Amid a slew of unsolicited advice-giving parenting books written by celebrities whose prose reads like a run-on drunken sound bite, Clyde Edgerton’s new book, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers, is a refreshing little tome of witty truths from a guy who has learned to keep his wits through three decades of parenting. This is not his first time at the rodeo—Edgerton’s four kids range in age from six to 31. It also helps that he’s a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and knows a thing or two about crafting a sentence.
We asked Edgerton’s pal, fellow Southern writer George Singleton (Stray Decorum, Why Dogs Chase Cars) to
roast interview his colleague about his new book. We can’t help but feel like we’re eaves-dropping on two old friends ribbing each other over beers on the back porch. Cheers! –KC
Singleton: Once upon a time you and I surf fished in Wrightsville Beach when we were supposed to be babysitting Nathaniel, Ridley, and Truma, who were then five, three, and one, or thereabouts. Octogenarians kept walking into our lines. We caught no fish. Hundreds of people who shouldn’t have been wearing beach attire roamed freely. At one point Nathaniel said, “Papadaddy, I have to pee-pee.” You said, “Well go on, son. Find you a spot.” Nathaniel proceeded to relieve himself on our sturdy powder-coated, steel-framed, mid-height beach chairs with rugged and durable polyester fabric. You did not scold him. Explain how, in the hilarious and poignant Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers, you offer examples on the importance of conjuring up exact language in regards to outdoor potty-training.
Edgerton: George, that’s not a question, it’s a short story. So, could you ask it again? But wait—let me go to the bathroom first; and there I will find, for reading pleasure (there’s a second copy for closer reading by my bed) your great book of short stories, called Strays.
Singleton: Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers is illustrated by Daniel Wallace. What do you think traumatized him as a child, causing him to turn out the way he turned out? What, in your professional view, could his parents have done differently?
Edgerton: Daniel is a close friend of mine and his illustrations go a long way to make Papadaddy’s Book For New Fathers the best-seller that it is rapidly becoming, but I aim to keep knowledge of his contributions to the book—such incredibly sensitive and telling drawings—secret, so that I alone get credit for writing a book that has unbelievable impact on the parenting and grandparenting world. Now…I think Daniel’s parents must have done good. As does, no doubt, Daniel. Else, he could have never written his compelling new book, The Kings and Queens of Roam.
Singleton: What’s worse for a child’s psyche, head lice or bench-warming?
Edgerton: This question shows, upon careful inspection, your close reading of the book, George, and it also illustrates a truth about you—something many people do not know–and that is that you majored in philosophy. Who else but a philosopher could weave the sensibilities of both Wittenstein and Heidegger into a single, apparently simple question. Not to speak of Freud. The answer to the question escapes me—though my guess is that the answer may depend on the extent to which the child was allowed to perform card tricks before the age of six. Card-trick player = head lice. Noncard-trick player = bench-warming.
Singleton: I have read about recent child-rearing philosophies that involve Mom and Dad never allowing the baby’s feet to touch the ground until he or she’s something like six years old. I think the kid’s not weaned until that time, also. It might be apocryphal, but I read somewhere that your mother delivered you in the middle of a field, and that you started picking beans within an hour of your birth. With all of this in mind, where do you stand, so to speak, in regard to Nietzsche’s notion that, “In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play?”
Edgerton: There you go. “Nietzsche.” Back to philosophy. Did you ever stop to think how much the word “Nietzsche” sounds like a sneeze. Little Nietzsche’s friends would call to him from the front yard and Nietzsche’s mama would call out to them, “Bless you.” Little Nietzsche never got to go out and play and that is why he became a philosopher. Well, I stand with Nietzsche on his statement, more or less. I’d add “real women” to his proclamation.
Singleton: You raised an intelligent, well-rounded, successful daughter back in the eighties, and you’re raising intelligent, well-rounded successful children in the twenty-first century. What enormous child-rearing changes have you witnessed over the last three decades? Is it still okay to be a “manly” daddy, or do you feel obligated to keep kids out of the bed—or off the hood—of a pick-up truck when tooling around Kure Beach? What changes do you see on the horizon?
Edgerton: Gosh, this is a tough one. No “enormous” child rearing changes, I think. It still amounts to the right combination of structure and freedom. It is okay to be a manly daddy, but a manly daddy these days will not only suggest that little girls fix cars, but will also suggest that little boys cook.
Singleton: Is it important to have a crazy “uncle” come visit the family, so Papadaddy looks like a rational man, in comparison?
Edgerton: Yes. And that’s why on that surf fishing trip you spoke of above, both the kids and I so enjoyed your visit, Uncle George. You hurry on back now, you hear.