The Power of Stories

Telling stories is the best way to teach, persuade, and even understand ourselves.

Why Can't This Just Be Funny?

The art of not taking yourself too seriously

After returning from our annual road trip to St Louis to visit my family and finding myself inundated with too many emails, one managed to stand out. "Blog worthly?" in the subject line intrigued me barely enough to catch a glimpse of the reference to a piece on Slate.com about the new and controversial book, "Go the Fuck to Sleep" by Adam Mansbach.

At first glance, I thought to myself, ackkkk, some angry response to the profanity and disregard for the sanctity of parenthood, blah blah blah, I don't have time. But instantly I was transported back home as I recalled the fresh memory etched so sweetly by the image of my father reading this very same book a day or so ago...

Yes, I had just purchased this book and brought it home to show my parents, who have always believed in and modeled the value of humor in our lives.  We laugh a great deal in my family and I dare say we find humor in some of the most obscure and indecent places. We love noises, stupid jokes, silly voices, absurd puns, rude references to bodily functions, inappropriate gestures, smells, facial expressions, and the like. The grosser, the better. We can giggle as if we are sitting in the back of study hall with a stern teacher glaring at us to behave. We can, and always do, laugh until whatever we are drinking at the time, spews from our mouths or out of our noses.  Orifices are fair game when we get together. Quite the sight for a bunch a grown-ups.  But our best giggles always come while we are lying in bed together.  Usually I launch into a morning cuddle with my 80 yr old mommy and soon to be 83 yr old Dad.  After he "puts his ear on", Dad can hear pretty well, considering he is lip-reading and constantly accommodating to his cochlear implant, his annoying Meniere's Disease, his atrocious hyperacusis, and his maddening Parkinson symptoms.  Giggling is particularly important, my parents reminded us, as it relates to difficult times, whether you are struggling in the moment, or suffering long-term - learning to laugh when all seems dim, is indeed, a gift.

That's why I will never forget the vision of my father reading the book, "Go the Fuck to Sleep" to my mother.  He has always been a wonderful reader.  He used to read poetry to us when we were young and recite volumes of memorized verses from the depths of his memory card. Now, he still loves to read but it's just one more way he isolates himself because his overwhelming symptoms make it difficult to interact. 

Right from the start, he loved the title of the book.  Dirty words always made him laugh. Old jokes with "crap" in them were among his favorite. And "fuck" ?  In the title? How irreverent. How bold. How hysterical. 

As he read the book aloud, and my mother listened intently, as she often does when he endeavors to engage like this, I saw and heard something emanating from my father I hadn't seen in what felt like forever.  He couldn't believe these words were actually printed on the page, amidst the soothing verses and illustrations. He couldn't believe someone had gotten away with this impudent piece of work. He was stunned into silliness as he continued to utter the intermittent disrespectful words, spoken with his grace and poetic flair. But the magic came when I saw the twinkle in his eye that had been absent for so long; The tear that was not far from flowing from his squinting, laughing eyes; the amusement that transformed quickly into a state of delight, and the pure, unadulterated, belly-laughing pleasure that is now so rare.  As each page turned, his performance remained in harmony with the increasing irritation in the book.  Dad smiled as he sat up straight and bellowed, "Please GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP!"  Mom smiled with enjoyment, as she too witnessed something in Dad we had all missed for so long -- the joy, the absorption in something so ridiculous and so perfect.

So when I sifted through my endless emails upon my return and found the request to check out the posting on Slate.com, I was taken aback by the title of the article written by Katie Roiphe: Why So Angry, Dad? Go the F**k to Sleep exposes yuppie parents' sexlessness, self-pity, and repressed rage. 

Wow.

To be fair, she is a talented writer. And truly, much of what she says, does make sense.  As a postpartum expert, I especially like this line: "We are talking about two slouchy, exhausted people trying to watch a television screen somewhere in each other's proximity. You can see why the father is so angry and unhinged; the precious adult time he is desperately fighting to preserve is so paltry, so modest, so barely there."  But c'mon...

True, parenting comes with harsh realities: Couple time is sparse. Sex is rare or non-existent. Exhaustion is rampant. But "sexlessness, self-pity and repressed rage"?  "Existential despair?" And her social commentary that today's parents are self-indulgent and misdirecting their rage onto their 4 yr olds when they should instead be getting a babysitter and taking responsibility for their own behavior?

Really?

I understand her criticism and I certainly wouldn't want a parent who's on the edge of sanity to read this book or to god forbid, take it literally. But for the majority of overwhelmed parents who are bone-tired and frustrated, who are working hard to do everything right - I think it's an awesome book.  I agree that it's cathartic and I dare say, even therapeutic. 

Looking for some serious inspiration from this book? I'd say it's the relief from knowing you are not alone with your frustration and that this is a universal response to an extremely demanding and wearisome period of time.

I do not hear the anger directed at the child in this book.  Nor do I hear the "hostility" or "nastiness." All I hear are the giggles from my tired father, who thought, as did I, what a brilliant concept, why didn't we think of it?!  

All kinds of good, loving parents can relate to this book. They can relate to the frustration and they can relate to the challenge of the oh-so-common balancing act of being excruciatingly frustrated and loving your children so very much at the same time.

Learning to laugh during difficult times... ah, not an easy task.

I think Katie Roiphe is the angry one. I also think her broad psychological interpretation and the Freudian references are more "misplaced" than the character's "over-the-top, pent-up fury."

Ms. Roiphe should spend some time with my parents so she can learn how to really laugh.

 

 

Copyright 2011  Karen Kleiman www.postpartumstress.com

 

The Power of Stories