On my drive to Salinas last Thursday, I got to hear “Sh*t My Dad Says”, which recounts Justin Halpern’s interactions with his father as he navigated life as a young adult.
First off, if you are sensitive about strong language, this book is not for you. Its a wonderful, warm-hearted book, but if you feel offended about frequent use of four-letter words, this book will probably not be enjoyable. Anyone who knows me knows that I myself have a (really bad) habit of always using strong language, even in mixed company and professional settings. Its gotten to the point where it is very disruptive. I would not even begin to blame this habit on anyone other than myself: my parents pretty much NEVER swore, my friends all think its weird and obnoxious, and I have had two bosses comment it.
The book opens with Justin Halpern moving back in with his parents. His friends, having either heard stories or experienced his dad’s witticisms themselves suggest to Halpern to start a Twitter account where he can record some of the more colorful phrases from his dad. The account languishes for about a month, then begins to pick up followers, until one day it has thousands of followers and Halpern is offered book deals. Halpern is worried about his fathers reaction to the news, but his father brushes it aside with a LIGAF nonchalance. The book is structured with short stories illustrating Halperns young life and his father’s words of wisdom as he progressed into adulthood. This was the first audiobook that I have heard that was read by Sean Schemmel, who did a fantastic job voicing Halpern’s father.
I enjoyed this book a lot and I found it very easy to relate to. Halpern’s father seems like a gruff figure, and an easy assumption is that he is a blue-collar worker. It is revealed midway through the book that his father is actually a well-respected professor of nuclear medicine at UCSD, who attends meetings, gives lectures, and does science all day long. Growing up in DC, everyone’s dad is someone: FBI/CIA/NSA agents, congressmen, professors, bureaucrats of every level. And they were all insane! As insane as any parent. You’d go over as a kid and they’d be walking around in tidy whities, or trying to do home repair on their own (often without success), or forgetting their kids at soccer practice. My own father was a NASA physicist, to this day (after 20+ years of schooling) I still have no idea what goes on in the papers that he writes, and he was very well respected in his field. But he was crazy! He refused to spend more than $1 on any piece of clothing, which led to a very eclectic wardrobe. He refused to throw away any papers that he printed out, so he had stacks and stacks of scientific journal articles that reached the ceiling. He (a NASA physicist) once spent 45 minutes helping me with an introductory physics problem, and came to the conclusion that the problem was not only unsolvable, but somehow proved the constant for gravity was wrong. So while my dad rarely swore, I found myself recalling fond memories from childhood all thoughout the drive while listening to the audiobook. Halpern’s father offers insights on why you should feel confident and do your best without caring what other people think of you. While he was sometimes very severe, he came across as a very loving and caring figure who wanted the best for his family. Overall, the book is simultaneously warm and funny and dark, and navigates the readers though the tricky waters of adolescence with a sarcastic and blunt edge. Very nicely organized and truly one of the funniest books I have read in a long time.