March 4, 2008

Queer Eye for the Parent Guy

When I first learned I was going to have a child, my first thought was, “Woo Hoo! I am THE MAN!” But my second thought was one of fear. “What do I do now? What do I know about raising a child? How do I do this parenting thing?!” The only thing I could think of was to clean out the parenting section of the local Barnes & Noble. In all, I think I have about 15 to 20 books on some aspect of parenting. So, when I was asked to review the newly released book The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting I was really excited. I mean, thanks to my mother and her wild ways, I’ve hung around my share of gay men. Plus I’m a father. I’ve read my books but I’ve also learned through the school of hard knocks.

Brett Berk, the author, uses his background in early childhood education and his experience as a pre-school teacher and director along with his work as a consultant to companies wanting to sell you things you don’t need, to tell you how you can best parent your child. To me, this is similar to the priest at the catholic Engagement Encounter giving advice to married couples. He’s got an idea about how it should be done but his experience is lacking in some key areas.

Nonetheless, I was eager to read the book. And as you begin reading, you quickly realize that this is not your mother’s parenting book. No, Mr. Berk is no Dr. Spock. I mean, you have to get past all the cursing… and all the references to alcohol… and drugs… and hangovers… But once you do, the read is quite enjoyable as the tone is light and witty and even educational.

Overall, the book has many useful tips and thought-provoking aspects. I think the new parent, like I was three years ago, would enjoy reading this book and letting it digest without any aversion to the tone of Mr. Berk’s style – which is to say, bordering on condescension. The tone, especially at the beginning of the book, is one of “I know how to parent kids because I’ve been a pre-school director and you don’t know how to parent because you are so close to the situation that you can’t see the forest through the trees. Here, let me enlighten you.” Admittedly, this was hard for me to get past now that I have been parenting twins for the past two and a half years. I feel like I’ve earned some serious parenting stripes and I’m not sure I’m up for a guy with no kids telling me that he knows better.

But once I got over my issues, I do have to admit that the book can be a pretty useful tool in dealing with various stages and events in children’s (and parent’s) lives. Some of what he writes is stating the obvious (he spends a great deal of one chapter telling you not to lie to your kids) but others are quite good and a nice reminder even for a more veteran parent like myself (like how to best communicate with your child without using the word “no”).

To illustrate his points, Mr. Berk uses examples from friends and family members who happen to be parents. Luckily for Mr. Berk, his friends and family happen to be the worst parents on the face of the earth. Parents who yell, hit, threaten, berate, act childish, and decide that the time to start potty training is during a six week vacation. With the examples of those closest to him, he gives us better alternatives and the reason why it works. Many of these examples come from extended stays with friends who have kids and he spends a great deal of time telling us how much he loved working with kids but also how much trouble they are when on these visits. Now, once the book is released, I imagine he won’t have any more friends with parents who want to stay with him so perhaps his problem will be solved.

Judging by the tone of this review, you might conclude that I would not recommend this book. But that’s not entirely true. However, I wouldn’t recommend this book to just anyone. The book has good information and can be a really useful tool if you are the right person to receive this message in a relaxed, alternative way. If you are young, hip and clueless as a parent or don’t mind getting advice from a know-it-all gay guy, then this is the book for you. After all, it IS fun to read and does have useful information. But if you are conservative in your views or don’t like to read about the author sneaking in a “quickie” before the kids get back from an outing (FYI, Brett, Too Much Information), then you might look elsewhere for your parenting tips.

Having said all this, I’d give the book a solid B. There is some solid information that can be very helpful when navigating this slippery slope of parenthood. It’s a good, fast read and is easy to understand. If you are a progressive person who doesn’t mind a few four-lettered words mixed in with your parenting advice, this book is worth the price. You can pick up a copy here.

P.S. I have an extra copy of this book. If you would like a copy, leave a compelling reason why you need a parenting book and I’ll choose a winner.

7 Comments

  1. Pues, your gay godfather would be so proud of your parenting skills!
    Well, but does the guy give any advice on style or decor? Does he throw some good martini receipes?

    Comment by Grandmother — March 5, 2008 @ 12:22 am

  2. my reason: i have twins. and i like condescending tones. don’t know why, but i do. to both of the aforementioned things.

    Comment by mamie — March 5, 2008 @ 9:20 am

  3. Okay, I was ROFLMAO just reading your review. As for the extra copy, don’t you think those of us with twins need a good laugh now and then?!

    Comment by Mam├íChanga — March 5, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  4. Dude, you’ve met me; you’ve seen me parent. ‘Nuff said.

    Comment by Rattling The Kettle — March 5, 2008 @ 12:13 pm

  5. Hey there. Brett Berk here, the author of the book you’re discussing. I wanted to drop a line to say thanks so much for your interest in the Gay Uncle’s Guide. I really appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to read it or that you’re thinking about reading it. (And if you’re thinking about it, my advice is really to just go ahead and buy it. It’s worth it.) I know that the book’s tone and approach is not for everyone, but I think the advice it contains IS. It’s sound and based on 20 years experience with tens of thousands of kids. But it’s also meant to be lighthearted. Useful and a laugh. That’s the idea, and this reviewer seemed to get that.

    I’m on a big fat gay tour over the next few weeks promoting the book, but I’m happy to respond to any specific questions or comments you all might have. Drop me a line in the “Comments” section of my site (www.brettberk.com) or leave a note here, and I’ll do my best to get back to it.

    Thanks again for your interest. Happy parenting!

    Uncle Brett

    Comment by Brett Berk — March 5, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

  6. Uh oh. I would love the book, but I don’t have twins. Just two boys – 3 years old and 9 months old. And I lose “it” at least 12 times a day, because 3 plus 9 is 12. And because I have no idea how to handle all the whining from the 3 year old, or the arguing, or all the energy. And I get crabby and raise my voise, which I’m sure isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. Especially when the 9 month old is totally have a bad day because of an ear infection or teething or both or no good naps or all of the above or none of the above. And get this, I’m a preschool teacher – put me in a classroom of 18 4 year olds and I’m golden. Calm, cool, and collected. Stick me at home for a day and I go crazy, seriously. I’m always looking for new reads and a new perspective.

    Comment by Cathy — March 6, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

  7. Oh yeah – any interest in joining an online book club? http://momslibrary.blogspot.com

    Comment by Cathy — March 6, 2008 @ 5:10 pm

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