1. The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Tell Your Family History, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More
Bruce Feiler’s “Secrets” tops our list because of his innovative and practical approaches to parenting. His method itself is something of an innovation. He starts by asking good questions — rather than offering “chirpy banalities.” Rather than seek standard platitudes from family “experts,” Feiler looks to successful community builders who use cutting-edge techniques in the disciplines of science, business, sports, and the military. The result is a funny and thought-provoking playbook for contemporary families, with more than 200 useful strategies, including the right way to have family dinner, what your mother never told you about sex (but should have), and why you should always have two women present in difficult conversations.
2. All In: How Our Work First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses — And How We Can Fix it Together
Josh Levs puts on an impressive display of scholarship and journalism in All In. His enthusiasm for his subject is infectious, and his niche-filled knowledge on the subject of paid leave for mothers and fathers is current and comprehensive. Inspiring in his systematic and passionate approach to crushing gender stereotypes, yet practical in how this applies to individuals and families now. Everyone benefits when moms and dads get more quality time at home with their kids from the beginning. Levs gives us the information and resources to be a part of the cultural drive that is changing our policies and practices both inside the home and the workplace.
Writer, comedian, and family man, Jason Good, has put together a surprising debut. This memoir about an only-son’s larger-than-life father in his battle against Leukemia is simultaneously hilarious and tender. Virtually every paragraph is full of wit and laugh-out-loud observations. Take this sentence as just one of hundreds: “When we arrived back home, Dad said it was “juicin’ time” — the kind that requires a lawnmower engine encased in a missile silo to turn celery, kale, chard, and apples into briny tonic that one is expected to imbibe without weeping.” This is not a typical father-son tale of estrangement and reconciliation. Their relationship is strong from the beginning. To see the dramatic movements of their story unfold is to be moved.
4. When I First Held You: 22 Critically Acclaimed Writers Talk About the Triumphs, Challenges, and Transformative Experience of Fatherhood
Brian Gresko’s collection provides stories of men (specifically those who’ve had terrific careers as writers) speaking with unflinching honesty about their experiences as fathers. And that’s what infuses this collection with such power. Not all the fathers are good fathers. Not all have done it well. As Gresko notes, the essays together “create a nuanced mosaic of fatherhood, the darks and grays amid the highlights.” We need more honesty like this in our literature and our depictions and understanding of fatherhood. It’s not easy, but that’s life, isn’t it? Especially when it comes to parenting.
Categorized as “Humor,” this collection of fatherhood stories, also from career-achieving writers, offers its fair share of insight and wisdom. You can find plenty of amusing anecdotes from launching Barbie dolls out of a potato cannon, to changing diapers, to teaching them to pray, to the tedium of Little League, to the horror of birthing class. You can also discover plenty of substance. As Joseph Epstein writes, once upon a time a father might have been certain of at least one thing, that his business came before all else. In which case he could at least be seen as honorable, if inattentive. The cultural current of the day dictates engaged and activated parenting — and for a great deal of reasons. Parenting is probably more complicated than ever. Will all the attention necessarily mean we’ve created and raised better human beings? Only time can answer that question. But like each of these titles gives us glimpses of ourselves and our connected humanity glossed with optimism, let’s hope so.