Interview with New Paltz, NY, Author Greg Olear: On Fathermucker Book and Life As a Stay-at-Home-Dad
Daddy Dearest: An Ulster County writer pens a laugh-aloud novel about life as a stay-at-home-dad
Ah, fatherhood — it’s not what it used to be. Gone are the days when stereotypical dads hopped on the 5:05 train home, patted their kids on the head, and hunkered down for the night with a highball or two. Thank God that we’ve got our own Greg Olear to fill us in on the newfangled version of fatherhood. In his fast-paced and hysterical novel Fathermucker (HarperCollins, $13.99), Olear takes us on a one-day romp through the life of fictional stay-at-home dad Josh Lansky as he navigates play dates, poopie pants, being pulled over by a policeman, and one pretty hot mama (who does her damndest to lead this loyal husband down the path of infidelity).
But, believe it or not, the real action is inside Lansky’s head: his nonstop stream of consciousness is at turns laugh-out-loud funny, thought-provoking, and touching. Olear’s fresh voice and unique insights into parenting, love, pop culture, sex, and gender roles will really resonate with locals as the novel takes place in New Paltz. Nothing is off-limits for Olear — whether riffing on corporate life at IBM, the crunchy granola moms of New Paltz, or the evils of McMansions. He even shares Lansky’s opinion on the best place in the Hudson Valley to get caught having sex. (Hint: love those Dutchess County museums.)
A Georgetown grad, Olear lives with his wife Stephanie and their two kids (Dominick, who turns seven on Christmas Day; and Prudence, five) in a historic house smack dab in the middle of New Paltz. He insists that Fathermucker is a work of fiction, but we think he doth protest too much. Here, Olear gives HV the lowdown on the writing life and parenting à la New Paltz.
HV: So Fathermucker made the Hot Type section of Vanity Fair. That’s impressive.
GO: Yeah, it was pretty exciting. And it’s the Angelina Jolie cover too; it’s kind of like I’m connected to her or something.
Like Josh, do you read US Weekly?
We did subscribe to it for three or four years, but we’ve stopped now. At first we were buying it every week; we thought, “We can have it in the bathroom.” We would comment on certain things.
Do you read all the celebrity pubs?
No, only US. People sort of straddles the line between celebrity crap and real people stuff. I don’t want even a few pages devoted to normal people who do inspirational things. I want to know what Brad Pitt is doing. I don’t care about real people. If I’m going to read crap, I want to read real crap.
Child’s play: Life in the slow lane inspires a smart and funny new novel from local writer Greg Olear
Were you ever a full-time stay-at-home dad?
No, we were both home. The media presents it like, if the man isn’t going out to a full-time job then the woman must be, and then there is a complete role reversal. But I think that the reality — at least among people I know in New Paltz — is that it’s a hodgepodge. For us, we both worked at home and shared the responsibilities of the kids. We could have made more money if we didn’t do that, but hopefully our kids will appreciate us.
Recently, you left the region to live in New Jersey for a year. What was that all about?
We were living in Highland, not New Paltz, and we couldn’t sell our house. So we moved to a house that my parents owned in New Jersey. We never really wanted to leave, but financially it seemed to make sense. I figured I’d go there and I’d get a job in the city, but it is so expensive. And then there is the fact that you are living in New Jersey. I mean, it’s very nice and all and I grew up there, but it wasn’t a good fit for us.
But now you’re back!
Yes, we got lucky. We sold our house and we were able to buy this historic landmark house right in the thick of things in the village of New Paltz. We are really excited to be here — and we are never, ever, ever moving again.
Why are you guys so attached to New Paltz?
Well, when you are in a place and you have babies and they all grow up together, you have this great foundation and you can’t ever replace that. It’s kind of like freshman year in college when you’re living in the dorms — you only really get one shot at that. Also, in Highland we were kind of isolated. Here, we can walk everywhere. It’s better when you have kids to be part of a close community.
So let’s get down to it. Is Sharon — the mommy seductress in the book — modeled after anybody?
Oh God, no. She in particular is completely made up. My friends like to guess at this stuff, but to say that this person equals that person is just not true. Even Josh and me, we have the closest parallels, but there are still a lot of differences in lifestyle and temperament. Ultimately, it is a work of fiction. The people that are the closest are the kids. The kids in the book are more or less my kids. Most of the things that are in there are based on things that are real.
Do your kids know that they are starring in the book?
Not really, they’re not old enough to get that. But they know it is dedicated to them. I showed Dominick that and I think it made him happy. I know one day they’ll read it and I hope they’ll appreciate it as a sort of a time capsule of what our life was like. They’ll have an insight that I never got about what my own parents’ life was like. Maybe our lives will be a little less mysterious.
Have you ever had a bad experience with the militant mommies of New Paltz?
No, I haven’t. Look, I wouldn’t do attachment parenting, I wouldn’t do elimination communication, my wife did not breast-feed the kids until they were 16. But there are people who do these things. One of the things that I like about New Paltz, for all its stuff, is that people really aren’t very judgmental. People are very liberal, but it’s kind of like, “do what you want.” I have friends who won’t let their kids watch TV or eat meat, but I don’t pass judgment on them. They’re doing what they think is right for their kids. I like it that people up here are so committed to being parents that they’re willing to break down their work lives and sacrifice themselves. I think that is overwhelmingly a positive thing.
Was it difficult to write a book in which the action takes place all in one day?
I’ve always wanted to write something that takes place in one day. There aren’t that many books that do this, but I really enjoy them because you know what you are getting. It’s fun to figure out how to make it fit within that very rigid framework. In this book I really wanted to go in-depth into the minutiae of the parenting world and also into the interior monologue of the parents. A slice of life in one day was just a good way to do it.
Do you think most parents have this inner monologue going on like Josh does?
Yes, I do. When you are a parent who spends all your time with little kids there are so many things you can’t do. You can’t swear, you can’t tell certain jokes, you have to watch these terrible TV shows, you can’t yell, you can’t lose your temper, you can’t be sexual. You have to repress so many things that ultimately get channeled into these interior monologues. These parents walk around and whatever is going on in their heads is often very rich and very funny, but there is just no outlet for any of it. I guess that’s why people blog — they just have to get it out.