Still, there’s no denying that my student was on to something. I have written two previous books and hundreds of articles by myself, but none of those past works mean as much to me as this book. That has to do, I think, not only with the passion I have for the subject matter, but also with the manner in which the book was created. I’ve come to see it as the culmination not of a few years of intense work, but of a lifelong—at least for me—relationship between my father and me.
My dad isn’t a writer by trade—he’s a naturopathic physician. But he’s always encouraged me to write. He gave me a tape recorder when I was about 6 years old and taught me how to “write” by talking into it; I didn’t know how to read or spell well yet, but clearly had stories to share. I would tell anyone who listened about my probably-less-epic-than-I-believed tale of a wooden robot from the North Pole. I played with action figures for so long and so intently that my parents actually banned them when I watched TV. Looking back, I suspect that the tape-recorder gift may have been an attempt to keep an overly talkative 6-year-old from constantly pitching his story ideas. Regardless, it was the first of many moments when my dad would help foster my writing career.
Years later, when I actually began publishing articles for my college newspaper, he gave me the vital advice that, as often is the case with great writing, less is more. As I grew older, I inherited his enthusiasm for many of the vices we examine in the new book, such as craft beer, fresh sourdough bread, and pour-over coffee.
For much of my life, he would tell me we should work on a book together. As I started my career in journalism after college, these calls for a joint project grew louder. Among many other ideas, he pitched a book about the importance of happiness (the Dalai Lama beat us to market with The Art of Happiness) and a biography about his childhood in Brooklyn (which was a hard pass). Somewhere along the way, however, at an exact point neither of us recalls, we settled on the concept for The Good Vices. Which of us had the initial idea is another point on which we disagree.
When we landed a book deal, we embarked on a writing journey that was more difficult than either of us anticipated, but also more rewarding. For almost three years, we met once or twice a week at my parents’ house and talked daily to plan and outline each chapter. After these meetings, one of us would write a rough draft that the other would build on. It was a slow and frequently painful process. Minor revisions became cause for two-hour debates that veered off course and left us both wondering what we had originally been talking about. There were bigger-picture disagreements as well. My dad had a broader definition of what constituted a vice than I did, and felt the book should include chapters dealing with things such as walking and spending time with family, the opposite of a vice to me. I wanted the book laser-focused on hard vices such as drinking, chocolate, and sex (which, incidentally, was by far the most awkward chapter to write with my dad). Ultimately I relented, swayed by his argument that the book was about more than just vices; it was really about encouraging people to enjoy life in ways that could make them healthier. While I admit that my dad was right in this regard, I still vehemently reject his motto for our collaboration: “Father knows best.”