Josh Lansky is the Jack Bauer of Mr. Moms
In one 24-hour period he throws down with surly police officers, feckless baby sitters, potty training nightmares, wall varmints that require professional extermination, dashed career ambitions, malfunctioning sippy cups, nosey suggestions he’s married to a cheating wife and tempting come-ons from luscious married moms who’ll help him even the infidelity score.
Like Bauer, the New Paltz, N.Y. freelance writer is armed. Unlike Bauer, he’s armed not with ballistic weaponry, but with toddlers ages 5 and 3, the oldest having been diagnosed with the enigmatic form of autism doctors call Aspberger’s.
Greg Olear’s book “fathermucker" (Harper) invites us to take a day-long dash in Lansky's shoes, which seems a more sanitary option than wearing the practical Daddy jeans he’s donned for 14 days straight. We’re catching him at the frazzled end of a three-day stint when his wife Stacy may or may not have been away on business that may or may not involve a randy shack up with an old boyfriend from her days at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. That’s where Stacy, a Mary-Louise Parker lookalike studied drama and now laments missed opportunities and, perhaps, being married to Josh.
What’s surprising is how deftly Olear takes a rifle shot premise -- stay-at-home dad with two challenging children, one of whom has Aspberger’s -- and manages to hit more than a dozen bullseyes.
He satirically skewers Facebook conventions, suburban ennui, moral ambiguity and the hurdles stay-at-home dads -- and moms -- face when they encounter working stiffs who feel superior for their conventional occupations. He does it all with an exasperated humor that has you rooting that Josh overcome his social obstacles and reveling in the wreckage whenever new ones keep popping up.
The book that starts out as a feisty suburban lark takes a compelling turn when he chronologically juxtaposes historic facts about Asperger’s with coming to grips that his own son has this bewildering diagnosis. Twenty pages of stark bullet items alternate between personal and clinical.
This is Olear’s second novel (his first is “Totally Killer”). He writes with a descriptive flair that manages to be colorful without being overwrought, as here when Lansky considers dismissing his borish baby sitter:
“Our babysitters hold a certain power. At the end of the day, we need them more than they need us. Babysitters are Saudi Arabia, we parents are the United States, and the hours they spend watching our children are the barrels of oil deep beneath the desert sand.”
Lansky’s no superhero, but manages to be heroic in dealing with embarrassing public meltdowns under eyes that always seem judgmental.
Part of the appeal of the book is understanding how Olear’s created a wickedly delicious new word that deftly plays off one of our most taboo profanities and somehow makes it seem ennobling. It’s not a swear word, but you’ll swear it ought to be.
Right there at the top of the title page, the noun isn’t mentioned again until the very last word on the very last page. It flips the construction of that most vile of words and makes it something single dads and moms can wear with pride.
Olear proves here in his second book, he is one good fathermucker.
(Originally published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dec. 21, 2011.)
Causes Chris Rodell Supports
Democratic National Committee, UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, Sierra Club, Smile Train, Salvation Army