Drew Magary and the Rules of the Fatherhood Memoir

In the past five years Drew Magary has given the world The Postmortal, a novel about a pre-apocalyptic world, Men with Balls, a "professional athletes handbook," and now Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood. It's not the typical parenting memoir.

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In the past five years Drew Magary has given the world The Postmortal, a novel about a pre-apocalyptic world, Men With Balls, a "professional athletes handbook," and now Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood. The book was released by Gotham Books on May 16, and as Magary told me last Friday, "It cracked the top 100 last night, which was good because I spent the whole day looking at the Amazon rankings and shitting myself. What did I do wrong? Am I not whoring enough? I should whore more." 

That comment is representative of Magary's trademark style, a combination of frank revelation and humor (saying it like it is while also admitting self-deprecating truths about oneself, probably in the presence of a curse word or two) that's readily present both in print and online — he's a columnist for Gawker and Deadspin, and writes for GQ, as well. Magary began compiling his reflections on parenting back in 2006 on a blog called F.K.S. (Father Knows Shit). When he moved to Deadspin he started writing about sports before "folding the parenting stuff back in," as he puts it, in 2011, with a regular column called, appropriately, Dadspin. In some ways, the latest book, which he says he wrote in about 5 months, has been a long time in the works: the eldest of Magary's three children is now seven. The book and his blogging are similar but different: "It’s the same tone I have when I write for Deadspin," he told me. "The challenge with the book was to make these bits of my life into real stories."

Someone Could Get Hurt begins with Magary's youngest son's premature birth and time in the NICU. Following that powerful story, which threads through the book (expect some tears) come numerous lighter tales that read fast and humorous — the chapters are perfectly sized for tired parents, I'd imagine, though they worked well for this non-parent, too — and function in the creation of an overall narrative arc that's basically a 21st-century dad coming-of-age story. Of his first venture into full-length memoir territory, Magary points to the challenge facing any self-aware author: "I do my best to make it personal but not narcissistic. There’s a difference between being an exhibitionist writer and connecting with a reader. I want to be conscious of writing stuff people can connect to." Not only does he write prolifically, but also, he reads pretty much everything that's written about his work ("I google myself," he admits). With this book, he's felt more apprehension upon the release than with the others. After all, it's a memoir. "If people don't like it, they're rejecting you," he says. Still, he notes that he'd prefer for people to hate it than for it to get what he calls "the fucking B review. It can be fun when people hate it. Usually it’s just someone’s who’s never going to like what you did anyway, and they’ll hate it for some reason that you didn’t even think of," he says. 

Magary wanted to do something different with his memoir about dadhood, going beyond the glut of books "that are like, 'Hey, I’m a dad, it’s crazy!'" or "that superficial sort of 'ewww parenting is weird and funny and wacky' thing." Though this book is very funny, funny isn't enough. "There has to be something deeper than that," he says. "There has to be pain, love, frustration. You tap into those primitive emotions." In his effort at that, he speaks freely of the foibles of his children and himself, though he doesn't name his kids, both for privacy and because "the second I give my kids a name they start being mine and not yours," he explains. Also off-limits is "anything the kid would have a legit grievance with when he's 24," or "things like any sex between my wife and I. No one wants to hear about that." For the record, she loves the book.

Within the limits, though, there is plenty: The time he spanked his child (and how he felt about that), the time he got a DUI (and how he atoned for it), the time his son peed in a hotel pool, the time he dressed up in an accidentally awkward Halloween costume, and numerous other adventures in parenting ranging from the painful to the hilarious and sometimes both. The other key to memoir writing, he says, is to take care of the people you care about. "I think it’s clear when you read it that I like my kids, I like my family," he says. 

Back to that occasionally dirty word, memoir, I asked Magary what he felt about the common criticism of "oversharing" that many women get when they tell their personal stories online and in books, and how he's felt about the public reaction to his own tales. "I think someone will say, 'a memoir? Fuck you, Drew.' Just the word memoir angers people," he said. "Here’s a book about me, by me. I think women get more shit for it than men do. I think people hold women to an unfair higher standard. And guys can be bloviating assholes. I don’t think that’s fair. There’s also a lot of shitty memoirs by women."

For anyone who does write about his or her life, experiences inevitably occur that you can identify even in the moment as fodder, sometimes out of a kind of therapeutic necessity. "When my son was in the NICU," he told me, "I knew I’d eventually be writing about him. I knew I’d have to get it out of my system." The story of his DUI had been in his head for a long time, too, he says. Though it was painful as an experience, "I paid my debt. Now that it’s down on paper, I know that’s over with. At the same time, I still want to go out and have beer — just not drive afterward."

As he googles himself and checks his Amazon rankings, Magary confesses there's a certain kid-like joy simply at seeing his latest in the paper-flesh. "I still pick it up and am like, "Oohhh look, I wrote a book," he says. He's not letting his kids read it, though: "I just put it on a high shelf." Adults can reach for it there, and should.

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