Jim Gaffigan signs a hundred books, takes off his coat, and then signs a hundred more—his smile as sincere for the next fan as it was for the first. There is conversation. There are pictures. People walk away smiling, a moment of bliss just before it is tweeted.
It is a weeknight in Santa Monica and the serpentine line of polite book buyers moves in an orderly fashion. They are still laughing about the question and answer portion of the evening. They are clutching their copies, waiting for Gaffigan to sign it with genuine appreciation. The night has been more comedy act than book reading, and the intimate setting of a Barnes & Noble conference room lends itself to their comfort. We are all friends here.
The book is called Dad is Fat, which makes me suck my stomach in a bit (unsuccessfully) when I have my photo taken with the author (above). Jim Gaffigan is not, despite a line of food-based humor (including a new book, Food: A Love Story) that might suggest otherwise, fat. His kids, however, beg to differ—hence the title.
I suspect that Gaffigan has been working out. Kids are all about the tough love.
Prior to the book signing we had a chance to sit and talk about it.
Whit Honea: You wrote a book on fatherhood. Is that because you see everything now through the dad lens?
Jim Gaffigan: I think, for me, when I had two kids I could compartmentalize my life where I was the dad, I was the comedian. And then when we had three, and four, and five, out of necessity the title of “Dad” came first, and I am grateful for that . . . the weight of the responsibility and the benefits just outweigh any other title or identity.
WH: It’s always there.
JG: Totally. It’s great. I mean, in the end, I love that I have this constant reminder that this is what I know, myself, personally, that I am going to evaluate my existence on . . . I’m trying to hold on to that, keeping in touch with the whole dad identity, and believe me, I’m not that good at it, but having that dad identity is pretty important.
WH: I think saying you’re not good at it while being present like that means that you are good at it. You’re there, and so many kids don’t have that.
It’s funny, having these conversations I always feel like people expect me to be some champion of dad know-how—that just because I write about parenting I should have all the answers. Then I’m sitting at home in my boxers typing away and ignoring my kids for large chunks of the day.
JG: That’s what I thought was ironic about writing this book. I feel like every three months I am recalibrating how my life is run so that I can be a decent parent, and obviously a good partner to my wife, but doing this book really made me a bad parent because writing is a solitary . . . you know, with stand-up I can have a short attention span, but with writing an essay you have to do justice to it and there’s this stationary time. It’s not like I missed dance recitals, but I missed pick-ups that I probably could have done.
When my wife asks me if I can take our daughter to the orthodontist, and I’m like, can I do it? Yes! I prefer being in the mode that I almost have an annoyance with it. The fact that I’m yes! about taking her to the doctor makes me feel icky. Does that make sense?
WH: As far as that’s the quality of time that you’re getting?
JG: Because I’m trying to steal away these moments. You know as a kid, they’re not going to remember things like when you took them out for ice cream, but was my dad there when I was uncomfortable getting my braces tightened?
WH: That’s it. I always feel like my kids get a quantity of my time, not quality. Speaking of time with the kids, you wrote about doing “once in a lifetime things, again” and I thought that was great. It really hit home. I know the first time around, with my first son, I felt that there were these big things that I absolutely needed to be a part of, stuff that we had never experienced before, and it felt like that was the only chance to do it. And then all of a sudden we’re doing it again, and it loses some of the hype. At the same time, the second kid, and subsequent kids, you feel like you’re shortchanging them if you don’t give them that same level of awesomeness.
JG: Of course. I think there’s something strange about the once in a lifetime things occurring again, and children exposing you to things. It melts cynicism. It’s like even though you think that getting a Christmas tree is silly you’re going to do it and you’re going to squash your cynicism, and through their eyes you are going to have a positive perspective on it.
But there is also something… I love how my children have opened me to things. Things I never thought I’d be open to, like musicals. Look, I’m a Midwestern guy. I was not into musical theater. I didn’t understand it. I was reluctant. It was all Cats to me. Now, being inundated by the Sound of Music and Disney Princess songs, I understand that. I mean, I don’t know the value of it, but I think the larger value is the exposure to things. It just makes you more open. You have the openness of a child. I don’t know, it sounds so esoteric. To someone that doesn’t have kids it sounds…
WH: You’re exposing them to different cultures outside of their own comfort zone.
JG: Yeah, and you, inadvertently, are being exposed to these things, and it’s pretty amazing, right?
WH: I grew up in Arizona, man, and we didn’t have a vast array of cultural influences . . . we had what was prevalent there, and that was it. It wasn’t until I moved away after college, back and forth between L.A. and Seattle, that I saw things in the world—that I was exposed to other things, and I was like, holy cow! I don’t want my kids to have to learn this. I want them to grow up with it. That’s something we want to foster in them early on. It’s not that I wasn’t an accepting person in terms of other cultures and lifestyles, I just never had exposure to much of it.
JG: Right. That what I love about New York City. I mean, I love Indiana, but I like the fact that when we leave our building there’s this store that essentially caters to drag queens. When my kids see a drag queen they aren’t thrown by it, and you know what, they shouldn’t be thrown by it. That’s not to say I don’t want them to have their own values, but I’m a different person. You know, I’m a comedian and I don’t want someone to judge me in a certain way just because I’m a comedian, and I think that openness is something I really like about New York. It’s socioeconomic, cultural, all together. It’s not perfect, but I like that they have that exposure because I don’t want my kids to bristle in any situation.
And then it was time for Jim Gaffigan to sign some books. He didn’t bristle once.