Ben Tanzer is the author of the books My Father's House, You Can Make Him Like You, So Different Now, Orphans, and Lost in Space, among others. He also oversees day to day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life, directs Publicity and Content Strategy for Curbside Splendor, and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life the center of his growing lifestyle empire.
Loren Kleinman (LK): In your latest book Lost in Space you reflect on fatherhood from regrets to acceptance. How did you come up with the title? How does the title reflect fatherhood?
Ben Tanzer (BT): The title is from an essay titled "Lost in Space," about my then newborn, now eight year-old son, Noah who was born with this small dimple on his lower back. It's the kind of thing that would otherwise seem benign, but can signify that a newborn's spine may become tethered and unable to descend properly. It's scary stuff, but what makes it all the worse, is that they can't know if it will require surgery until they run a CT Scan at two months of age.
During those months you have to act like nothing is happening, and that things are normal, even as you're floating somewhere outside of yourself doing everything possible not to think about it. When Noah finally got the CT Scan, it showed there was nothing there, and never had been, literally, there was a just a space, and all that fear and concern went out the window. Parenting is much like this. We look to fill the spaces in our lives with children. We look to fill the spaces in their lives. And we try not to lose ourselves in all the unknown and scary spaces that randomly, endlessly, and irrationally, appear along the way.
LK: One of the worst things to ever consider when I was young was to end up like your parents. Not until I got older did I begin to realize that my parents were just people and that, like me, did stupid things sometimes. I don't fear that. I actually embrace their shittyness and their extraordinary capabilities. Do you think history repeats itself? Are you like or unlike your father? In what ways?
BT: Oh man, have you been talking to my therapist again? Or, maybe my mom? The funny thing, is that my father was a painter, and he was amazing. But he was also tortured about his perceived lack of success, and he worried about making money all of the time, and I know that growing-up around his struggles, at least partially influenced my inability to start writing for many years after I wanted to. Further, as an adult, I have pursued structured, 9-5 jobs with health insurance and 401(k)s. This always seemed normal to me, but it no seems like a clear reaction to all of that, and to somehow not be like him, or at least feel like him, and this despite the fact that he was a really caring, engaged father.
Lately, however, I'm more and more like him all of the time. I eat maple frosted donuts at Dunkin' Donuts. I constantly repeat his dumb jokes to my children. For example, I always say, "apples are nature's candy, yo," when they are begging for some sugary snack and I offer them an apple instead. Not that he said, "yo" mind you. I am endlessly incredulous that I never quite have enough time to get everything done. I'm always hustling, looking for any opportunity to get my work out there and saying yes to anything anyone asks me to do that might help accomplish this. Just like he did. And I'm insanely jealous of people who can ignore their children to focus on work, or can somehow bear to live without health insurance or steady paychecks so they can create art. Also, the whole working 9-5 in an office every day thing, something my dad may have briefly tried once in his life, I'm definitely losing interest in that, despite my massive need for structure and actual paychecks.
LK: I recently attended one of your readings and you read this amazing essay about your son Myles. I think I almost saw you tear up a bit. Can you tell us more about the inspiration Myles gives you?
BT: What has happened to me in particular as a parent, is that I'm suddenly, and violently, in touch with this whole range of emotions I had never been willing, or able, to tap into before: love, joy, sadness, fear, anxiety, hope, dreams, and rage, so much fucking rage. It's overwhelming, and yet quite amazing. The feelings are so intense and intimate all at once, and so with essays such as these, I am wrapped-up in all this roiling stuff, and the writing, even the humorous parts, are raw to me. It's like pricking at exposed nerves, and I don't know if that's inspiration, which means I may have ignored your question, but it's powerful, and that power is an inspiration, because it's so deep and wide, and the feelings, and material, are so endless.
LK: I love how you give a Dad's emotionally telling and honest perspective and translation of fatherhood in Lost in Space. Do you feel that more dads should talk about fatherhood more openly? Maybe we should embrace or encourage Daddy Bloggers?
BT: I appreciate the kind words, and I am always careful about telling anyone, much less writers and dads what to do. However, as a culture I think we need to better embrace fathers' roles in the lives of their child. Which isn't to express great sadness for the role of men in culture, I'd say we're doing fine in general. But it is to say that when it comes to children we need to better focus on integrating men into the institutions that serve children, just as we need men to play an active role in the lives of children, all children. It is also to say, that we benefit as a society, when we give fathers permission to discuss their experiences, be they good, bad, ugly, or sad.
We don't necessarily expect men to feel anything, much less talk about it, but what if we did? Imagine all of the possibilities around healthier dialogue and healthier people, not to mention the potential for less violence and who knows what, if they, we, did, talk more about what they felt?
LK: Would you want your kids to read this book? What's the first thing you think they'd say after finishing it?
BT: Yes, maybe, some day. No, yes for sure. I don't know. I do know that I would like it to be later, and not because they need to be protected from what I think about them, or parenting, though I'm sure there will be questions. But just as I sought to protect their secrets as I wrote about them and our relationship in these essays, I would like to protect them from some of my secrets. I clearly don't have an issue with the public knowing how fucked I am, or how paralyzing parenting can be, much less how I feel about having a dead father myself, but I'm not sure they boys need to know all of that yet. They're still kids and there's no reason that what they think they know about us as parents, and people, shouldn't remain somewhat mysterious. That said, someone asked me this question after a reading recently, and I answered it in much the same way as I am here, though I also noted that I felt conflicted, because Myles himself had just asked me why he couldn't read the book, if, as he says, "it is about me." This questioner said Myles could, and should, read the essay titled "The Boy With The Curious Hair," which is a love letter to him, David Foster Wallace, first haircuts, and Game of Thrones. And I agreed, so I suggested that to Myles when I got home, but he has yet to take me up on the offer. So there's that.
LK: What's next for "The Tanzer"?
BT: I am going to have a sandwich, and maybe take a nap, and then something to do with world peace, for sure. Leading the Cubs to the World Series is also on tap. And I am hoping to finalize my new perfume and designer jeans lines. Working as George Clooney's butt double in Ocean's Twenty-Two is also a possibility. The options are endless really. I am also happy to share, however, that I am one of four authors, along with the quite rock star Dave Housley, Tom Williams, and BL Pawelek, in the upcoming collection Four Fathers. The collection is coming out from Cobalt Press, and my section is comprised of flash fiction pieces, which given the title, are not unsurprisingly about fathers and sons and everything in between.
I'm simultaneously finalizing a group of stories for an ongoing project loosely titled The New York Stories, that I have been involved in with for several years with CCLaP, a local publisher here in Chicago. I am also working on a new novel about a drug-dealing teenage girl and her possibly alien abductee older brother, as well as, the next book in the Orphans science fiction trilogy, which is titled Foundlings, and is looking like a mash-up of among other things, the Wizard of Oz, Flowers in the Attic, and Dante's Inferno. I should add, that while I have planned this to be a trilogy, no one that I am aware of is actually asking for that. Which might otherwise seem like an impediment, but I'm so confident in the perfume and designer jeans lines blowing-up, I feel like I can write whatever I want, regardless if anyone is interested or not.