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BOOK REVIEW

Guide offers wit and wisdom for first-time dads

Pop Culture: The Sane Man’s Guide to the Insane World of New Fatherhood, By Christopher Healy, Penguin, 264 pp., $14

There seems to be an endless supply of reference books available for women who are searching for witty, easy-to-understand, up-to-date information about pregnancy and motherhood. But where is a first-time father supposed to turn?

Christopher Healy has an answer. ``Pop Culture: The Sane Man's Guide to the Insane World of New Fatherhood" delivers sound advice with a clear, hip, humorous attitude. For simplicity's sake, the book is written as though the reader is a part of a traditional, married, heterosexual couple, but the author is quick to point out in his introduction that this is a book for all dads, including ``single dads, divorced dads, gay dads, cohabitating but unmarried dads, nonbiological dads, or any combination of the above." That said, it's a great book for new moms to read, too, because it gives them a chance to see things from their partner's perspective. Besides, most new parents, regardless of gender, often need a little help navigating the rough terrain of baby- and toddler-hood.

This book deals as much with the idea of being a parent as it does the dirty, day-to-day details. The first 70 or so pages are dedicated to what goes on before the baby arrives -- pregnancy, labor , and delivery -- and the issues that a soon-to-be father may face during those times. Healy keeps things light, offering, among other things, a handy list identifying the types of people one is likely to meet when sharing pregnancy news. (He divides them into five categories, including ``Platitude Spewers" and ``Head Shakers," describing each type and the threat it poses to your sanity.)

Healy's writing style is entertaining and refreshingly blunt. ``When it comes to in utero education, there are two distinct schools of thought," he writes. ``The first being that the intricate composition of classical music will stimulate growth in the spatial-learning centers of your baby's brain, the second being that the first is a load of crap." He answers questions that many new parents, but especially fathers, have but are afraid to ask: What do I do when my kid has a play date? (Parents are expected to stay for the whole thing.) Can't I just drop my child off at her friend's birthday party, like our parents did when we were kids? (Nope.) What do I do when people think I'm incompetent just because I'm male? (There are several options, but ignoring them helps.)

The book can be a little simplistic at times, and the quips sprinkled throughout are more amusing if you read the book in short bursts -- which, really, is how books like this are supposed to be read. It's a quick read, too, which is good, since new parents don't have a lot of free time.

It's packed with survival tips, road rules, and tales from the trenches. It's also a reference tool with plenty of information on everything from what not to wear (expensive shirts + spit-up = not a good look) to a who's who in the world of children's music to how to cope with mind-numbing kids' television programs and noisy toys. Healy also manages to touch on a few hot-button topics (TV or no TV? Work full time or stay home with the kids?) without choosing sides, carefully illustrating the pros and cons of each.

Best of all, ``Pop Culture" is peppered with advice and anecdotes from real-life fathers that prove to a nervous new dad that he's not alone. ``One dad told me about a time he was walking down the street singing the `Elmo's World' theme when he walked past another man in a business suit," Healy writes. ``The other guy joined in with him." And it offers words of wisdom for mothers, extended relatives, and non-parents alike: ``Don't ever ask a father if he's babysitting. That's the worst thing you can say to a dad."

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