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Ben Tanzer

Ben Tanzer is the author of the books My Father’s House, You Can Make Him Like You, So Different Now, Orphans and Lost in Space, among others. Ben serves as Director of Publicity and Content Strategy at Curbside Splendor and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons.

Blurbs

"Ben Tanzer explodes the myths of fatherhood and reassembles the pieces into something altogether more precious and fascinating: the truth."

– Jillian Lauren

"Ben Tanzer has that ever elusive elixir, that ability to be both funny and poignant simultaneously. These essays have that requisite gallows humor about being a parent, but there's tenderness oozing from the page, too, a kind of trickling empathy."

– Joshua Mohr

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Lost in Space: A Father's Journey There and Back Again

You Can Let Go

03/24/14

Given that I’m a person who has never really wanted to have children, you might wonder what got to me about Lost in Space (a book of essays by Ben Tanzer relating to his fatherhood). Admittedly, Tanzer managed to hook me with similar themes (though fictional) in his novel You Can Make Him Like You. Still, I have no kids and no real interest in having any . . . but I was interested in checking out this book.

I tried to figure out why Lost in Space intrigued me. It’s not just as simple as me realizing that I’m at least the child of a father and wondering what it might have been like on the other side, though that’s certainly part of it. For one thing, it isn’t like I haven’t had to consider the possibility I could become a father. There’s always that. Actually, now that I really think about the topic, I could probably keep listing reasons as long as I keep pondering. Motherhood or fatherhood (potential or actual), what was it like for one’s parents, or whatever, there are any number of reasons why people with or without children might be interested in someone’s thoughts on being a parent. Bottom line: this is a huge part of human life and I want to see inside.

Getting to the book itself, Tanzer delivers marvelously in these essays. I think of books on fatherhood and I immediately worry about schmaltz, oversentimentality. I worry about Todd Burpo. Whether it’s fair or not to have that as an immediate concern when sitting down with fatherhood writings, it’s what I worry about. However, I didn’t find that to be a problem in Lost in Space. There is sentiment, but not excessive sentimentality (this selection from “Towers”):

From the start, your relationship with him prompted you to feel things you had not allowed yourself to feel before. Emotions you had hoped to bury or avoid. The idea of them embarrassed you. You were above all that, and not because you were better than anyone else, but because you were not willing to embrace any of it. It was all too messy and real.

But not with him, never with him, you can tell him you love him all day long.

You can also imagine shaking him, though. Some- thing you never think about when dealing with adults. You know you’re not supposed to feel this way, much less actually say it out loud, and it’s not that you can truly imagine doing it, it’s just that you can’t not imagine doing it either.

He stops moving around so much.

“You can let go,” he says.

Parenthood essays also leave me cold when an author tries to hard to seem like a perfect parent, or when an author sounds like a parental version of Gomer Pyle. We all know no one is perfect, and we also all know that no one is really prepared. The big problem for me with either of these extremes is that they feel like poses, a mask the author has decided to present instead of his or her actual emotions. However, Tanzer makes clear that he is only doing the best he can at the same time that he doesn’t overplay it. The approach doesn’t end up feeling like a pose to me. To the contrary, it feels honest and real (this selection from “The Unexamined Life”):

Children are different of course. The shadows come later, but even talking about having children makes the chance for adventure seem less likely, and Debbie and I have definitely not been on enough adventures together. And yes, I know, people go on adventures when they are parents, but will we? I don’t know, which makes me think even more about regret and shadows, which leaves me spinning.

It also makes me want to run away.

Not that I want to run away from the idea of parenthood or Debbie, but for at least one last time I want to think I can be someone who takes chances and can live in the moment.

Debbie is not interested in any of that.

“Go, go somewhere I have been,” Debbie says, supportive, though maybe hedging her bets a little, “but go, and then come back, cool?”

My main impression from Lost in Space is being next to a confiding friend on a barstool.  Mind you, not just a ‘bro’ with whom conversation only goes so far: sports, women, and no more. Instead I mean one of those close friends who really need to talk and let it all out . . . to tell you things that have real, personal gravity (this selection from “I Need”):

I need sleep, long and deep and full of dreams about love, sex, pizza, Patrick Ewing, and Caddyshack. In these dreams I will be so happy, smart, funny, and full of esprit de corps that interns will float by my office in low-cut blouses begging to hear my innermost thoughts on Game of Thrones. I will not worry about bills or love handles, and I will not think about my children, not for even one moment, yo. If they happen to make an appearance they will say “excuse me,” “yes,” and “please,” eat over the table using actual utensils, and not constantly bang their heads or mysteriously find their hands around the necks of one another.

In the end, Tanzer hooked me just as much with Lost in Space as he did with You Can Make Him Like You. He manages to hit a lot of different topics in these essays: whether or not he does the right things for his boys, worry about what could happen to them, concern about who they will become, desire to share in their lives, the need to have life of his own, trepidation about having children, and the decision to go ahead with surgery finalizing what children he will have. There are a variety of different aspects of fatherhood in here, approached in a variety of different ways. I still don’t think I truly know what it is to be a father after reading, but I think I have shared some of what it’s been like for Ben Tanzer.

I found Lost in Space to be intimate, insightful, and vulnerable. It has a weighty subject, but the writing doesn’t rely on the subject’s weight to get by. Whether you have kids or not, I can’t imagine someone reading this book and not being affected. In short — it’s good, yo.

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