“Oh, I don’t know, Mom,” I said. “I don’t think having a baby has to change a person’s life.”
After a long moment of staring in astonishment at me, my mother began laughing. For the rest of the evening, whenever she looked at me, she would start laughing. Some months later, after my world had turned upside-down, I would record my casual remark as number one on my list of “The Ten Dumbest Things I Ever Said.” I’ve said a lot of dumb things since then, but my words from that evening still rank as number one. Nothing else has even come close.
I was reminded of that evening when I began reading comedian Jim Gaffigan’s Dad Is Fat (ISBN 978-0-385-34905-5, 274 pages, $25), in which he recounts his adventures as a father living with his wife Jeannie and their five small children in a two-bedroom walk-up apartment in Manhattan. Yes, you read that correctly — five children in a two-bedroom apartment in the heart of New York City. Shipping out steerage on the Mayflower seems palatial by comparison.
Such tight quarters and so many children might break the nerve of the strongest man, but Gaffigan has that best of protections against insanity: his humor. He is, after all, a professional comedian who has done major television specials, a man with an eye for the absurd and the talent to call it to our attention. In Dad Is Fat — the title comes from a drawing of Gaffigan by his oldest son labeled “Dad is fat” — Gaffigan shows us that he also has a gift for bringing his humor to the printed page. Here, for example, he discusses women and pregnancy:
“But truly, women are amazing. Think about it this way: a woman can grow a baby inside her body. Then a woman can deliver the baby through her body. Then, by some miracle, a woman can feed a baby with her body. When you compare that to the male’s contribution to life, it’s kind of embarrassing, really. The father is always like, ‘Hey, I helped, too. For like five seconds. Doing the one thing I think about twenty-four hours a day. Well, enjoy your morning sickness — I’m going to eat this chili. Mmmm, smell those onions.’”
In short comedic riffs, Gaffigan covers all the typical trials of parenting: changing diapers, taking children to restaurants, breaking up fights, going to church, dealing with sickness, visiting relatives, going on vacations. Below are just a few of his observations:
On playgrounds: “It is probably unique to NYC that your children can’t play in a sandbox because it’s closed due to rat poop.”
On children in church: “Anyone who has ever taken their babies and kids to a church, a temple, a mosque, a wedding, a funeral, or any other place of reverence understands the true meaning of torture.”
On children as carriers of infectious diseases: “I don’t want to give terrorists any ideas, but if I really wanted to cripple a city with biological warfare, my WMD of choice would have to be a toddler.”
On Dr. Seuss: “Is it possible to read a Dr. Seuss book and not sound a little drunk?”
On leaving the apartment: “If it’s winter and there are hats, gloves, scarves, and mittens involved, just forget it. You might as well just stay in. It will be spring thaw by the time you get them bundled.”
On the ideal meal for children: “Pizza is the answer to kids’ eating problems I mentioned earlier. Pizza is so easy. Kids don’t need utensils to eat a pizza. Hell, you don’t even need a plate. The crust is the built-in edible plate. Pizza makes you a hero in the eyes of your kids. ‘Daddy got pizza!’ You are higher status walking in the door with a pizza than if you were returning from a war with a Purple Heart.”
On Disney World: “To me the term ‘Disney Vacation’ is equivalent to the term ‘Chuck E. Cheese Fine Dining.’”
Enough. The temptation is to go on and on quoting from Dad Is Fat because of Gaffigan’s exuberant take on family life and children. He has enlivened the text with numerous family photographs and drawings amusingly labeled; the series of sketches showing how he and Jeannie put the children to bed at night was especially clever.
My hope for Mr. Gaffigan is that he sells a million copies of this fine book so that he can then move his wife and children to a larger apartment. On the other hand, if he doesn’t move and if you can locate his street address and would like an autographed copy of Dad Is Fat, you should have little trouble finding Jim Gaffigan. As he himself says: “If you come to visit us at our apartment building, there is no need to ask what apartment we live in. Just follow the screaming.”
Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. Crown Archetype, 2013. 288 pages.