Meet Keith Gessen, Writer and Father of Two
I’m a writer married to a writer living in Brooklyn with two boys, 7 and 4. I was born in Russia and my wife is from Maryland, so we have some disagreements over childrearing. I recently wrote a book about life with our oldest son called Raising Raffi.
Tell us your favorite dad joke!
This isn’t exactly a joke, or maybe it’s just an unfunny joke, but when Raffi was five we read the Dog Man books continuously, every day, over and over. In one of the books, Petey the cat attempts to clone himself so he can commit more crimes but ends up instead with a little baby clone named Li’l Petey. Petey is very disappointed by this and refuses to return Li’l Petey’s affection or acknowledge that he is his father. He even tries to give him away. So my joke was this: I would say, very seriously, “Raffi, I need to tell you something. You are not my son. You are a clone.”
Raffi did not find this funny and would say, “Stop it,” every time I made this joke.
What was your most rewarding moment as a dad?
It’s pretty hard to pick one out—I find fatherhood to be a constant rollercoaster where one minute I feel like a miserable failure and the next like I am not that bad. A semi-recent proud moment was when Raffi learned how to ride a bike. Out of inertia and laziness, we used training wheels instead of a balance bike so there was some question whether Raffi would make it—and then one day he asked me to take off the training wheels and we went out to the playground and he started riding! It turned out he knew how to peddle but he didn’t know how to stop, so he crashed into the fence a few times. But by the end he was riding. I was very proud.
What is your most valuable dad advice and how would a new parent apply it to their daily life?
I think when I started out I would get mad at myself all the time for not being the perfect parent that I had read about in parenting books. It took a while to realize that I was never going to be that parent—and that was ok! I could still be a decent parent by being the best parent version of the person I actually was: an occasionally grumpy, impatient, yelly Russian guy who is also, I hope, loving and attentive and really interested in his kids.
What's a common dad-misconception? What do you wish people wouldn’t assume about being/becoming a dad?
Whether in your life or at large, why is a dad's role so important?