The Velveteen Father: An Unexpected Journey to Parenthood (Ballantine Trade Pbk)

The Velveteen Father: An Unexpected Journey to Parenthood (Ballantine Trade Pbk)

by Jesse Green

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Everything conspires against the single, childless man. Each new living thing in the world each day says: You are alone, and not getting younger.

At the age of thirty-seven, the journalist and novelist Jesse Green found his life dramatically changing when he met and fell in love with a man who had recently adopted a baby boy. Having long since made


Everything conspires against the single, childless man. Each new living thing in the world each day says: You are alone, and not getting younger.

At the age of thirty-seven, the journalist and novelist Jesse Green found his life dramatically changing when he met and fell in love with a man who had recently adopted a baby boy. Having long since made peace with his choice not to be a parent, Green now faced the shock and the responsibility of a fatherhood he had never imagined. The Velveteen Father is his candid, heartfelt, and often hilarious account of the formation and flourishing of a family.
In intimate, graceful prose, Green describes his partner's journey from the hedonistic eighties to the realization that he wanted to have a child; his own concurrent journey to find a way to become an adult without having a child; and their journey together to become good parents in a society whose reactions to unconventional families can be both funny and frightening.
In the classic bedtime story, a velveteen rabbit is made real at last by a child's true love. The Velveteen FatherM is a moving record of the transformative effect parenthood can have on people who least expect to become parents, of how we are repeatedly made anew by the love of children who need us. But this transformation is not just the province of parents, Green writes; only by addressing, in some way, the generations that come before and after us can we face the task of becoming real. The Velveteen Father will therefore interest anyone who has considered—or would consider—having achild.

Editorial Reviews

Andrew Tobias
I totally love this once sweet and delicious and touching and wise, beautifully written and, to anyone who has ever contemplated parenthood, endlessly thought-provoking. It could lead to 10,000 blessed adoptions; and proves, yet again, that love trumps labels.
Cathleen Schine
A tender, intelligent book, Jesse Green's very intimate reflection on what it means to be a father illuminates all families with eloquence, wit, and insight.
In the children's story The Velveteen Rabbit a stuffed bunny is finally made real when touched by a child's true love. In The Velveteen Father, we see the same thing happen to a man.
Kirkus Reviews
A gay father's memoir, stranger and more powerful reading than the author's fictional work. The remarkable contents here suggest years of artistic and personal growth. Green—an award-winning journalist who contributes to numerous periodicals, from the New York Times Magazine to Out, and the author of the 1992 novel O Beautiful—is a single Manhattan gay male, a successful writer with supportive Jewish parents, whose life turns around when he finds the love of his life, an older Brooklyn school guidance counselor. Andy is also Jewish but unlike the author is an "imperfectionist" and the son of a "brownstone-belt Queen Lear." His greatest distinction is that he is one of the first single gay men to adopt a child. The baby boy, Erez, is a rambunctious Mexican whose birth mother was never met. The responsibilities overwhelm and transform Green, who now feels somewhat alienated from those "gay men who remain single [and] make a kind of life's work out of adolescence, their days filled with gossip, crushes, self-beautification." Many back in the Village or the Hamptons don't know why he didn't get a Chihuahua. The book is full of insightful, eloquent, and clever passages about parenthood, sexuality, and the "blood libels" of the homophobic political right. Only on religion do these well-turned lines, often turned upside down for effect, sound shallow. Despite the playful response "after this, I want your tubes tied," Green agrees to adopt another child (another Mexican baby boy). With this son, Lucas, the author takes on even more of the physical and emotional responsibilities of parenthood than he earlier shared with his partner. To drastically finalize his commitment, Green movesto the Brooklyn neighborhood of his new future and family. A standout comment on the eternal and contemporary implications of family emerges from this enjoyable story that is far too good not to be true.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.39(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.53(d)

Read an Excerpt

"Mommy," he said.
In the summer after his third birthday, Erez started asking for his mother, or at any rate for something he referred to by that name. "I'm going outside to find Mommy," he informed us one day, quite jauntily, as if he were announcing a trip to his toy box. And then, as an afterthought: "Where is she?" Of course he could not reach the deadbolt yet, and anyway he was not quite sure what the word "mommy" meant. But he knew that his friend Aaron had one and that his friend Rosalie had two. And that he didn't have any, at least not in the house.

It was, Andy tells me, among Erez's first sounds-"ma"-just as it is for most children. "Ma" is the sound of first recourse, of merely opening the lips. It is the name that is there whether you speak it or not, "the invisible breath between every line," as the poet James Merrill put it. But for Erez, the bleating syllable lacked a referent. Andy was his father; he had no mother; no one came when he uttered the world's oldest word. Very soon after he started speaking it, the sound naturally fell into disuse, until it was hijacked several months later as the name for his favorite stuffed animal, a black-and-white cat even now called Ma'am-from the sound he had learned cats make, we assume.

He had no mother, but of course he did. Andy often told him the story, or part of the story, in the dark as Erez lay curling for sleep: One day I walked from work and took the subway train to the bus and the bus to a plane, and the plane took me far away to another state, where a woman who was able to grow you inside her but could not take care of you was looking for a daddy to love you for the rest of your life. And Iwas that daddy. And I took you back to the plane to the bus and the bus to the subway-well, actually, this time, we took a cab-and brought you here to Brooklyn to be my son forever. Which perhaps explains Erez's mania for transportation, his every-night dreaming of trains.

For a while he asks a few times a week: "Where's Mommy?" Other times he says definitively: "Daddy is my mommy." This seems a piece of wisdom, but it is the wisdom of the stopped clock, correct twice a day. In the category of family relationships he is apt to say anything. "Mommy?" he says to a passing stranger. "Mommy?" he says to a woman whose child has just called her that. Or at television time, this: "Let's watch Grandma Yankees!"-inexplicably having altered the title of the musical Damn Yankees to suit some subterranean agenda. Wallace and Gromit, characters in a favorite video, have similarly turned into Wallace and Grandma. And I sometimes get turned into Uncle-a term someone must have used in his presence, or even deliberately taught him to use. But I'm not his uncle, any more than Gromit (a claymation dog) is his grandma. I'm his . . . well, no wonder he's confused.

He finds a picture in the drawer of a flea-market dry sink-a drawer so rarely opened by adults that it still contains news clippings and liquor bills from the man who owned it decades ago. What a party Sink Man threw in May of 1963! Here is an order for twenty-five bottles of wine plus an assortment of spirits and thick green liqueurs. But suddenly it's 1967 and here is a letter expressing sorrow over Sink Man's recent "tragedy": "I hope that time will enable you to overcome your present sadness. Fortunately, you are still very young so that much of your life is before you." The condolence-is it possible?-still reeks of pipe tobacco. And here is a photograph.

But before we even see what it is, Erez has torn the tiny picture in four. This is not surprising; he shreds, juliennes, or otherwise dismembers almost anything he particularly likes. Playing cards and the pasteboard sleeves of videotapes are helpless in his path; pop-up books may be totally harvested of their pop-ups within minutes if left undefended. Now he hands over the remains of a woman, taken in a photo booth in what seems, from her hairdo and Peter Pan collar when reassembled, to be the late 1950s. She is young, a bit bulbous, smiling through lipstick; she has not yet had a child-and would she ever get to, before her "tragedy"? For she is the wife (or so I imagine) for whom Sink Man threw such a bibulous party, whom Sink Man lost not four years later.

"Mommy?" Erez says, dropping the bits merrily in my hand.

Meet the Author

Jesse Green is a much-anthologized, award-winning journalist and a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine; his articles have also appeared in The New Yorker, New York, The Washington Post, Premiere, GQ, Philadelphia, Mirabella, and Out. His novel, O Beautiful, was called "one of the best first novels of the year" by Entertainment Weekly. He lives in New York City.

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