Sage say­ings

Here’s fa­therly ad­vice as you’ve never heard it be­fore.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BOOKS - Sh*t My dad Says Re­view by AN­dReA FiLMeR

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.

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