“Daddy Needs a Drink,” Robert Wilder

Daddy Drink cover I bought this book for my husband, who seems to be seeking a path to sainthood during the first months of caring for a newborn. While I feed the insatiable child, my spouse has been cooking me breakfast in the mornings (this is the same creature who, when we first met in Scotland, used to come down to the dorm’s cafeteria every morning and stare at his mushy corn flakes for half an hour, waiting for his brain to get out of bed and catch up with him). Somehow I doubt it’ll last, but I’m trying to encourage it in any way possible, and Daddy Needs a Drink not only describes our life, the gift (and accompanying bottle of Stolichnaya) kept the humor and fried eggs coming for another week.

Robert Wilder’s book has prompted critics to say that, if David Sedaris had kids, this is the book he would have written. I differ only in that I think Wilder is a whole lot funnier than Sedaris. But maybe that’s because his essays so accurately reflect our life right now: the completely random sleep patterns, the inability to get anything done with a baby who hates being put down, and the joys of being a modern parent.

The peak of those joys, as my husband could attest, extends to the modern father getting lots of admiring looks, coos, and flirtation from women 18 to 85 while carrying a tiny sprog in a Baby Bjorn. The trough, Wilder paints vividly in “Papa Pia,” includes the squeamish looks given by guys in the men’s room at the local taco joint while you’re trying to change a squalling baby on a pad spread over three sinks, and she manages to fill her diapers twice and spray the mirror with explosive poop at least once during the process. That handy Koala Kare changer evidently doesn’t always show up in the men’s room.

Travel with children can be a neverending drama, as Wilder finds out when taking his two little ones back east to visit his family, even if the kids are good as gold. Flight attendants and fellow passengers positively drip praise over him, which leads him to wonder, rightfully so, why it is that women don’t get the same kudos for herding children through airports and into bathrooms and onto planes without losing either the kids or their tempers.

And then he gets stuck behind the nightmare passengers, the middle-aged couple (nicknamed Bitchy McFrumpass and Baldy McAsswipe) who insist his son is kicking their seat (even though his legs couldn’t possibly reach—we should all be so lucky not to have our knees squashed). Air travel with small children, as we’ve discussed in earlier posts, is becoming an increasingly contentious issue as airlines shorten everyone’s patience with less leg room and more delays. Even well-behaved children get snapped at.

While back on the East Coast, Wilder runs into another aspect of modern life that usually doesn’t hit people until they’ve had kids: many of us raise our children a heck of a long way from where we grew up, and we’re sometimes surprised by the consequences. The reality hits Wilder when he takes his family to a seafood joint on the Atlantic, and his daughter gets flustered because the waitress doesn’t understand her requests for quesadillas. The scene reminded me of Adam Gopnik’s shock in his book Paris to the Moon, when he realized his son was growing up knowing nothing of baseball (I really didn’t like Paris to the Moon, so it’s not a fair comparison).

This is part of the ease of travel these days, that it’s so natural to settle somewhere far from our roots. We don’t always realize that, as easy as it is to fly home for a week or so, it’s a lot harder to give our children a sense of the place we grew up in, whether it’s (in Wilder’s case) a love of seafood and cream sauces in Connecticut when you live in a Mexican food mecca, or (in my husband’s case) teaching your son cricket in the thick of Yankees versus Red Sox country.

Daddy Needs a Drink is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. Whether you’re a parent or not, it makes great airplane reading. (In my case, great “trapped on the sofa with the baby who needs to be Velcroed to me” reading.) Highly recommended for keeping you sane when you’re stuck on the tarmac for an extra two hours and the kid behind you is singing “This is the Song That Never Ends” at the top of his lungs.

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