‘I spent much of my childhood in fear’, says Tom Shillue, the famous stand-up comedian. He adds: ‘But fear is not always a bad thing—it keeps you alive.’ Is his first printed book a glorification of family violence or simply a coming-of-age story full of hyperbole and exaggeration?
No one really knows the secret of good parenting. Some ideas seem to work most of the time, while other proved to be inefficient. As time goes by things that used to seem normal and wholesome in the past – like spanking and calling your kids names – are now considered barbarous and downright harmful. However, people mostly tend to forget bad things and only like to reminisce about something pleasant and funny. Hence it is all too easy to get influenced by the so-called ‘nostalgia filter’: the myth that the way you were raised is a shining example of really good parenting.
There is no doubt that Tom Shillue is a talented storyteller. However, the very first chapter of his autobiographical book called Mean Dads for a Better America might disgust you by a vivid description of two boys who are so afraid of their dad that they cannot find the courage to ask him to stop the car and get them some food. Nonetheless, in the following chapters you will find a lot of hilarious stories that will make you roar with laughter.
There are also some deeply touching moments that will make you feel strong sympathy for the author and his family. There is nothing artificial about the book: it is 100% sincere.
The author believes in a patriarchal society where your dad is virtually a substitute for God. Shillue writes: ‘Fearing God is obviously important, but how are you going to fear God if you don’t fear your dad?’ Shillue goes so far as to compare his dad to Darth Vader, and he openly admits that his family could have existed not in the 1970s, but rather in the 1790s. In this brave old world kids were afraid to ask their fathers for anything, and fathers were so absorbed in thought that they were totally ignorant of their sons’ hunger.
Anyway, if your hungry son throws up, you can always mix the vomit on your car’s floor mat with dust. This will help you to pretend that nothing has really happened so that you can continue being wrapped up in your thoughts: after all, children should be seen and not heard.
Surely, Mean Dads for a Better America should not be taken at face value. The author uses a lot of hyperbole and definitely exaggerates his liking for domineering fathers. The ideals of the modern society evidently shifted to gender equality and greater children’s freedom: the only reason for this is that the old model was not as great as some people would like to think. Everybody wants his dad to be a hero: is it possible that the author rationalizes his father’s behavior to make it seem beneficial rather than detrimental?
Whether you agree with Tom Shillue’s opinion or not, you can’t deny that he wrote an interesting and thought-provoking book. Some books are meant to be read and forgotten; Mean Dads for a Better America deserves to be read and discussed.