It's kind of interesting that two excellent Berkeley-based writers named Michael both happened to come out with a book of ruminations on modern fatherhood (and its corollary, manhood) within a few months of each other. Since we added a second child to our own household a few months ago, and I'm now on (unpaid) leave to take care of him for a few months, this struck me as a good time to check out what two writers I greatly respect have to say on my current profession. (The other book is Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs). To a certain extent, both authors grapple with the state that Lewis articles in his introduction: "Obviously, we're in the midst of some long unhappy transition between the model of fatherhood as practiced by my father and some ideal model."
Unfortunately, Lewis has set such a high bar with his past books (Liar's Poker, Moneyball, and The Blind Side), that this loosely assembled patchwork of journal entries and Slate.com essays ends up being a total disappointment. It's kind of stunning to me that someone with his powers of both analysis and storytelling managed to say absolutely nothing interesting, provocative, or even amusing about being a father in this new age of fatherhood. Instead, he paints himself in the usual self-deprecating colors of progressive fatherhood -- ever the bumbling idiot, an object of dismissive scorn by his partner, etc. Almost every situation reads like a story one's already heard before, and his ambivalence about fatherhood will be familiar to, um, pretty much any male reader who's had a kid in the last ten years or so.
I guess some people might find this "frank" male perspective enlightening or refreshing, but as a fellow guy, I was mainly bored. Maybe I'm the wrong audience for this book -- after all, I was a stay-at-home dad for about ten months with our first child. It may be that his incredibly minor trials and tribulations end up sounding kind of whiny. Ultimately, I wish he could have found a fresh angle to take on the topic of parenting. For example, he knows a lot about incentives, he could have examined his own parenting through the lens of incentives (and arrived at a better version of the book Parentonomics). Or, as in Moneyball, he could have taken a look at the historically dominant paradigm of contemporary fathering and examined why that's undergone a dramatic shift in certain demographics (such as his) over the last ten years or so.
Like I said, I really like Michael Lewis' past books, but this one is a dud. Skip it and try out Michael Chabon's much funnier, provocative, and more emotionally compelling Manhood for Amateurs instead.