Although memoirs seem to have exploded in numbers over the last decade, and may be becoming tiresome as a genre, I personally enjoy them for the simple fact that they allow me to walk in somebody else’s shoes. I find ways to be empathetic and understanding and more educated on other political views, cultural customs, and walks of life through these types of books. One such book is Mommy Man: How I Went from Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad (2014) by Jerry Mahoney. I recently expressed a wish to receive this book for my birthday, along with some others in this post, and voilà, Jerry delivered. His publishers sent me a copy in return for a review.
Overall, this book is delightful, funny, and fast-paced. I read it in one day, because I sent my children outside to make tiny mud huts for their tiny wooden people, and then I got a glorious afternoon in an air-conditioned house with a soft spot on the couch with this book. I laughed and I cried. I cringed and I learned. It was a fun book to read.
The most delightful part of the book is Jerry’s voice. He writes exceptionally well, as he should, because he writes for television and has a great blog. His sense of humor, which he admits is one of his best qualities, stands out. Here’s a sampling of that humor through some of the chapter titles: “The Womb of Steel” and “Puppy-Kicking Doodyheads.” My favorite passage of the humorous ones was this: “No one was more aware of our impending parenthood than the UPS man. Every day, he arrived with between one and five squijillion packages full of adorable crap for our twins. It seemed like the entire inventory of Babas & Booties was shifting from their San Fernando Valley location to our West Hollywood condo, one cardboard box at a time” (p.205).
Additionally, there are astute comments throughout the narrative, such as “‘How was the flight?’ I asked, because that’s what everyone asks when they pick someone up at an airport” (p. 160). The book gave me a real sense of Jerry’s quick wit. The book is also peppered throughout with pop culture and television references, many from the 80s and 90s. As a child of those decades, I laughed out loud many times while reading the book.
In case you haven’t already figured it out, this book is about two gay dads, Jerry and Drew, who go through the process of having a baby through a donated egg and a surrogate. While the road is bumpy, the story turns out happily. Much of my crying was done toward the end of this book, when the twins are born. I wasn’t surprised at this outcome, since I follow Jerry’s blog and I know he has two children, a boy and a girl, but somebody reading this book without that knowledge might be more surprised at the outcome.
The disappointing part of the book for me was not learning more about the phase of Jerry’s life that involves the twins. I can read about those days on his blog, but I had hoped that the book would recount some of his many adventures as a gay dad. You see, my dad is gay, and I thought this book would create some identification for me as the daughter of a gay man. My memories of my dad that seem unique compared to other dads is his willingness to waltz, jive, or two-step on the dance floor, his ability to French braid hair, his mad sewing skills that produced many dresses, vests, and quilts over the years, and his ability to crush on male movie stars right along with me. I didn’t get to see any of these fatherly moments with Drew and Jerry that I expected. Instead, the story was of Jerry’s tortured adolescence as a closeted gay man, his eventual coming out and the search for a boyfriend, and then the quest for parenthood. This was interesting, but didn’t fit the title in the way that I imagined before reading.
However, Jerry’s fatherly instincts are on display, especially toward the end when the twins are born. He wrote this beautiful passage of the first twin’s birth, “For that one moment, there was no one on Earth younger than he was. Everything he saw, heard, and felt in that instant was brand new to him. Light, air, cold, confusion. Things most of us barely noticed jolted his tiny brain in a tsunami of stimuli. It was hard to conceive of something so new as this little boy. He had never been hurt or hugged, never seen day turn into night, never felt the soft touch of cotton against his skin, never seen a kangaroo or tasted a Fruity Pebble, never fallen asleep to the sound of crickets or woken up to a dog licking his face. Just for now, he belonged to that .001 percent of living creatures who couldn’t recognize Mickey Mouse or Mario. Or me, for that matter. But he would know me before them, and despite what he might say while slamming his door as a teenager, he would love me more . . . my entire world had changed. Bennett had become a person, and I had become a parent” (p. 252). I found this passage both moving and funny. Jerry has a sentimental side that blends nicely with his sarcasm and humor.
I loved the letter he wrote to his children in the introduction. He explains that their situation is one that might be misunderstood or result in mistreatment, but he reassures them that their daddies love them. “Plenty of babies are created because of carelessness, boredom, self-destruction, social status, fear, jealously, prom night, Pabst Blue Ribbon, emotional blackmail, the need for cheap labor or to round out a family singing group. But you’re here because of sacrifice, perseverance, and most of all, love” (p. x).
I suspect the sacrifice Jerry refers to is that of Tiffany, the surrogate, and Susie, the egg donor, who happens to be Drew’s sister. These women are marvelously supportive of Drew and Jerry, and I was inspired at their willingness to help out these men. In the end, when Jerry describes the hospital stay and the way their situation challenged the norm, he wrote, “After all my fear, we were treated like parents, both of us, with as much respect as any other couple that came through these halls to experience the most important day of their lives. . . . I think most people are just basically good at heart, and when presented with an unfamiliar situation, even if it may be slightly outside their comfort zone, they’ll tend to react in the most humane way possible. This was the world I’d chosen to raise children in, and in that moment, I had no regrets and no fears” (p. 261-262).
Now, this book may offend some people, especially my more conservative friends. There is some swearing. There is also a chapter about gay pornography. While it was mostly funny and not explicit in any way, it probably isn’t for everybody. I will say that the chapter has some redeeming value, as Jerry realized that the porn, as he grew older, made him sad. He wrote, “I wanted to talk to these boys, to encourage them to make better life choices, to protect them from the readers of this magazine. . . . It gave me a sneak preview of how it must feel to be a dad” (p. 70).
From what I can tell, Jerry seems to be a pretty stellar dad. I enjoyed reading about his adventure of becoming one, and I hope to read more in the future about his adventures in the trenches of parenthood.
Get your copy of Jerry’s book here.