Keith GessenJun 7, 2022
The First Five Years
"I was not prepared to be a father--this much I knew."
Keith Gessen was nearing forty and hadn't given much thought to the idea of being a father. He assumed he would have kids, but couldn't imagine what it would be like to be a parent, or what kind of parent he would be. Then, one Tuesday night in early June, the distant idea of fatherhood came careening into view: Raffi was born, a child as real and complex and demanding of his parents' energy as he was singularly magical.
Fatherhood is another country: a place where the old concerns are swept away, where the ordering of time is reconstituted, where days unfold according to a child's needs. Whatever rulebooks once existed for this sort of thing seem irrelevant or outdated. Overnight, Gessen's perception of his neighborhood changes: suddenly there are flocks of other parents and babies, playgrounds, and schools that span entire blocks. Raffi is enchanting, as well as terrifying, and like all parents, Gessen wants to do what is best for his child. But he has no idea what that is.
Written over the first five years of Raffi's life, Raising Raffi (Viking, 2022) examines the profound, overwhelming, often maddening experience of being a dad. Gessen traces how the practical decisions one must make each day intersect with some of the weightiest concerns of our age: What does it mean to choose a school in a segregated city? How do you instill in your child a sense of his heritage without passing on that history's darker sides? Is parental anger normal, possibly useful, or is it inevitably authoritarian and destructive? How do you get your kid to play sports? And what do you do, in a pandemic, when the whole world seems to fall apart? By turns hilarious and poignant, Raising Raffi is a story of what it means to invent the world anew.
Marshall Poe is the founder and editor of the New Books Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.