Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Twitter @BackmanLand or on Instagram @backmansk.
Father’s Day is right around the corner, and what better way to celebrate the dad(s) in our lives than by reflecting on the trials and triumphs of fatherhood? In a special selection from his heartfelt, humorous new essay collection, author and father Fredrik Backman tries to convey to his newborn son what, exactly, it means to be a man. Things My Son Needs to Know About the World is available now from CBS sister company Simon & Schuster.
What You Need To Know About Being A Man
They say that it’s a father’s job to teach his son what it means to be a man. But I don’t know. They say that sooner or later the majority of men turn into their fathers. But I hope that isn’t true.
Your grandfathers are different kinds of men than I am. Prouder and tougher men. With different kinds of skills. For example, they know exactly how to determine the quality of cars just by kicking the tires. And if you give them any electronic product, any one at all, they can judge whether you’ve paid too much for it in three seconds just by weighing it in their hands. (You have always paid too much for it.)
They haven’t been wrong in a discussion since the mid-seventies. (And even then, they weren’t wrong, they just admitted that someone else might also be a little bit right.)
They don’t stop for directions. They don’t ask for help. They never argue about money, only about principles. They’ll never understand why you would pay anyone to do something you could just as easily do yourself (and their sons will never understand why you would want to do anything all wrong by yourself instead of hiring an expert to begin with, which is actually the cause of almost all of our intergenerational conflicts). They’re a different breed, pure and simple. They know how an extension cord works. You can wake them up in the middle of the night and they’ll tell you today’s mortgage interest rate down to the decimal point. No matter what you buy, they’ll look at you with disappointment in their eyes and ask you what it cost. And though you’ll lie and lower the price by 20 percent, they’ll still say, “$29.95?! They TRICKED you! I know a place where you could’ve gotten it for . . .”
Every time you go over to their houses, they’ll force you to tell them the exact route you took to get there. And when you finally admit that you didn’t take their “special shortcut” this time either, since you don’t feel all that confident driving over train tracks and are actually pretty sure there are bats in those caves, they’ll look at you the way William Wallace looks at the traitor at the end of Braveheart.
That’s the kind of men they are.
They can go out onto a lawn at dawn, empty-handed, and come back in from a newly built deck. I mean, come on. The only thing I’ve ever finished with my own two hands is Grand Theft Auto IV. (And I cheated.)
Your grandfathers built their own houses before Google even existed. Can you comprehend the scope of that accomplishment? They’re not people. They’re Swiss Army knives with beards. They’re proud and they’re tough and it’s entirely possible that they don’t always say the right thing at the right moment. This whole idea of shared parental leave wasn’t exactly on the agenda when they became fathers, and it’s entirely possible that they might not always be great at talking about things you can’t kick the tires of or weigh in your hand. But they’re hard workers. They’ve pulled their weight in society. They can file their own taxes and fix a microwave oven and put up a tent and change the oil in a Ford Escort. These men tamed nature. They survived the beginning of time. In the total wilderness. They didn’t even have Wi-Fi when they grew up. Just think about that. Their entire childhood was an episode of Survivor.
You know that technique of opening a beer bottle with another beer bottle? It took me, no kidding, well into my twenties to realize that my dad hadn’t invented that. The first time I saw someone else do it, my first thought wasn’t “Wow, I guess Dad didn’t come up with that after all.” My first thought was: “WOW! It’s spreading!”
I don’t know whether that says more about my dad or me.
Excerpted from Things My Son Needs to Know About the World. Copyright © 2012 as Saker min son behöver veta om världen. English translation copyright © 2018 by Alice Menzies. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.