.)

One final thing that I took from the book is the idea of doing a journal to capture some of the more fleeting thoughts and memories that come from being a parent. I’ve been trying to share the big highlights about parenthood on this blog when I can, but of course I can’t (and don’t want to) share everything. For one, everything’s moving so fast that I can’t trust myself to remember it all. For two, not everything’s blog material – I don’t have aspirations of posting daily about the peanut butter & jelly sandwich my kid had for lunch. But I want to resolve to write more in 2016, and a journal is one way I just might be able to make it happen, so I’m going to personally give it a shot.

In closing, if you have a dry sense of humor and you find yourself becoming a parent in the coming year (either “again” or for the first time), or if you want to relive some of those early parenting days, then Home Game is definitely worth a read.

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