Golden Brown 💩
Defecating on demand into an acceptable receptacle
Can it really be three years and we still haven’t spoken about it?
Caca. Turd. Dung. Poop. Call it what you may. Who’d have thought it would become parenting’s most outlandish frontier?
Would you have taken on the role of father if you knew quite how much shit you’d have to deal with? That all those idioms would take on new depth after your time spent in brown-town: when the shit hits the fan, shit always runs downhill, it’s a shit show, don’t shit where you eat, and the lesser-used but wonderfully graphic I'd rather shit in my hands then clap.
I’m rolling up on three years of writing this newsletter. We’ve covered all kinds of topics and I’ve spent a long time wondering exactly what TNF is. I think there’s something special happening here: a group of dads that have congregated to redefine what fatherhood means for them, and to perhaps contribute towards a shift in the wider definition too. This place will continue to change as long as we do. But the core of what this might be—its legacy, if I may be so bold—comes down to sowing seeds. There are many of you with kids younger than mine—dads who find themselves deep in what a close friend recently called The Tunnel: the place every parent remains whilst their kids are younger than four; when keeping a small child alive and under control takes all that you have. Parents in The Tunnel can cycle through bliss and despair on a turnaround that would give non-parents whiplash.
I’m out, just about. Other dads hightailed it through long ago, and I’m learning how important it is to listen to them as they hit the off-ramp of full-time parenting and into a brave new world. They’re laying seeds for me—with a child soon to enter double-digits—like the story Chas shared earlier this year, or when Michael Chabon writes from the future, asking and answering “Are Kids The Enemy of Writing?”
If I had never burdened myself with the gift of my children, or if I had never written any novels at all, in the long run the result would have been the same as the result will be for me here, having made the choice I made: I will die; and the world in its violence and serenity will roll on, through the endless indifference of space, and it will take only 100 of its circuits around the sun to turn the six of us, who loved each other, to dust, and consign to oblivion all but a scant few of the thousands upon thousands of novels and short stories written and published during our lifetimes. If none of my books turns out to be among that bright remnant because I allowed my children to steal my time, narrow my compass, and curtail my freedom, I'm all right with that. Once they're written, my books, unlike my children, hold no wonder for me; no mystery resides in them. Unlike my children, my books are cruelly unforgiving of my weaknesses, failings, and flaws of character. Most of all, my books, unlike my children, do not love me back.
We look to the past to predict the future in an attempt to make sense of the present. For every dad signing off from his full-time shift there will be another pulling onto the eight-lane parenting highway with no idea of what’s hurtling towards them. That thought has informed a lot of my writing over the years. The reason I keep coming back to male mental health is I know how it feels to search for help and find it lacking. Many essays begin as if I’m writing to a friend, sharing what I wish I knew before it all started.
And, because of that, it’s time to chat shit.
Because whilst it would be an act of sheer folly to wish any part of fatherhood away—each jump cut into the future creating ten irreparable cracks in your heart for every problem it might solve—one thing all new dads have wished for is the glorious day “when we won’t have to deal with diapers anymore.” To reach that hallowed land when the shit-eating (metaphorically, I’m clearly talking metaphorically) can finally cease. But be careful what you wish for.
Because you may find yourself deep in The Tunnel, changing dozens of diapers and searching for those sacred locations with a changing table in the men's bathroom (an ongoing problem here in Spain, fwiw). You may find yourself in an untenable situation, where your little bundle has once again shat more than you thought humanly possible, as you unwrap her and realise you left the spare babygrow on the side, and those last two wet wipes won’t even touch the sides. You may find yourself longing for the day when the changing mat can be packed away, and that twisty shit-swallowing plastic bin can be off-loaded to the next friend in line.
But you must know: just because your progeny has learned to defecate on demand into an acceptable receptacle—it ain’t over. Not even close. You are about to enter a new modality of anguish. It’s one thing to wipe a defenceless baby’s arse: this post-embryonic, language-less, mere outline of what their fully coloured-in future self will become. But when you’re waiting outside the door of a spot that maybe doesn’t measure up to the worst toilet in Scotland (please don’t click that link if you’re reading this over lunch) but isn’t far off, waiting for your son to finish squeezing one out whilst he shouts for you to “CLOSE THE DOOR AND GO AWAY” (a line you eventually grasp he picked up from his dad) you will realise: this is a whole new ball game. This is not a baby. This a tiny human being, a conversational curiosity who will look you dead in the eye and earnestly ask you about your favourite Pokemon as you delicately wedge your hand between his rosy cheeks. Be ready for this. I implore you.
I am out of the tunnel. One day, I will be out of the woods (ya know—the place where the bear does his business) with no more defecation to deal with but my own. And maybe the dog’s. The cruel irony? Depending on how long we remain spinning around on this great rock, one day we might need these kids to repay the favour and wipe ours.
3 things to read this week
“Do You Know Where Your Kids Go Every Day?” by Rikki Schlott and Jon Haidt in After Babel. Haidt’s upcoming book The Anxious Generation looks like required reading for 2024, detailing "how the great rewiring of childhood is causing an epidemic of mental illness.” Over on his Substack (which I’ve linked a few times now), he’s kicked off a series of essays from the voices of Gen Z, starting with 23-year-old Schlott. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from talking to my fellow Zoomers, it’s that we almost unanimously recognize the damage our smartphones have done. I’ve never heard someone say, ‘I still hate my mom for not letting me get a phone until I was 13.’”
“The Perils Of Putting Off Fatherhood” by Alison Motluk in The Guardian. We all know about the biological clock constantly ticking inside a woman’s body. But recent research suggests men have one too, and whilst they can still conceive late into life, they may wish to think twice about it. “At about the age of 50 or so, a woman faces a full shutdown of her reproductive capability. Not so for males, who are able to reproduce pretty much until the end of their lives. But research now shows that the longer the sperm factory operates, the more likely it is that glitches will be introduced during the manufacturing process.”
“The Final Frontier for Helicopter Parents” by Juno DeMelo in The Cut. The wildest parenting ride this month came via this investigation into the growing phenomenon of Facebook groups for parents of college kids, a weird world that acts “as landing pads for helicopter parents short on fuel who want to orchestrate their kids’ lives at the precise moment they are meant to become independent.” Do. Not. Want.
Hey! Listen to this!
OnBeing recently released their final episode of the current season, and it’s a corker. A conversation between Krista Tippett and Nick Cave, titled Loss, Yearning, Transcendence. It’s a magical, moving discussion that touches on the death of Cave’s sons, the widening aperture of his mysticism, and the ineffable nature of his creative collaboration with Warren Ellis.
Towards the end of the discussion, they touch on the topic of the pandemic, and Cave notes the changes he has seen in the world since:
“I think it has sort of focused some people’s needs in a different way. I’ve just noticed with people that they feel more attentive to things, spiritual matters […] five years ago if I’d sat down at the dinner table and talked about going to church, I’d be laughed out of the room, essentially. I don’t know, maybe you sit around with different people. But these days there is a weird kind of curiosity around those sorts of things, that it’s not seen in the same way. And there might be a whole lot of different reasons. But I feel that the pandemic and the other things that you’re talking about here are igniting these concerns in some people.”
Something I’ve noticed in myself and others around me, and so wonderfully articulated by Cave here.
Yes, I know I used that Chabon quote a few months ago, but it was brilliant then, is brilliant now, and still will be the next time you read it. How was the poo for you?
Branding by Selman Design. Survey by Sprig. Illustration via an exploration into DALL·E with Tony Johnson. After playing around with it for a while we feel confident it won’t replace proper illustrators anytime soon—you should have seen what got left on the cutting room floor. Tony will be back in regular rotation before you know it.