Father knows best
How my dad started writing a blog and ruined my life.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the writer in my family. Everyone always counted on me to bring the literary heat, whether it was for a eulogy, a wedding toast, or just a hastily composed poem that could stand in for a real Mother’s Day gift. To my parents and siblings, I was the Ken Jennings of the written word – a little socially awkward, sure, but mainly just dominant. Then two things happened: A)
The whole thing started in my dad’s kitchen. As usual, my younger brother, Brian, and I were making fun of him about the fact that, since he’d retired after more than 30 years in finance, all he did was play golf, watch soccer, and read. He’d recently overcome his fear of technology and purchased a Kindle and had been setting a terrifying book-a-day pace. “Sounds pretty good to me,” my dad said, clearly not listening, then turned to take his reading elsewhere.
Just then a thought struck. “You should start a book review blog,” I blurted. My dad turned back, his eyebrow raised. “Oh? And what would we call it?” My brother began shouting ideas: “[Stuff] my dad reads!” “Two and a Half Manuscripts!” “No,” I announced, “we’ll call it ‘My Dad Reads Too Many Books.’ ” It was a perfect name. I looked at my brother, waiting for his adulation. “It’s not even a pun,” he said, pouting.
I left my dad’s house thinking this was yet another of my ideas that would be summarily thrown out, like the time I suggested we convert our attic into a scale model of He-Man’s Castle Grayskull. But a week later my father sent me an e-mail asking how we’d get this blog started. I was excited by the possibilities. My dad and I would get closer, it would give him something constructive to do, and I could passive-aggressively demean him with phrases like, “No, no, I do think it’s well written . . . for you.”
I set up the blog and instituted some simple guidelines. He would rate each book on a scale of one to five “ambivalent shrugs” (his go-to gesture), then offer up a sentence of synopsis and another of comment. He’d then just e-mail me the review, I’d post it, and everyone would feel good about themselves.
Within a week I realized I had a big problem: My father was a good writer. Like, really good. His spare style was perfectly suited for short reviews, and his dry humor came through surprisingly well on the screen. It was disgusting.
Even worse, other people noticed. I soon got an e-mail from a producer at WBUR, asking how she could get in touch with my father. On the radio, Rand Alexander was hailed as this literary savant (at one point, he may have referred to himself as “the next Oprah”). And yet I – the professional journalist with two unpublished novels and one weirdly intimate dream journal – was described merely as “an entrepreneur” seeking to capitalize on his success.
The following week, the lifestyle site
DailyCandy covered the blog in its national edition. Our page views octupled within hours. The blog’s in-box started filling with missives from publishing houses asking to send my dad free books. Fans sent glowing notes. Women with surprisingly attractive profile photos called him “not that old.”
I know I should have been proud, but instead I was alarmingly jealous, and I think my dad was beginning to pick up on it. If anyone, mentioned the blog, I’d cut them off with: “Oh yeah?! Well, I have two master’s degrees!”
At home and inconsolable, I took to loudly sighing at my wife. “What is your problem?” she finally asked one night. I whined in that tone I reserve for people who can’t easily back out of their commitment to me: “It’s just that I’m supposed to be the writer in the family.” She wanted none of it. “Not only are you being incredibly selfish,” she said, “but you’re doing it over someone who wishes for nothing but your happiness. You did this together; you should be celebrating that.”
She was right, of course. Racked with something resembling guilt, I decided to call my dad and apologize. But halfway through dialing his number I hung up. At this point, I figured, it made a lot more sense to write.