The name of Jim Gaffigan’s book on parenting comes from one of his two sons. The author is presumably Jack, the oldest, since Michael would have been little older than one at the time of Gaffigan’s writing. It’s hard to keep track of them all, since Gaffigan has five kids, a fact that surprises and challenges him, and also makes him very sleepy. And if it seems difficult to keep track of them in a book, imagine keeping track of them on the way to the park, walking or riding the subway, or even within a New York City apartment. That’s Gaffigan’s life as a father and the experience he chronicles in Dad Is Fat.
There’s a predictable craziness to Gaffigan’s story. The idea of a comedian who, in his act, professes his love of sleep and hate for books writes a book essentially about giving himself five full-time jobs could be a sitcom plot. He’s the stereotypical dad who doesn’t quite know what’s going on, who defers to his wife, whose children are smarter than he is, who is utterly at odds with the concept of parenting. But that would be an unrecognizable stereotype to Gaffigan. He looks around and sees parents who know what they’re doing, who are—in his estimation—smarter, more patient, and more capable.
Examine Gaffigan’s stage act. He plays up the dumb, lazy guy image for laughs. Dumb, lazy comics don’t write the quality of material Gaffigan does, and they don’t tour and produce specials and CDs like he does. They also don’t take five kids on a tour bus, and neither does a stereotypically aloof parent. Gaffigan may feel overwhelmed, but part of his message is that all parents feel similarly. And every once in a while, when he watches some of those other “perfect” parents, he sees them lose it and scream at their kids, and it makes him feel a little better.
Fat reveals the seams between Gaffigan’s comic persona and his true personality. There’s plenty of material adapted from his act, including much from 2012 special Mr. Universe (“Disney,” “McDonald’s,” “Hotel Pools,” “Shoes,” “Photos,” and it was only “4 Kids” at the time). There’s the aforementioned bewildered dad. And there’s a bevy of bad puns. But there’s also the guy who wouldn’t trade anything for one of his kids’ smiles, and the guy who fawns over his wife even though she feeds them organic junk food.
Gaffigan even gets close to wistful in the final chapter, a fine balance of the battling real Jim and comic Jim, when discussing the phrase “You’re going to miss this.” He understands that the phrase is really “a confession from these parents with older children that may not have taken enough time to appreciate the chaos.” There’s insight and compassion in that observation, and a tacit acknowledgment that however much he might protest, he enjoys the chaos, even if he can’t help but throw in a punchline.