Here’s fatherly advice as you’ve never heard it before.
Author: Justin Halpern Publisher: It Books/ HarperCollins, 176 pages
JUSTIN Halpern finds himself living with his parents at the age of 29. This is quite unusual in suburban America, not to mention considered a little pathetic. Usually, parents and children are both happy for the latter to, ready or not, find their own way in the world after university or college. But there Halpern is, back at home and trying to cope with the ending of a three-year romantic relationship while finding solace in his straight-talking father, Sam.
This was last year, when Twitter was all the rage; so Halpern, an aspiring comedy writer, began tweeting the funny things his dad was saying. The tweets were noticed and mentioned by a comedian, a celebrity, some websites, and they took off – until, as of last week, there were more than 1.7 million people following them. Then came this book, published earlier this year, followed by a TV series that premiered in the United States last week.
Sh*t My Dad Says is a collection of the funniest tweets, and seems at first to be a simple generationgap book of laughs. But it proves to be much more upon further reading.
At the centre of the book is an ex-navy doctor and, later, nuclear medicine researcher who has never minced his words about anything – from toilet etiquette (the “sh*t” in the title is more than just an attention-getting word) to girls and flirting and life lessons.
Beginning with memories of a long, hot cross-country drive during which six-year-old Justin learnt from his dad to never assume anything, the author chronicles how his life so far has been shaped by his father’s uncompromising advice and hard-hitting home truths. In between recollections, Halpern slips in random quotes from his father on various topics; for example, this is what Sam has to say about lying: “The worst thing you can be is a liar. …Okay, fine, yes, the worst thing you can be is a Nazi, but then, number two is liar. Nazi 1, liar 2.”
And on Justin getting in trouble at school: “Why would you throw a ball in someone’s face? …Huh. That’s a pretty good reason. Well, I can’t do much about your teacher being pissed, but me and you are good.”
Just a few pages into the book and you will realise that Sam is old school and very (very) fond of swearing. Be prepared for quite a bit of profanity (okay, a lot of it – it took me a while to find printable quotes that did not include the F word or other swear words!).
But what makes this story endearing is that no matter how harsh or crude Sam’s words are, he is, in essence, very much a caring family man with good intentions and good advice, all disguised in caustic, pointed and hilarious words.
For example, on a pre-teen Justin packing his own lunch: “You have to pack a sandwich. It can’t just be cookies and bullsh*t. …No, I said if you packed it yourself, you could pack it how you want it, not pack it like a moron.”
Here’s his carefully hidden concern over his not so well-built son’s intention to try out for the football team in his first year in secondary school: “I ain’t letting you try out, you’re too skinny. … No, I hate to break it to you, but you can’t do whatever you want and you most certainly are not a man.”
Sh*t My Dad Says shot to the top of The New York Times’ nonfiction best-sellers’ list as soon as it was released; and it really is one of the funniest new arrivals. But it does have one shortcoming, I feel: it does not provide enough background for Sam Halpern early enough. Without knowing anything about Sam, he comes across as hilarious, but knowing earlier in the book that he is a Vietnam veteran who, after having two sons (Justin’s older step-brothers, who appear frequently in the book), lost his first wife to cancer, may have given Sam a more relatable, warmer image.
Other than that, though, this is a great book, not only for laughs, but also for hearing some truisms of life. At only 176 pages, it is a quick read that leaves you wanting more. Luckily, you can get more, at Halpern’s Twitter page where he continues to tweet Sam’s sage if salty advice. And perhaps if we’re lucky, we’ll even got to see the sitcom – starring William Shatner as Sam – one day.