You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations by Michael Ian Black
Comedian Michael Ian Black’s first memoir is hilarious and surprisingly poignant. I love his brand of humor and from his writing he strikes me as the kind of friend you’d describe as, “Great guy, kind of a dick, but great.”
We all have that friend we love to death but think they can be kind of dick but really they’re just honest. And honesty is exactly what Black brings to the table in his collection of essays.
Black covers his childhood with a brother and special needs sister, his parents divorce, his mother realizing she’s a lesbian, and the sudden and unexpected death of his dad who he didn’t have a great relationship with. He shares it all with humor but surprised me with some really candid and honest thoughts.
Then, there’s his wife Martha. He shares how their relationship began, their decision to move in together (she basically bullied her way in), their marriage (her idea), and eventually the birth of their two children (again, all her idea).
I related to the chapters on marriage and parenthood so much. Black wasn’t afraid to share the raw truths that no one ever wants to talk about and share in such a way that I laughed several times in the school line to pick up my daughter.
“Occasionally, I see an article in the newspaper about parents who abuse their children. Before I had a child, I used to think, How could this happen? Now, I find myself wondering why it doesn’t happen more often. Why aren’t parents throwing their kids into Dumpsters every day? And why, God, why do people have more than one? Because after you’ve done this once, there can be no possible excuse for doing it again. The thought occurs to me that if parenthood is this hard for everybody, infanticide would be as common as public urination. The human species would have died out long ago. Therefore, our experience cannot be common. Clearly there is something wrong with him. Maybe our kid is a lemon.”
I could’ve written that paragraph myself. I felt the exact same way after my daughter was born. (But I was smarter, I really couldn’t find an excuse to have a second child.)
He discusses honestly the strain parenting put on his marriage and that he and Martha attended counseling to get through some of the toughest parts. He admits to being a dick and saying hurtful things.
Then there were the surprisingly profound and brutally honest thoughts he shared.
After his son called him the best dad ever:
“Doesn’t he know how much I resented him when he was a baby, crying in the night? Or, now that he’s older, doesn’t he notice when I’m so immersed on the computer that I don’t listen to the stories he tells me about his day? Doesn’t he know that I am sometimes glad to be far away from him and his sister and his mother, all by myself, in a hotel room where nobody needs me for anything?”
His thoughts on parenting:
“There is no word for feeling nostalgic about the future, but that’s what a parent’s tears often are, a nostalgia for something that has not yet occurred. They have the pain of hope, the helplessness of hope, and finally, the surrender to hope. That’s what parenthood is, ultimately, the hope of casting a message in a glass bottle into the sea with no sense of where it will end up. We have no control, none of us.”
(I should mention that quote is taken from a chapter where he talks in great detail about how much he hates the band Creed but the song “With Arms Wide Open” changed his life.)
And the final chapter, which turned into somewhat of a love letter to Martha:
“Time moves in peculiar ways. Fast and slow at the same time. When I look at you, I don’t see whatever imperfections you see. Our faces are just geography. They tell us the story of who we are and who we used to be. I see you as I’ve always known you: I see you at twenty-five and thirty and forty-two … I love the story your face tells me because I love you.
That is the real gift of marriage, I think. When people about about ‘growing old together,’ what they are really talking about is the desire to see somebody all the way through, to connect your life with somebody in such a deep way that the word old loses whatever scary power it might have had on us alone.”
This was a great memoir with a perfect mix of humor and honesty that pretty much everyone can relate to in some way.
I recommend this to readers who enjoy autobiography/memoir, humor, and contemporary essays.