STEVE INSKEEP, host:
When the writer Michael Lewis became a new father, he quickly found that his wife, Tabitha Soren expected him to do more than he thought he should.
Mr. MICHAEL LEWIS (Author): I was doing what I reckon was about 31.5 percent of the childcare and parenting. Tabitha would say that I did more like 29 percent. But nevertheless, I felt completely overloaded.
INSKEEP: Tabitha Soren is a former MTV host. Lewis is best known for his books on business and sports. And he's tried to make sense of fatherhood in a book called "Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood."
You write that the American male at some point sat down at the negotiating table with the American female and got fleeced. What do you mean by that?
Mr. LEWIS: Well, you've got to keep in mind that I wrote these things in real time. This isn't looking back on fatherhood. This is in the moment. I got this kind of frustrated with my ineptitude after we had our first child.
And I was just amazed at how much tougher a deal I had than my father. He would see me changing a diaper or trying to struggle to get an infant into some clothes and he would turn to me and say, what are doing? You're not supposed to be doing that. I'd say what do you mean? He's said, I didn't talk to you until you were 21.
There was all this new and added responsibility forced upon me, and I looked across the table and I thought I was married to this wonderful woman who had somehow got a deal that my mother would kill for and I couldn't understand what had happened.
INSKEEP: Well, since you're right there in the room with your wife Tabitha Soren, let me ask you Tabitha, did he get fleeced?
Ms. TABITHA SOREN (Former MTV Host): Michael never gets fleeced. I think compared to his dad; it's a much more different ballgame. But I think probably the emotional payoff down the line is probably more rewarding. That said, it's not as if his dad had no contact with the kids. His dad just did a lot of the fun stuff. And Michael continues that tradition.
INSKEEP: What do you mean?
Ms. SOREN: Well, Michael tends to be the one taking one child out to an adventure, and there's a lot of drudgery involved in parenthood and that probably falls to me or our nanny.
Mr. LEWIS: I tell you that it is absolutely true that I am sort of hardwired to avoid unpleasant chores. There are a lot of poo diapers. You know, there was a lot of getting up in the middle of night. We both were absolutely miserable. No one prepares you for how it sucks and…
Ms. SOREN: It depends on what kind of baby you have, I think.
Mr. LEWIS: True, but you start with sleep deprivation, which of course is a common torture technique. So you are essentially, you're in Guantanamo. But you're there voluntarily. And that's actually why I started writing about it. I thought, someone's got to tell the world what this is like, because it's just not fair.
INSKEEP: Well, now, did there come a moment, Michael Lewis, when you realized that in addition to not liking the drudgery you were completely incompetent?
Mr. LEWIS: Well, I didn't feel like I was especially incompetent. I looked around and I've had lots of conversations with other fathers, free and frank since then, and have discovered that I'm not that unusual. That, in fact, most men, when the thing arrives, and it feels like a thing to a lot of men, the big problem is a lack of natural emotional attachment and it means that this emotion you're supposed to be feeling out of the gate is something you have to acquire, you have to learn it.
Mr. LEWIS: However, having said that, just sort of when it comes to practical tests, generally everything from changing a diaper to trying to repair a car, I'm not the go-to guy.
INSKEEP: Do you feel like you've just said something that a lot of people would be afraid to articulate, that you just love your child in a different way, and maybe even in a more distant way at the beginning than the mother would.
Mr. LEWIS: I think people who have fought through this aren't afraid of it at all because they see that you do get to a place that - or I have anyway - where I feel completely and naturally in love with my children. And I'm sure that people who are in the middle of it would be loathed to articulate it because it makes you sound like a monster. My father - it's very funny - my father called me three or four days ago because he's just finished the book, he was laughing.
Mr. LEWIS: He said, one, he couldn't believe what I'd been through, 'cause it was so alien to his experience as a father. You know, you did this stuff? I can't believe you did this stuff. And then he said, some people are going to read this and they're going to think you're a terrible human being. He says what are you going to do with that? And I said, well, you know, I do think that I've just said what was true.
INSKEEP: When you say that you don't feel that you were exceptionally incompetent, in some of the drudgery…
Mr. LEWIS: Can I tell you a little story?
Mr. LEWIS: It'll illustrate sort of the nature of my incompetence since you're interested in that. So…
INSKEEP: It's a way that I as a father can relate to you. So let me just tell you that much.
Mr. LEWIS: Yeah, but this is interesting to me because it showed how there's like a blind spot in my brain. So this was not that long ago. This was a few months ago. I had Walker who was, you know, a one-year-old in a swimming pool. You know, I had the swim diaper on him and it was a public swimming pool, and I realized when I was with him that I was tense, and I realized that for seven, eight years now I'd been tense whenever I was with one of our small children in a swim diaper in a swimming pool. You know, you put on a swim diaper like you put on a pair of underpants, you step into them.
Mr. LEWIS: And I thought, what if they poo? If they poo, how am I going to get this thing off of them? Sure enough, for the first time in eight years, one of my children with me poos in the swimming pool. We're in a hotel. I rush him back to the room thinking - sweating, I'm literally sweating, I just don't know what I'm…
Ms. SOREN: It did not leak into the water.
Mr. LEWIS: No, no, You know, we're not - this is not a story of our social irresponsibility. This is a story of my incompetence. So I get back into the room and I yank the thing off like I put it on, and the poo starts flying everywhere. I mean it was like poo shrapnel in the air. And I got - first I prepared the ground for this. I had towels all over - I had all the hotel towels on the floor, and Tabitha rolls in in the middle. And she says, what are you doing? She said, it just comes off this way, just like a regular diaper. There's a little strap you pull.
INSKEEP: You mean the sides.
Mr. LEWIS: You can rip it open. And I said, amazing. And she looks at me and she says, you thought you just got lucky for eight years? And I thought, yes, I thought I just got lucky for eight years. I thought the world configured itself to booby-trap me in these situations and I had the escaped booby-traps for eight years and now I'd finally stepped in it.
INSKEEP: I've got just one more question for you Michael Lewis. You said that your father read this book where you describe all these things that you did or were forced to do that he never had to touch. Was there any part of your life, your experience, that he was willing to admit that your way might have been better or richer?
Mr. LEWIS: My father and I don't have that kind of relationship where he would admit that my misery was somehow something that ennobled me.
INSKEEP: That's because he didn't change your diapers as a child. That's why you don't have that.
Mr. LEWIS: That may be right, but I don't think he actually feels that way and let me tell you this, oddly, I don't either. He was a dad of his generation and I'm a dad of mine. And he found the path of his generation, and I'm finding the path of mine.
INSKEEP: Michael Lewis is the author of "Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood." We spoke with Michael Lewis and his wife, Tabitha Soren. Thanks to both of you.
Ms. SORREN: Thank you.
Mr. LEWIS: Thanks, Steve.
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INSKEEP: And you can read an excerpt of "Home Game" at our Web site, npr.org.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
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