When I made the decision to stay home and take care of our daughter Anna, I had no real guide to what I was doing. In 2006, the image of a stay-at-home dad had not progressed much beyond the Hollywood portrayal of the laughably incompetent “Mr. Mom” cliche.
Well, a lot has changed in the first seven years of my daughter’s life. Stay-at-home dads are more commonplace and more accepted as people see we actually can care for our children most of the day without losing them, starving them, or seriously injuring them. There are stay-at-home dad groups, both local and national, that provide support, and there are a growing number of books that take on some aspect of the at-home dad experience.
I should know. I’ve written one myself and I’ve read many others, most recently the witty memoir Life is Short, Laundry is Eternal: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad by author, blogger, and twelve-year at-home dad Scott Benner.
This is a funny, moving, and inspiring book by a man who’s been an at-home dad for almost twice as long as I have. It is filled with hilarious anecdotes, great advice, and touching moments that ring true throughout. I quickly lost track of the number of times I nodded along with some story that paralleled a memorable event in my own life.
Benner also has a great ability to pull both humor and wisdom out of so many mundane situations. Most notably, laundry. The Sisyphean task that is his personal bête noir and the bane of his existence. You get the sense in the first chapter how he has planned not just each day, but his whole life around laundry.
When our home was redesigned, I only asked for one improvement. It wasn’t a media room or a man cave. I asked if it was possible to put the laundry room on the second floor . . . The architect remarked at the time that I was the only who had ever shown an interest in where the laundry room would be. I asked him how many of the men he met were stay-at-home dads, and he couldn’t think of one.
But once you have to haul laundry up a flight of stairs (and up is worse than down thanks to gravity) you care. I drop four to five big bags of dirty laundry down the steps on the way to our apartment’s laundry room every week. Hauling those same bags filled with clean laundry back up the stairs is the worst part. And though proximity of the laundry room to our apartment wasn’t a huge selling point at the time, I am glad in retrospect that we chose a unit within twenty steps of a bank of washers and dryers.
So as you can see, I identify with his struggle. All at-home parents will. And the parents who are out of the house will better appreciate what we do during all those hours we’re at home. They might even hold up their underwear and say thank you (and yes, that’s also a line from the book, and yes my wife Julia—who is now two-thirds of the way through the book herself—really did this).
It’s not just laundry either. Benner describes the daily tasks of parenting with a sharp eye to the ridiculous situations we all stumble into. He talks about the three times he almost “broke, lost or otherwise ended (his son) Cole’s life”—and all three incidents end well. He takes Cole to the zoo and sees things he took for granted through his son’s eyes, teaches him to play baseball and saves his first “practice home run ball,” and searches with him through numerous toy stores for the perfect doll. He even touches upon his continuing romantic relationship with his wife Kelly in the chapter cleverly titled “I Remember Having Sex . . . and the Baby Proves It!”—a sentence all parents have said in some form or other.
But what sets this book apart and takes it from a fun self-deprecating look at parenting to a moving story you will never forget is the chapter on his daughter Arden’s type-1 diabetes diagnosis. The chapter, with the deceptively understated title “Her Breath Smells Funny,” takes the reader almost minute-by-minute through a harrowing middle-of-the-night journey to the E.R., a night in which a two-year-old girl almost loses her life. This is the chapter that takes this book from good to great.
Benner also addresses his broken relationship with his own father, who through most of Benner’s life serves as a model of the kind of dad not to be. In another poignant chapter toward the end of the book, he describes how on the last day of the old man’s life, he is finally able to reconcile with him. The lost opportunity he describes is tragic, and reading about it made me appreciate my own dad that much more.
Life is Short, Laundry is Eternal is a fast-paced, witty, and ultimately poignant book that is hard to put down and easy to finish in a couple of days. Filled with great advice, it is a great introduction to at-home parenting suitable for any parent, and a familiar take on a life that more and more dads are leading. Someday soon, when (God willing) my own book is published, I would take it as an honor and a compliment for it to be mentioned in the same sentence as this exceptional book.
You can purchase Life is Short, Laundry is Eternal everywhere books are sold starting today. You can also read more about Scott and his daughter Arden as well as his wife Kelly and son Cole on his blog Arden’s Day.