I fell in love with Jim Gaffigan when I first heard his joke, “What’s it like to have a fourth child? Imagine that you’re drowning and then someone hands you a baby.”
I laughed harder than I had in a long time. Here, here was something true. And funny. What a novelty.
My husband and I watched more of his stand-up, and it eventually became clear that he was Catholic. We were almost startled when he mentioned it in one of his acts. I was waiting for him to nuance it, distance himself from it. But he didn’t. And he didn’t get booed off the stage, either. People love him, even talk show hosts. Seeing him go on the major networks and honestly portray life as a practicing Catholic in a really funny and attractive way has been an inspiration.
Two weeks ago, I picked up his book Dad is Fat (named after the first sentence written by his “former son”). It was such a delight. It details his life in New York City with his lovely wife and five little children. They live in a less-than-perfect part of Manhattan in a two bedroom fifth floor walk-up, and the book gives a heroically funny look at the challenges inherent in that life, from getting the kids outside to play (down the five stories’ worth of stairs with scooters and strollers) to putting them down for the night (he provides a diagram on how they put five little bodies to bed in two bedrooms).
There was a laugh in every paragraph, and my husband and I passed the book back and forth, rolling with laughter from his descriptions of family vacations (“Remember when you went on vacation as a kid and you’d think to yourself, ‘Why is Dad always in a bad mood?’ Well, now I understand.”), family photos (“I have more photos of my children than times my father ever looked at me.”), and on the reaction of his friends and family to his growing family (“I knew that to them we had become that disappointing friend on yet another trip to rehab. They weren’t even rooting for us anymore.”)
In his chapter “Six Kids, Catholic,” Jim Gaffigan writes about growing up in a family of eight. “I remember saying that as a teenager to people when they asked how many children were in my family. There would always be a beat after I said, ‘Six kids,’ for the person to silently speculate about the size of our family; then I would give the explanation, ‘Catholic.’” He writes that big families are like waterbed stores. They used to be everywhere. But now when you see one, it just seems weird. And he vents his frustration over the intrusive questions strangers ask about family size. “People would never even ask a friend, let alone a stranger, when they plan to get their hair cut, for fear of offending, yet for some reason the ‘How many children are you going to have’ question is fair game. This also goes for people without children. We are close with a couple who has struggled with infertility for years, and I have witnessed strangers asking how long they’d been married immediately followed by ‘Why don’t you have any children?’ Total disregard for what they might be going through. Why is this? I don’t mean to get up on a diaper box, but individual liberties are all-important in this country…except when it comes to the number of kids you have or don’t have.”
Growing up in a big family, though, didn’t make becoming a parent any easier for Jim Gaffigan. While the book is replete with the challenges of parenthood, he wouldn’t have it any other way. He writes, “I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life. I believe each of my five children has made me a better man. So I figure I only need another thirty-four kids to be a pretty decent guy. Each one of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart.”
A book for anyone who needs to laugh or who feels nudged outside the realm of “normalcy” because of faith or family size. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, Catholic.
Copyright 2013 Meg Matenaer