Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Handbook to Lazy Parenting by Guy Delisle

This is the fourth and last of Guy Delisle's "Bad Dad" books, following A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting, Even More Bad Parenting Advice, and The Owner's Manual to Terrible Parenting. Like the others, it's a small book of comics, just a bit bigger than a mass-market paperback and about two hundred pages long.

Generally, with a book like The Handbook to Lazy Parenting -- collections of short strips with the same premise and no real internal continuity -- you can start with any of them and hit them in any order. That's still the case for the first three books, but Handbook is clearly the end of this string; there's a more touching story at the end, where Delisle basically turns around and notices his kids are growing up: Alice and Louis are no longer the early-elementary kids he's been drawing them as, but eleven and fourteen. So don't start here: pick one of the other books first.

It's entirely possible to do funny comics about families with teenage kids, and I have hopes Delisle will try that: he's very funny and not shy of making himself the butt of his jokes. But any further books won't be like these books: his kids have outgrown the age where they believe everything "Dad" says and rely on his judgement, knowledge, and experience implicitly. Delisle clearly knows that, and underlines that at the end here.

But, before that, we do get a hundred and fifty-plus pages of more Bad Dad hijinks, all focused on Delisle as a world-class slacker dad. The kids are cute and fun, but Delisle is the draw: I'm sure he was never quite this self-centered and forgetful, but it's funnier like this, and Delisle know how to make it funny.

I do think this stuff is better and more resonant if you've had kids, because you've been the lazy parent. (Well, I suppose there may be some people either superhuman enough or forgetful enough to not remember any lazy/self-centered moments with their kids, but those people are tedious bores anyway.) Looking back myself, I spent years encouraging my boys to learn how to pump their legs on swings so I didn't have to push them as much...and I now have to wonder why I cared. But it was effort, and sometimes just a little bit more effort dealing with the energy of a five-year-old is Way Too Much.

That's the vibe of the Bad Dad books: knowing that you love your kids, of course, but also wishing they would make your life easier for once rather than more complicated, hoping that whatever this new demand on your time is (homework, errands, feeding & clothing them, all of that stuff) won't take too much effort, and wanting more of that uncomplicated unalloyed little-kid admiration that disappears so quickly. Delisle does it all really well in all four of these books.

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