As I began Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Father, Husband, and Son, I was under the impression that the book was simply a collection of essays on what it means to be a family man in the midst of all of today’s craziness. But it is so much more than that. Chabon does give his thoughts on parenting and on being a man burdened with a certain amount of insecurity about his role, but because of all the personal history the author uses to illustrate his points, the book can just as easily be classified as an autobiography or memoir.
Divided into ten sections of 1-6 pieces each, Manhood for Amateurs visits various phases of Chabon’s life, beginning with his boyhood and progressing to his relationship with his wife and children in the present (2009). Along the way, Chabon reveals a truth known to most men, if they will only admit it to themselves: they are largely faking it. In fact, the first piece under the section entitled “Styles of Manhood” is called exactly that, “Faking It.” Here, Chabon addresses the male tendency to “put up a front,” to “pretend” to possess a competence in any given area that may, or may not, exist. The piece begins with his effort to hang a new towel rack in one of his bathrooms, a task during which Chabon says he “managed to sustain the appearance of competence over nearly the entire course of…three hours.” He, however, well knew from experience that “dealing with molly bolts” often leads to “tragedy.” That it did not happen that way this time, surprised him as much as it did his wife.
Another recurring theme of Manhood for Amateurs is the degree of freedom Chabon enjoyed during his childhood compared to how little freedom today’s children experience. Chabon considers the members of his generation to be among the very last children allowed to explore the “Wilderness of Childhood” on their own. This land, once “ruled by children,” a place where they could spend hours at a time free from adult supervision, has disappeared from a world in which every childhood activity seems to be strictly supervised and regulated by parents. Chabon explores how this change affects today’s children, and society, for the rest of their lives.
Manhood for Amateurs is filled with frank and insightful writing. It is a pleasure to read Chabon’s prose and to learn so much about the man responsible for books such as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Wonder Boys, and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Chabon has a way of gently exposing the little boy in all of us that is sure to make men everywhere smile in recognition.
Rated at: 4.0