My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The portrait of fathers whether in conversations or in media is one of bumbling ineptitude, when it’s even addressed at all.
Ben Tanzer’s book, Lost in Space: A Father’s Journey There and Back Again, is a welcome look into the complexities of fatherhood, the emotional roller coaster men have to navigate, and the struggles that come with (twice)bringing a new life into the world.
The topics range from exhaustion (“I Need”) to sharing things with your kids (“I Am Your Father”) and death (“The Lion King,” “The Unexamined Life”). It’s in these last stories that Tanzer’s work shines.
The most devastating piece is “Anatomy of a Story,” which rips open what it means to be a man and realize how helpless you are when your child is sick. Bred to protect, life quickly teaches each of us that our powers extend only so far. As one of Tanzer’s children is wheeled into the hospital for surgery, Ben retreats into his writing, the one place where he can exert control over what happens. More to the point, the story illustrated just how badly we handle those emotional experiences when our wires get overloaded and we grasp at anything to make meaning.
On a far lighter note, the”The Penis Stories” was the best portrayal of one of the worst horrors a man can face: being accused of pedophilia. The second half of the essay finds Ben trying to convince his child not to tell people that he “kisses his dad’s penis.” As he tells his son that if he must say these things he shouldn’t say them in school or in public, I had to muffle my laughs so as not to wake my wife who was asleep next to me as I read. (Why does his child feels the need to say this? Mostly because his father asks him not to. Plus, the child seems to find it mildly amusing. They do say the darndest things.)
Once I hit my thirties, I stopped reading or just hanging out in parks and open spaces because you can only have so many mothers cautiously steer their children aware from wherever you’re before you realize it’s just a matter of time before something bad happens.
Tanzer is at his best when he’s ruminating on the small, poignant moments of fear that permeant parenthood or riffing the silly situations in which he and his children invariably find themselves. Less interesting are the three “Interludes,” which felt more like private reflections and interrupted the structure that created a nice ebb and flow of emotions.
But if you’ve wondered what it means to be a man and a father in the modern world, Lost in Space is one of the best places to start.