Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My First Book Review: "Faith of a Child" by Stefan Lanfer

There are a lot of parenting books out there. I mean, TONS of them. From faith based to sheer comical genious, each with its own approach when it comes to handling the ever changing, ever more difficult subject of parenting. There are so many to choose from that just looking at the rows of them in most bookstores is enough to send any new or soon-to-be dad into a black hole of "OH MY GOSH, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!?!"

So what IS a man to do? What's a soon-to-be or brand new dad supposed to do? Most the books are geared towards women, or they are repeats of the other 10,936 books you have already read. Your mind is racing and heart is pounding at this point, grasping for any sense of reality in these books that might just hit that "A-HA" switch to put you at ease. So you ask yourself, "Which one of these books is going to do it for me?"

The answer is this: Stefan Lanfer's "Faith of a Child and Other Stories of Becoming and Being DAD"

I was so excited when I got this book that I started reading immediately. I had read other reviews of it and the press release and was eager to get started on it. Then I read it, and I went from excited to honored for the copy he sent me.

"Faith of a Child" is an amazing piece of artwork. Intricate in it's written style, but simply amazing. One man's journey to find out what it is to become and be dad.

I absolutely fell in love with this book from the beginning. The stories are told so well and very vividly. There is a passion behind every word, every letter, that is to be admired. From beginning to end, front to back, this book is filled with wonderful stories of nerves, fears, triumphs, love, and potty training accidents.

Stefan shares his stories in this book as a pay forward for one event that changed his whole outlook on fatherhood. Dads sharing stories. No better way to get a glimpse into the dad world than hearing first hand stories from other dads. No cliche bits of advice, no PhD school driven philosophies. Just stories. I laughed, I cried, and through most of the book, related to the stories with my own memories of becoming a dad.

I don't think I have ever seen a better "dad guide" anywhere, anytime. If you are looking for the "A-HA" switch to be hit, then look no further. This is the book that will do it. I am sure I will enjoy reading it over and over, as will others who read the book after me.

I asked Stefan for a little Q&A insight into the writing of this book and his life as a dad. Here he is, in his own words:

1. How did it make you feel to see the book in it's final form, published for the world to see?

Fantastic.  Just fantastic.  In those final weeks before the book was finally done, I was so eager to cross the finish line and hold the finished product in my hand, my judgment got wonky.  After nearly a year toiling away, 80% of it into the wee hours after kids (and wife, and Scout the Dog) were asleep or before they were awake, I ordered a couple dozen copies of a proof - when one would have been enough to realize the cover design was still off (with text that was supposed to run along the spine hugging the edge of the front cover).  The optimistic take on that hiccup is I had a very rare, and maybe one day valuable, limited run of my book.  The discouraging take was I wasn't quite there yet, and it is hard to wait near the end.  It's always hard to wait.

2. Were you nervous about sharing so many personal stories with the world? Worried about putting your personal life in the public eye?

It is a lot to put out there, I know.  I just felt like, when I was getting ready to be a dad, the canned advice, and cliches I got from other dads ("Get your sleep now!") wasn't really helpful.  Neither were the tips and tricks and tactics from the certified experts.  What really made a difference for me -- the only thing that made a difference -- was when guys were honest, unfiltered, and transparent about the experience of being a dad.  I wanted to be able to pay that forward for other new dads and dads-to-be.

I also don't know that having these stories out there in a book feels more nerve-wracking or vulnerable than it is to share them in a blog.  This book and are very much like journals.  But they aren't journals.  I try to be honest and transparent and lay it all out there.  At the same time, there is this filter in my mind - this is not a stack of dusty journals my kids and grandkids thumb through at my memorial service and discover little gems ("I can't believe Grampa did that!"). These are stories that my mom reads, that my colleagues, that high school girlfriends, and random people I've connected or reconnected with through Facebook, I guess what it boils down to is, these are tell-a-lot stories, not "tell all."

3. Do you feel that writing the book, and your blog, help you when reflecting over the days and weeks, and you see what you've done right or wrong?
I don't actually see myself looking back over these entries to figure out what I've done right or wrong.  More often, as I write and share these stories, I am trying to put into words something I already know I've done wrong that I want to avoid repeating -- sort of a promise to myself, or to my wife, or my kids (and sometimes to Scout the Dog, who sure got taken down a peg when our kids arrived).  Sometimes I am eager to capture something just felt right.

4. Would you encourage other dads to blog or write about their experiences?

Absolutely.  Each day and phase of parenthood is so vivid, and consuming,and sometimes overwhelming, it is easy to think every moment will just burn into your mind.  How could you possibly forget?  The problem is, you do.  Time races on.  And each day and phase is followed by yet another, and another, and another, equally, or even more vivid, and consuming, and sometimes overwhelming.  There is a limit to what you can catch on film and video.

5. What was your biggest fear when you first found
out you were going to be a dad?
I was afraid of the unknown.  In all kinds of ways I thought (and think) of myself as a competent guy. I had been in new, dicey, confusing situations before, and had always managed to navigate through.  But something about the looming transformation from not-being to being a dad - I didn't know how it would feel, how I would be at it. 

6. What is your biggest fear now?

I feel so blessed about where we are in life right now.  It is such a precious time with young kids.  And to look up and realize we've shared nearly 11 years of marriage -that I have never had to navigate the adult dating scene (we met at 19!), which I know I would be horrible at.

So ,all the time I keep thinking of that cliche horror movie line, "It's quiet in here...too quiet."  And my imagination runs wild with the tragedies lurking around the corner - disease, death, accidental dismemberment, kidnappings, you name it - followed by me, after some period of grief and counseling, and maybe hiking the Appalachian Trail, signing up for a account.

We have it written into our Constitution the right to pursue happiness, but nobody is promised any of it - just the chance to pursue it.  I am very aware of what a gift this all is.

I am afraid of when my kids one day becoming teenagers and pushing boundaries. I am so not a tough guy.  Fortunately, I figure I have at least a decade to figure out how to at least play one on TV.

I am afraid for when my daughter starts dating --- I am in denial that will ever happen.

And to be honest again, other thing I am afraid of -- for the longest time, I have had this aspiration for my writing to one day BE the thing that I am able to do full time.  It feeds a restlessness that keeps me up to late, and up again too early, relying too much on caffeine -- that keeps me keeping at it.  At times, my biggest fear is that - even with this book now in print - all this time I spend around the edges of life, no matter how disciplined I am at it, will never add up to much, and that I will get caught ever always eying some notion of happiness that is far, far away on the horizon, never quite within reach.

When I get too far down the path of playing out that fear in my mind, this quote I came across recently from James Oppenheim, an author (OK, rub it in now), helps me regain my bearings, and reset priorities -  "The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise man grows it under his feet."

Happiness is growing at my feet in the form of my kids - whose happiness deepens and overflows into me in ways no writing project or royalty check could ever touch, and all the more so when I remember to take my eyes off the horizon, and to be in the moment with them.

7. If you could do anything in your life as dad over again, what would it be?

I would have asked other dads sooner and more often just to tell me their stories - the ones that begin, "My wife's water broke, and then..."  "I knew the game had changed in my marriage when..."  Everything else I read, everything else guys told me just stressed me out.  It was only through the stories I could start to picture it, that I could get inside the head space of a dad. 
8. Finally, for new or expecting dads out there, give them a few words of encouragement:
We all started as overwhelmed and clueless as you feel.

Brace yourself for a barrage of advice (like this) - from family, friends, neighbors, even strangers.  People of all stripes will feel at liberty to tell you what they think you're doing wrong.

Keep what resonates with you.  Chuck the rest.

The main thing is for you and your spouse to be in agreement - whatever you decide about whatever.

One other thought...

When we first started trying to have a baby, and when it took a while longer than we anticipated, my mother in law tried to encourage us by pointing out that the baby God had in mind for us was not just any baby, but a very particular baby, who would arrive only exactly when he or she was ready to arrive - not just when we felt we were ready to receive them.  When I heard that, I remember thinking, "Great.  Thanks a lot.  A sunny-side-up, spiritual silver lining.  Easy to say.  Can't you just let us be bummed out?"

But then we met our son, James, and I remember thinking, wow, was she ever right.  How could there be anyone, anyone at all but exactly you, exactly here, exactly now?  Not just A baby, but OUR baby.  In the fullness of time for his arrival, there he was - and then, two years later, there was Maya too.  Exactly and only them.  Just right.

Your question makes me think the same is true for expecting dads.  Your child is not given just any old dad at any old time, but only and exactly you, exactly now.  And however clumsy, or unsure, or even sometimes (go ahead, admit it) bitter about it all you may sometimes feel, at the moment he or she enters the world, the moment you become Dad, it's not just "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" but, it's a Son.  It's a Daughter.  It's a Dad!

Made for no one else but each other.


Stefan Lanfer

Faith of a Child


Jack said...

Sounds like it is worth checking out.

John T said...

It definitely is! I was totally shocked by how much this book would impact me. I would recommend it to anyone

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