It’s been 15 years since Paul Reiser’s last publication, an absence which he explains in the preface of Familyhood (2011). In his latest work, Reiser digs into a handful of relatable life observations in this follow-up to his bestselling books Couplehood and Babyhood .
I fumbled through the first chapter until I sensed the Paul Reiser glib humor and tone with which I’m familiar from his work on the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning TV sit-com “Mad About You” (circa 1990s). Listen for the rhythm and the comedy starts rising to the surface of the page. In fact, I bet the audiobook version (recorded by Reiser himself) would roll off the mind more fluidly. If you’re at all in tune with his cadence, it will make the book more enjoyable. The chapters are short and easy to digest, so it’s a light and entertaining read for a quiet weekend or vacation.
In Familyhood, Reiser talks about his observations about marriage and raising a family and how it differs from the way he thought it would be.
“Among the abundant blessings we each enjoy for having married is that we live less like zoo animals than we otherwise would have. We have drapes, we have nice plates and spoons, and even things that serve no purpose but to just be there and make our homes look like homes.”
Despite trying to do things “differently than my parents did,” steering kids is much harder than Reiser imagined. Over time, parents on the whole counterbalance and overcorrect to the point that they eventually learn to lighten up and let go. That kids will “fly” on their own. “I have, with age, come to understand my parents’ side of things more clearly and now find the shoe entirely on the other foot,” Reiser says.
No one has the roadmap. Parenting, as Reiser puts it, is like baking a cake without the recipe – “you know what goes into the cake, but they don’t tell you how much or when it’s supposed to be dropped in.”
With the perspective of a stand-up comedian, Reiser commentates on life, zeroing in on the details which make a situation either comically absurd or profoundly significant. But don’t be surprised when you stumble across some of Reiser’s heartwarming confessions. Between some mocking passages about life’s ironies and an amusing, yet altogether-imaginary interlude with the GPS navigation lady, Reiser writes some genuine sentiments about being a dad. About watching his children discover new things, he tenderly wrote: “I’m saddened when they discover something about life that I wish weren’t so. It hurts me when I see them not trusting or believing someone — yet ironically, seeing them actually being trusting and believing breaks my heart too.”
His insights aren’t revolutionary, but his point of view is refreshing. Familyhood will likely be a welcomed reassurance for any hovering parent — an honest look in the mirror, perhaps, but also a reminder that you’re not alone.
Here’s to family! — Meredith
Couplehood (1995), which sold over 2 million copies and reached the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list for 31 weeks, is a candid look at a romance between a couple – fraught with their own idiosyncracies – and the joys and problems that come with marriage. It’s humorous but with a seriousness and sincerity underneath. There is one statement in the book that emcompasses the book’s underlying message: “Enjoy the small things in life, because the big things may never come.”
Babyhood (1998), which also became a New York Times bestseller, tells his comical perspective of being a first-time father. It won’t tell you how to have a healthy pregnancy or care for a newborn, but it will, in a painfully hilarious manner, capture the trauma of initiation into parenthood. In Reiser’s own words: “Those [other parenting] books give you essential information you can use in a life-threatening emergency. My book has some very amusing anecdotes about poop.”