The Forty- Year- Old- Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad by Joel Schwartzberg takes humor mixed with a dose of reality and transparency and wraps it all together in a package that any father can enjoy regardless of marital status. Arranged as a collection of 40 short essays, the book can be enjoyed both stretched out in short sittings or as a quick read in a day or two. As a recently divorced dad, it is easy to relate to Joel’s adventures with his three children in the aftermath of something that turned his world upside down.
I think what makes the book particularly endearing is that it grasps at the core issues that all dads face at one time or another. Schwartzberg grapples with feelings of self worth and significance, questions his ability to be an effective father, and chronicles his own growth and maturing as he endures the trials of life. I found that I laughed, cried, and was driven to thoughtful reflection during this enjoyable read.
The journey begins with a description of Joel moving back in with his “invasively caring” Jewish parents after his separation from his wife of 10 years. He soon remembers all the reasons he desired to move out back in high school, but at the same time the care and attention is strangely reassuring. Joel candidly speaks out about his feelings of imperfection and aloneness after the birth of his first child, which so drastically differs from what we learn on TV that we are supposed to feel as new parents. He recalls many of his children’s milestones and relates them to his own childhood experiences, such as the first day of school, going to the circus, and the struggle to expand beyond a palate of chicken fingers, French fries, and macaroni and cheese.
Despite the elements of humor that are interlaced through many of the essays, Schwartzberg also touches on deeper things. Through recounting a story about the battle his son Charlie had with a potentially life threatening medical condition, Schwartzberg perfectly describes the fear mixed with the desire to take our child’s place that every dad feels when our children face the unknown. In the end, we have to be content with reality. As dads, we are sometimes are reduced to spectators that can only “sit close and hold their hand” when life throws our children unexpected turns.
Perhaps the point that hit closest to home for me was a few of the essays that described the adaptability of children after divorce. Divorce is hardly an easy road, but you can substitute divorce with some of life’s other curveballs, like unexpected death or injury or other setbacks and disappointments. Schwartzberg reminds fellow dads that it does not matter what road you are on, we as fathers are still called to stay the course. It is our job to be our sons and daughters’ biggest fans. When we don’t lose sight of that important role, with a bit of luck and a few good laughs, it will turn out all right.
Dave Baldwin is a businessman, musician, and divorced father of two boys. They live together in El Paso, TX.