June 11, 2004

Be Prepared: A (Great, Funny) Practical Handbook for New Dads


I'll come clean. I was a Boy Scout. Growing up, our parents drilled it into my and my brothers' heads that we wouldn't get our driver's license until we finished our Eagle Project. [Needless to say, I got my Eagle just days before I turned 18, two years after my license. If I could find it now, I'd probably send it back.]

I may be a hopeless freethinker now, but my troop programmed me well; my immediate reaction to writer/comedian Gary Greenberg's new handbook for new dads was, "Be Prepared? Why, that's the Scout Motto." [The telltale size and Field & Stream-like illustrations by Jeannie Hayden--both deliberate references to the Scout Handbook--also helped bring on my flashback. Still in Saigon, still in Saigon... Huh?? Where was I?]

beprepared_yarmulke_dad.jpgDespite its nostalgic design, Be Prepared is thoroughly modern. This is not your father's parenting handbook. For one thing, the illustrations are hilariously inclusive, with every possible demo representable by a head covering thrown in: Rasta Dad, Yarmulke Dad, Trucker Hat Dad, and even Do-Rag-Sportin'-Gangbanger Dad join White Guy CoverDad in his Holden Caulfield Hunting Cap. It's like a Benetton ad from the Eisenhower era.

And Greenberg covers topics that involved, enquiring dads want to know: balancing work and sleepless nights of bottle duty; MacGyvering a diaper from a towel, a gym sock, and some duct tape; quieting a colicky baby; shooting good kid video; lessening the blowback from post-partum depression; child-proofing your cell phone and VCR. Some advice is so guylike, it'll shock the ladies:("As far as [baby] urine in the tub goes, most new dads won't change the water...most dads have relieved themselves in the shower all these years, and their feet haven't fallen off.")

But in a way, that's what is most important: this is not your wife's handbook, either.

Be Prepared is the first advice book I've read that feels like it's actually written for guys. It's useful, candid, effective, and funny, and if some of its suggestions ruffle a few petticoats, and others seem to this wizened old veteran dad of 3 months like common sense, well dear, would you rather we just went golfing?

Greenberg tries too hard sometimes to be cool ("The easiest way to make formula is a six-pack at a time. Get a clean beer pitcher..."), but he's never condescending. To his great credit, he operates from the (to me, self-evident) assumption that, whether they take off two weeks, four months, or a year-plus, dads want to be closely involved with raising their kids. Be Prepared is full of vital, practical information for the kid's first year.
beprepared_cover.jpgThat said, some criticisms: the organization's a little arbitrary. Seriously, if you haven't learned how to dispose of a dirty diaper before 6-7 months, you won't need to read it in a book; your neighbors will have called both Sanitation and Social Services on you long before then. And while Greenberg suggests the kid will be entranced by Sports Illustrated, I'm pretty sure ESPN's flashier graphic style would work better. [Don't read Maxim to him, though, it could "trigger a breastfeeding impulse."] Be Prepared's pretty light on gear recommendations, too, but if that's what you're looking for, have I got a website recommendation for you...

But my biggest problem with the book is its distinctive cover. I read my copy on the Metroliner from NYC last week, where I thought I'd dazzle fellow passengers with my easygoing, babyhandling expertise. Instead, when people spotted the book--and the cover's legible from Philadelphia--I'd get these annoying "aww, isn't that cute" smiles from everyone. I felt like Steve Martin in The Lonely Guy, who, to diminish the stigma of dining alone, would pretend loudly to be a restaurant critic. [Of course, "I'm reviewing it. For my website." somehow sounds even more hapless. The kid was quiet the whole way, thank you, no Benadryl involved.]

Dads want to be dads, but the biggest obstacle may be the lingering perception that we don't know what the hell we're doing. In a jacket blurb, Paul Reiser recommends keeping a copy of Be Prepared "by your bedside." I second that advice. And if you take it of the house, just wrap it in a copy of Maxim.

Buy Be Prepared at Amazon . Beprepared.net, the book's official site, has excerpts as well as useful downloads (and a useless but entertaining video of a dad demonstrating the book's back exercises.)


Why so hard on yourself for being a Scout? I don't agree with the policies either but at the time those weren't concerns. My Scouting experience taught me more and prepared me for life more than most other educational experiences. Even fatherhood.
-Chris Bob - Eagle Scout 1986 Troop 216
* Any advice in that book about cleaning up the snake's nest of power cables under my desk and behind the TV?

the scout thing's for humourous effect, mostly. I'm glad I learned how to make muffins in a campfire, even though it's a skill I don't use very much in New York City.

And in the babyproofing section, the book does say to run cables through a tube and use a surge protector. Take a look at the Cable Snake from cableorganizer.com

Of course, then there are those of us who read the phrase "Be Prepared" and immediately start humming the Tom Lehrer song...

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