Parenting, the gay way
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Brett Berk: ‘I wanted to offer a new perspective on how to deal with kids’
When Brett Berk invited his friends and their young son for dinner, he did not expect a potty to be placed next to the table.
"We should be celebrating," said the boy's proud mother, after her son had showed his toilet-training prowess.
"We should be fumigating," Berk replied, quite put off his food.
This was the trigger for Berk to take action. Having seen too many friends fall prey to what he calls the "parenting bubble" (where life revolves around the children) he decided something had to be done. The resulting book, The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting, has become a phenomenon in the States. Berk has become a modern parenting "guru", and there are plans to turn his book into a reality TV series.
"These days there's so much emphasis on being perfect parents and raising perfect children," says Berk from his apartment in New York. "I wanted to offer parents a new perspective on how to deal with kids and deliver sound, actionable advice. I also wanted to let people laugh at themselves."
Berk, who is 39, seems to have delivered what he intended. The book is 230 pages of candid advice, wrapped up with some delicious anecdotes - the parents who worry that their pre-schooler is choosing the "wrong" child to be friends with, and the new mother convinced that her baby's nappies don't smell. As an "outsider", Berk considers himself well qualified to try to bring parents back to reality. He is emphatic that the book is for those who want to be "people as well as parents".
"Investing all your time and energy in your child is a lot of pressure to place on a kid," he says. "You can do to really focus on the big picture, rather than whether you're feeding them the right organic grape or not."
Berk is scathing about people who pander to their children's every whim. He clearly feels that parents are out of control, spoiling themselves and their children with all sorts of things they don't need. "The baby business seems to play on your fears that you're ill equipped for the job and going to do it all wrong," he writes.
This is where his checklist for "Baby Product Substitutes" comes in. Instead of a digital bath thermometer, Berk suggests using a finger or wrist, and instead of a baby-wipes warmer (for those sensitive babies who cannot handle a wipe at room temperature) he suggests... a lobotomy.
He has no children himself, but he does not see that as a problem. He has worked with children (he has a Masters in education and taught in schools) and feels he knows a lot about them. He is also convinced that gay men, already feted as gurus on style and grooming, should move into another arena.
"Some people said maybe we should take the "gay" part out of the title," he says, "but that's part of the shtick of the book. Gay men have taken on this role as lifestyle gurus and this is the next logical thing for us to address."
The appealing thing about The Gay Uncle's Guide is not just that it is funny, with a wry sense of Jewish humour (Berk says that, although the book isn't "overtly" Jewish, he guesses that "everything I do is somehow informed by my Jewishness), but that the advice is actually useful. "Don't worry about whether your child or children can cope if you're thinking of having another child," he says. "Think about whether you can cope. Your children are going to resent you for the rest of their lives anyway ."
Berk is adamant he does not want children of his own. "I'm not opposed to gay parenting but it's just not for me," he says. "I do more good as an uncle and an educator than I would do as a parent. I think we all muck it up as parents. It's impossible not to."
The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting: Candid Counsel from the Depths of the Day-Care Trenches is published by Three Rivers Press. Brett Berk's blog is at http://brettberk.com/