Father Knows Jest
Becoming a parent is no laughing matter. But that doesn’t stop Dan Bucatinsky from seeing the hilarity—and heartache—of fatherhood.
by Steven Foster • Photo by Don Roos
Dan Bucatinsky was All Over the Guy (writing and starring in the indie fave) while Channing Tatum was still all over the strip clubs. In the decade since that gay fable hit theaters, Bucatinsky has managed to star in his own real-life rom-com, partnering with (romantically) writer-director Don Roos and (professionally) with Lisa Kudrow. The union with Roos produced two cavity-inducing towhead cuties—I mean it, get these kids representation, they’re adorable—Eliza and Jonah. With Kudrow, he birthed the critical HBO darling The Comeback, and sidesplitting Showtime hit Web Therapy, probably the only web series to successfully move to television and not only survive, but thrive. And as if playing daddy and jumping back and forth in front of and behind the camera wasn’t enough, Bucatinsky has recently penned the book Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? The collection of essays, hitting shelves just in time for Daddy’s Day, is a painfully funny—and painfully unflinching—look at parenting in all its puking, pooping, paranoid, thrilling, joyous, dizzying glory. Gay or straight, male or female, the book will no doubt resonate with any parent. And if you’re thinking of becoming one…well, it’s the next best thing to babysitting one of your friend’s kids to see if you’re really up for the monumental challenge.
Steven Foster: Father’s Day’s coming up. Plans?
Dan Bucatinsky: Oh my God, can I tell you what I do not have? And that is plans. Because this Father’s Day is coming in between the craziness of the book [promotion]. Usually, I do tend to put on my mommy hat and I’ll make breakfast with the kids. In advance I’ll get the kids to make a Father’s Day card for Papi, which is what we call my partner. And then he usually forgets to make a Father’s Day card for me. Which, after 20 years of marriage, should be grounds for divorce. I have a chapter in the book that talks about how small-minded I am. Or rather, how small-hearted I am.
I’d like to read you a quote from your essay “Bam-Bam.” It’s right after a moment where your son just blasts his diaper all over the bed, and you write:
I’d look at that tiny, stunned face clearly wondering How the f–k did all that come out of me? staring up at me, as if to make sure nothing had changed on my end.
I love that. And then two paragraphs later, he’s older, four years old, and you flip it. Now, he walks with a swagger and you say:
I try to stay on his good side. Win him over. But it’s not easy. Shit. No matter how hard I try to get him to think I’m cool, he can smell the needy.
I can’t recall any parent expressing those feelings. Not out loud, anyway.
I’m probably very self-critical on that front. And I can’t speak for all parents, but I sense in myself a constant straddling a line of what I know I need to be for my kids and that thing that you’re embarrassed or ashamed to admit of what you want back from your kids.
Because we are not supposed to want anything back from our kids. We’ve certainly learned that from our own parents—that when they were dependent on us for their sense of well-being and love and reassurance, that it was too much for us as children. And we wound up resenting them. Believe me, I’ve learned that the hard way.
And yet…yeah, are you kidding me?! I absolutely feed off this look in their eyes when I come home and they run up to me. It’s a very addicting feeling, being a dad. And I love it and I love being able to provide for them, but I also love this—I don’t mean to sound precious, because I’m not—but this two-way avenue of love that goes both ways. I can’t help it, I’m human. I want my kids’ approval, and yet I know intellectually that I do not want them to know or feel like they are responsible for that kind of power.
You’re more honest than most.
I tended to write about how petty I can be at times but still aspire to be so much better. And I think other people do too. I read in other books about what we should be doing as opposed to what we are feeling. I told my publishers I think I created a new type of fiction called neurotica.
Am I fearful at times? Yes. Do I want my kids to know that I’m fearful? No.
Do you find it’s more a generational thing? Were our parents the same way and they just weren’t honest about it? Or are we more self-perceptive about it?
My opinion is that it’s not the same. And I think it’s going to be interesting to see this generation of gay parents—those people who have come out of the closet and who’ve had those experiences—what kind of parent does that make you? And what kind of vigorous honesty do you expect of your children? Or what kind of honesty do you encourage in them as they grow up? Certainly every parent should value that, but I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what this generation of parents [creates].
Is that why you wrote the book?
I didn’t start out to write a book. I had the opportunity to perform an essay about being a parent as part of a performance series here in Los Angeles called “Afterbirth: Stories You Wouldn’t Read About in a Parenting Magazine.” Other television actors and writers and comedians got together to read various essays, and we were encouraged to be as honest and raw as we were willing to be. Because it was a parents’ night out, kids weren’t gonna be hearing it, and it was just an opportunity for other people to feel less alone in the particular ways that we’re screwing up our kids.
And so I started writing about how we got Eliza, and the loss of my father, and when we were pregnant with Jonah. So over the course of three or four years I accumulated six or seven pieces that I used to perform.
Was it your idea or your publisher’s to open the book with “Wake Up and Smell the Fingers”?
Because it’s a brave choice. Bam, you’re in it. You’re there. Parenting.
That one scared the shit out of me, because I realized my daughter was gonna read it one day.
Oh, she’s gonna hate you.
She’s gonna hate me. Or she won’t, and she’s going to realize that she’s got two writer/creative types as parents. And hopefully she’ll understand. But I wanted to grab the reader right away, so that anyone reading the book knows: this is what we’re dealing with.
I have another question. Did you…to…I mean…sorry, I’m trying to figure out how to phrase this…
Well, you prepare as a parent, and the kids arrive, and all that. But were you…prepared to have them break your heart the way they do? In a way that only your kids can do?
No. No, no, no! That’s a great point. And by the way, it happens every day.
It happens every day.
I don’t know what’s happened to me, but I have become…I wonder, Maybe I’m pregnant…I mean, I’ve just become so emotional, and everything makes me cry. Jonah or Eliza will look at me, or they’ll have a look of pride, or a look I’ve never seen before, and…it’s hard to put my finger on it…but I’ve become just a sap. I was never emotionally prepared for how they would be able to break my heart, both in a sad way, but also in a joyful way.
Wait ’til the teen years. Are you ready for those?
Oh my God no, I’m petrified. I think it’s fairly clear from my book that I have set the bar so low that if I can just get these kids to have self-confidence and be happy and healthy and not do porn, I’ll be so happy.
Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.