Chris Gethard on Being a Lonely Dad and How Parenting Is a Never-Ending Poop JokePhoto by Mindy Tucker Books Features Chris Gethard
When I video call Chris Gethard about his new e-book The Lonely Dad Conversations, he’s just finished a jiu jitsu class and has yet to hit the showers.
“I mean, this is the kind of weird shit people have come to expect from me,” he says from the corner of a locker room.
As a darling of the alternative Brooklyn comedy scene, weird shit has defined Gethard’s life for a long time. He’s peed into a diaper in front of a crowd, been used as a human crane, and many other stunts (particularly on The Chris Gethard Show) that beggar belief. And now that he’s a dad in the suburbs of New Jersey weird shit still defines his life—though now it tends to be actual human feces.
“I mean, the amount of times that I’ve had urine and feces on me in the past four years, just that alone is hilarious,” says Gethard, who’s dad to four-year-old Cal. “Just the percentage of time that there’s feces touching me is hilarious. If you like a poop joke, parenting is one never-ending poop joke.”
The Lonely Dad Conversations isn’t the first time Gethard’s honed in on parenting in his work; his book Dad on Pills explores what it’s like to be a father struggling with mental illness, and worrying about his son possibly inheriting those same issues. While writing Dad on Pills, Gethard continually found himself ruminating on loneliness.
“It felt like the move to make was to try to crack open the conversation and say, ‘Am I just fucked up?’ Because that’s highly possible. I know that about myself. Would not be shocking to hear that I had trouble wrapping my head around something and people are like, ‘Yeah, no, that’s human.’” Gethard tells me.
He spoke with a dozen dads and one mom to see if he was an outlier, and the result was The Lonely Dad Conversations: “Everybody I talked to, no matter how they phrased their version of it, they totally understood and it felt cool to talk to a bunch of other dads about something when—my dad is a great dad, but when I when I think of his parenting style, I don’t really think of him reaching out for support too often. He definitely fits the baby boomer mold a lot more. So it felt good, and I think for a lot of the participants in it. We let our guards down and then floodgates kind of opened.”
Gethard writes admiringly of his friends in the book, giving them each their own personalized introduction and epithets (I mistakenly call them epitaphs during the interview, and Gethard quips that “is actually what you put on a gravestone, which is very reflective of your opinion of what parenthood is”—he has a point) to capture the fullness of their lives. From there, the conversations are written down interview-style, and though often funny, dig deep into the titular loneliness quite fast.
What Gethard describes as isolation, though, changed form from dad to dad. One said that being a father weighed him down with guilt, and another of the comic’s friends said it made him deeply aware of his own mortality.
“I love being a dad, don’t get me wrong, it’s been insanely gratifying. It’s been everything, all the positives that people said it would be. But for me, there was this real sense of something, and the word that was closest for me was loneliness,” Gethard explains. “And I felt that in a really strong way for a really long time and it wasn’t going away, so I started reaching out to other dad friends of mine. And some of them were like, ‘Yeah, loneliness, I know exactly what you mean.’ More often than not, they were like, ‘Oh, that. I would call it this instead.’ Probably it’s fair to say what I’ve learned is like, when you become a dad, a lot of your most deep-seated Achilles’ heels come to the surface, your insecurities come to the surface.”
Even as someone without kids, I found reading the book incredibly comforting. Many of the people interviewed laid out some of the same fears I have about potentially being a parent one day, and instead of amplifying those worries, they reassured me that I wasn’t alone.
The stories in The Lonely Dad Conversations are colorful and varied, and when I ask Gethard about his favorite interview of the bunch, he gushes, “I loved all of them,” lamenting just how much had to hit the cutting room floor. One of the most intriguing conversations, though, was with his friend Dave, who worked on The Chris Gethard Show and now is a stay-at-home-dad to twins in New Jersey. Dave taught his twins sign language, and as the only adult in the family proficient in ASL, he and his kids share a unique bond.
“He’s basically living in a world where there are two toddlers and him who know a secret language, which is very adorable and really cool. It also means that when you think of it from his perspective, these children only know how to communicate fully with him,” Gethard tells me. “And it backs him into this corner and it takes a lot of the issues that people are laying out in the book and it adds this really fascinating layer on top of them that kind of shows you this idea of wanting to connect more is very real, but also this idea of sacrifice. That chapter is one that I read, and I’m just like, ‘Wow, what a unique and specific corner you painted yourself into.’ And it’s funny and sad and great. And he comes off I think like such a giving father. And it made me really proud to know my friend Dave.”
Sacrifice is a common theme of the book; your life isn’t fully yours anymore if you want to be a devoted parent, and it’s a whole life adjustment. For Gethard, this meant leaving behind his cool Brooklyn life (“I guess we’re not gonna live in this one bedroom anymore in some hip neighborhood, and move out to the burbs,” he recounts), instead getting his kicks by being jumped by kids in a Spider-Man bounce house (“They physically beat the shit out of me until I could get out of that thing”) or volunteering to drive an ambulance once a week. In short, his life has changed, but the excitement is still there—just in a much different form.
Towards the end of our call, a man challenges Gethard to a fight.
“It’s not gonna go well, this guy’s really big. He’s smiling, but he’s strong. He’s visibly strong,” Gethard warns me.
Nevertheless, he goes into the fray, putting in his blue mouthguard as we say goodbye. Chris Gethard’s been covered in shit, what’s a flurry of punches to him?
The Lonely Dad Conversations by Chris Gethard is out now.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.