born was Sophie, who is 23. Then came Zeke, Ida-Rose and
finally, 15-year-old Abe ó two boys and two girls who
share a family obsession with the cult British sci-fi
television show "Doctor Who" and the
confidence to develop idiosyncratic sartorial styles.
the four siblings differ in their musical tastes,
breakfast preferences and most of all in the lessons
they have to impart to their father, the author Michael
the father of those four young adults (and the husband
to his wife, the writer Ayelet Waldman) has been the
driving passion of Chabonís life ó even greater than
his compulsion to put words onto a page, and thatís
saying a lot.
Fatherhood in Pieces" is the 15th book that Chabon
has published since leaving his childhood home in
Columbia, Md., for college. That tally doesnít include
the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelistís other writing
projects such as his screenplays or the forthcoming
Netflix television series on which he and Waldman are
55, has always been a stay-at-home dad; writing usually
occurs between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. after his offspring
are asleep. If that exercise in split concentration has
resulted in fewer books, or in novels of lesser quality,
thatís a trade-off the author makes gladly.
theyíre written, my books, unlike my children, hold no
wonder for me," Chabon writes in the introductory
essay to "Pops."
mystery resides in them. Unlike my children, my books
are cruelly unforgiving of my weaknesses, failings and
flaws of characters. Most of all, my books, unlike my
children, do not love me back."
of the thoughtful and moving essays in this slender
volume describe Chabonís adventures in parenting, from
accompanying his then 13-year-old son to Paris fashion
week to his discomfort at reading "Huckleberry
Finn" (which is riddled with the n-word) out loud
to his children; the eponymous eighth chronicles Chabonís
trip to Oregon to visit his ailing doctor father, with
whom he has an amicable if distant relationship.
Baltimore readers will enjoy the occasional local
references. For example, Chabon describes how his father
taught him to fill out a baseball scorecard during a
visit to the old Memorial Stadium in 1971.
novelist recently chatted over the phone about the ways
in which his essays and his fiction line up and
occasionally collide, about how he navigates the
pitfalls of writing about real-life people and about
how, for him, the daily activities of being a parent are
as much of a craft that has to be studied and mastered
as writing a supple sentence.
Can you describe the role that invention plays in your
When Iím writing about something from the past I try
very hard to describe it the way it actually happened.
If something happened two times, I would never say that
it happened three times.
memory is a fictionalizing device and is, to some
extent, unreliable. It conflates some things and leaves
other things out that are too complicated. As a species,
we have become so good at seeing patterns that sometimes
we see patterns that arenít even there. Weíre trying
to find a signal in the noise.
part of what youíre doing when you write ó youíre
trying to find a signal in the noise.
What rules do you have for writing personal essays about
The general procedure when writing nonfiction is to
check first and make sure itís OK before you publish
I wrote "Little Man," the essay about taking
Abe to Fashion Week, I showed it to him before I sent it
in. I told him: "You have total editorial control
over this. You have approval over the final cut. If
anything is in here that makes you uncomfortable, I will
try to find a way to write it that you are comfortable
he had for me was fact-checking things. For instance,
the version I showed him had the wrong brand of
sneakers. He was very nitpicky about those details. But
other than that, he was OK with what I wrote.
Do you have different rules for the adults that you
write essays about, such as your father? Are you
inclined to cut them less slack?
Sure. I showed my father "Pops," before it was
published, but that was more just so that he would know
that it was coming out. The only thing he wanted me to
change was the way I phrased his medical diagnosis, and
I was fine with that.
I write a piece of nonfiction about the people in my
life, Iím never trying to offend or provoke anyone or
get their goat.
My overall sense of these essays is that theyíre
simultaneously revealing and circumspect. There are
places you deliberately donít go. Do you ever worry
that youíre pulling your punches?
Definitely. Itís a fine line that youíre walking,
and itís always a challenge. I navigate it by trying
to be as hard on myself as I am on other people.
can also be an issue when youíre writing fiction
inspired by something that happened in real life, though
Iím less inclined in those cases to check with the
person first. Trying to figure out in advance whatís
going to offend someone is a mugís game. Sometimes
what bothers people are the most innocuous things that I
never dreamed would give anyone offense when I wrote
times I sweat over a passage and really worry about it
ó and then I hand the piece to the person and they donít
even notice the thing I was so concerned about.
Itís clear from your essays that being a father is as
much an adventure for you as writing.
Thereís a surprising amount of opportunity to bring
the same amount of art and craft and thoughtfulness to
the activities of being a father as there is to writing.
There are ways to find pleasure in being a parent that
are more than just the obvious things ó the loving and
being loved and the milestones like watching them take
their first step.
are possibilities for discovering satisfaction that I
didnít anticipate when I was a new father. You can
find a sense of accomplishment from having three kids
all come downstairs at the same time, all wanting
something different for breakfast before they go to
school. You can look at that situation as, "Oh my
God, I wish they would all just leave," or as,
"First Iím going to get out the eggs out, and
then Iím going to get out the butter," and turn
it into a practice that you enjoy and get better at over
How has your view of being a father changed as your kids
have gotten older?
Right now, weíre on our fourth 15-year-old. I had to
disabuse myself of the notion that anything I learned
from raising my older children will be at all applicable
to the younger ones. My wife and I used to say, "Weíre
getting better at this. We seem to have gotten the hang
of it. Weíve learned these lessons that we can carry
fact, trying to do that can be harmful. Sometimes, you
have to unlearn things. Out of simple fairness, you have
to try to summon as much energy and imagination and
curiosity for each new child as you did for the ones
that came before.
interview has been edited and condensed.