Books about fatherhood? Not as many.
On Dec. 7, 2015, Matt Coyne, a graphic designer from England who had become father to Charlie three months before, sat down and wrote a Facebook post about what these first three months had been like. He was honest about his ineptitude, he was real about his role versus his partner’s role (you just can’t compare the level of tired or the work she’s doing), and he was hysterically funny. Side-splitting, make-you-wet-your-pants (especially if you’ve had children) funny.
“I used to think the theory that the moon landing was a hoax was total bullocks, just because it required a huge amount of people to share a secret,” he writes. “I now think it’s a distinct possibility, given the conspiracy of silence about how horrendous labor is. The labor suite is like being in ‘Nam. It is nothing like you see in sitcoms or in films, unless that film is ‘Saw IV,’ or it’s the chest-bursting scene from ‘Alien.’ So, to those who told me that the birth would be a magical experience … you’re a bunch of (expletive) liars.”
Oh, yes, there are obscenities sprinkled throughout this recap of the first three months. He doesn’t hold back on Charlie peeing into his eye during diaper changes, the lack of sleep, the family coming to see Charlie, the fact that the baby is all-consuming.
“I was trying to make sense of what I had learned, which is nothing,” says Coyne, 43.
At first he got 20 likes on his Facebook page. Then friends reached out and requested that he change the privacy settings so they could share it with other friends. It wasn’t supposed to be anything, really; just something he wrote in the Notes app on his phone and then posted to Facebook.
“Very little I do is calculated,” he says.
It’s now been viewed 18 million times.
Book publishers reached out and news shows. While he has a degree in English, he wasn’t sure he could turn one Facebook post into a full book. He began with a blog he called Man vs. Baby.
It has now turned into a book about this first year, named after the blog, but with the subtitle: “The Chaos & Comedy of Real-life Parenting.” ($17, Simon and Schuster).
“I was a graphic designer,” he says. ” I was very bad at it. … Now this is what I do for a living until it goes horribly wrong.”
Fatherhood has come with its share of surprises, which Coyne writes about, and talks to us about by telephone.
“All of the sudden you have no time to do anything other than focus on this human being,” he says. “It comes as a massive shock to the system. You can’t decide to go to a restaurant. You can’t decide to flip on the TV,” without thinking about the baby and the baby’s schedule and whether or not you’ll wake him up.
He went into it knowing he would be sleep deprived, but he had no idea just what that would feel like. He writes: “For two weeks, I didn’t shower, didn’t shave, and barely ate, and neither of us escaped from bathrobes and sweatpants. We looked like forgotten patients in the basement of a Victorian asylum.”
Coyne’s theory is that every parent thinks that the time they are in the hardest part. The first three months seemed like the hardest part, but then friends told him the toddler years were far harder. Now they tell him to just wait until Charlie’s a teenager.
“It’s never boring,” he says.
On this Father’s Day, he says, “the ultimate goal is just like a Mum on Mother’s Day — to do absolutely nothing and get on with doing nothing. I’m supposed to say, ‘spend a lot of time with the kid,’ but I do that all year long.”
Actually, instead of watching Netflix like he’d like, he and the family are going to a working farm in England to do things like pet and feed the animals.
The response to the blog and now the book has been surprising to Coyne. The readers of the blog are 90 percent women.
“They are moms who are interested in a dad’s perspective,” he says.
“You would think there would be differences,” but he says, “I’m not convinced there’s so much of a difference.”
Well, there is one thing: How much time dads spend in the bathroom. “Clearly we use excuses all the time,” he says.
The American audience found the blog after celebrities started sharing it. “They’re really lovely about it,” he says of his American readers.
There are actually two versions of the book: The English version and the American version that explains some of the English phrases in footnotes.
Sometimes they call him on the fact that he swears a lot. “That’s an English thing,” he says. “They’re called sentence enhancers.”
He also gets comments when he talks about vaccinations, and he feels a twinge of guilt that an English doctor started the controversy.
Coyne is now working on a second book about the next year of Charlie’s life. Charlie will turn 3 in September.
The first book was planned out during that first year based on milestones leading up to ending with Charlie walking. Of course, Charlie didn’t follow that script.
“You’re desperate for it to happen,” he says, then you ask, “why did I want it to happen?”
His next book will include maps of Charlie’s walk to the park. In the first book, the map is a round-about way to avoid an elderly neighbor who turns a wave hello into an all-day event fawning over Charlie. In this next book, it will show the day they didn’t move from their front step for three hours because they saw a ladybug, or the day that they walked for miles chasing a cat.
“Now I need all my energy to keep up with him,” he says.
There won’t be a book about adding a sibling to the family, though.
“The idea of having another one might finish me off,” he says.
And if it sounds like Coyne is complaining, he’s not. Fatherhood has been the most positive thing. “I wasn’t expecting to be quite so attached to him,” he says.