If ever a new father needed to join a City Dads Group, it is author Josh Wilker.
He has questions and worries. Many worries. About bonding with his newborn son. About getting his child to sleep, installing car seats, and reconnecting with his postpartum wife. He’s a dad in desperate need of the answers and reassurance provided by a support group like ours (note: according to his Facebook page, Wilker “likes” his hometown Chicago Dads Group).
But at the time he’s writing about in his latest book Benchwarmer: A Sports-Obsessed Memoir of Fatherhood, he can only seek solace in his obsession with sports minutiae. He turns this into a unique tale of his first year of daddying in the form of an A-to-Z sports almanac, using entries about the famous, infamous and oddities of the games we love to relate to his trials and tribulations of parenting. It’s a surprisingly successful format though familiar to anyone who has read Wilker’s online sports work or his excellent autobiography Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards.
What results is a very frank story about failing at fatherhood and sports — professional and amateur as Wilker details his college basketball career as a “backup to the backup forward” on a cellar-dwelling sub-NCAA squad in Vermont. The story in Benchwarmer is so frank, it may scare faint-hearted guys from considering becoming parents at all as Wilker gets down on himself to the point of literally beating himself up, apparently a lifelong coping mechanism.
The thing is Wilker, like most other less-than-confident first-time fathers, muddles through and survives. He learns along the way about himself as he tries to achieve mediocrity where others would try to master his new responsibility. For example, here’s his takeaway after writing about Maurice Flitcroft, a duffer who declared himself a pro to enter the 1976 British Open only to shoot a worst-ever 121 and receive subsequent bannings from other golf events yet kept playing on over the years under false names:
You have to do this as a father. You have to just sign your name and ‘yes, here I am, a pro.’ You have to just start swinging. You will fuck up completely, but it’s better than not being there at all. And then you have to do it again and again, and each time you do it will be so different from any other time that its is as if you have to be a whole new person, or rather, that you have to enact an entirely new impersonation.
While Wilker’s negativism toward himself makes it a painful read at times, his writing — as always — shines, as do the anecdotes about sports flash-in-the-pans, goats and terminology that he uses to spin off his parenting story. He will also make you realize that maybe you didn’t do such as a bad job in those first few days and months and years as a dad yourself. Wilker must have, too, because he now has a second child … and I’m not talking about his book.