A bestselling writer of crime novels and comics, Gregg Hurwitz’s forthcoming title, YOU’RE NEXT (to be released on July 5th), is dedicated to his daughters. . .the daughters who continually teach him how to look at things from different angles. For Father’s Day, Gregg humorously reflects on his own role as father, and the great responsibility that comes with it.
When my eldest daughter was five, she had a school project for which she’d have to stand up before the classroom and tell everyone what her parents did for a living. So at dinner, we gave this a dry run.
“Honey, what does mom do for work?”
“She teaches college.”
“Excellent. And what does daddy do for work?”
She screwed up her five-year-old face for a moment, contemplating. Then she replied, “He goes to the gym.”
Okay. Fair enough. I suppose the main times I left the house with any sense of purpose were when I was heading off to exercise. And going into another room in the house and typing hardly seems like, well, work.
But I wanted to make sure that this confusion didn’t perpetuate, so when my next was born, she was made aware that when I was in said office, I wasn’t merely playing Angry Birds or surfing YouTube clips of skateboarding squirrels.
And so when she reached the same age and was given the same assignment by the same teacher, we had a second run at the same dinner conservation.
“What does your mommy do for work?”
“She’s a professor.”
“Good. And what does your father do?”
“He writes books.”
A flush of pride. But before I could render praise, my wife asked a follow-up question: “And what kind of books does daddy write?”
A thoughtful pause, and then my daughter replied, “Boring books.”
Everyone’s a critic. And yet some are so much more amusing than others.
My favorite part of being a parent is being caught off guard in myriad tiny, lovely ways like this. When I get to see the world in a different light, and when I realize the staggering limitations of my own perception. “Why yes, jicama does taste the way green grass smells.” “I suppose Spiderman in full costume is actually terrifying.” “Of course, a wall socket does look like a tempting place to stick one’s finger.”
And the hardest parts of being a parent are the ways that my sense of vulnerability is expanded --- there’s literally more surface area I need to protect now. YOU’RE NEXT is dedicated to my daughters because it’s the first book I’ve written fully from the position of being a father --- the first time I’ve been willing to inhabit those fears and live inside them for a year. The idea for it started, as my books often do, with a three-in-the-morning scene played out on the dark screen of my bedroom ceiling.
A four-year-old child is dropped off at a strange playground by his father and told to play with the other kids. His father seems panicked, grief-stricken, and the pressed white cuff of his shirt sports a splash of blood. This child’s story begins with the slow-dawning realization, as he sits on the swings, that he has been abandoned.
It became clearer and clearer to me as the book evolved that the story was my attempt to confront my worst fears as a parent. All those vulnerabilities, rearing up to the surface. All the ways the world can slide off kilter with the snap of your fingers.
And I thought, What if that abandoned boy grew up and became a husband and father? And what if that unknown violence that defined his youth returned to stalk him and the new family he had painstakingly and lovingly created? What lengths would he go to protect his daughter? Or more to the point, what are the lengths I would go to protect one of mine?
This is the dark side, I suppose, to parenting, the yin to the yang of pancakes and soccer practices and choir recitals. In that love is something more powerful than anything else. And as Spiderman taught me as a kid and my daughter (once she overcame her terror of that red featureless mask): With great power comes great responsibility.