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June 15, 2012

30 Days of Dads: Dan Zevin, author of 'Dan Gets a Minivan'

Dan Zevin reads Dan Gets a MinivanAny doubts about writer Dan Zevin and his non-street cred disappeared shortly after he answered his phone.

"Could you give me a call back in about 15 minutes?" he said apologetically. "That's when the play date leaves."

Zevin, 47, a former columnist for a Boston alternative weekly, a past contributor to Rolling Stone, a 2004 finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor Award (he lost to the son of some wordy starboard-tacking yachtsman named Buckley or Buffy or something), really is an at-home dad.

His new book, Dan Gets a Minivan, tackles his indoctrination into our small but now sexy niche-marketing demographic. His topics may seem well worn (date night, playground etiquette, the inevitable trip to a Disney theme park and aforementioned vehicle purchase) but he infuses each with a wholly original wit and flair. It's the antidote for anyone worried the transition from being career-driven to driving a Dodge Caravan signals the end.

Rather, as he found, it's the start of accepting a new higher purpose.

"After the kids came I felt like everything was shrinking. I felt like our house was shrinking, my brain was shrinking," Zevin said. "I realized we were just outgrowing everything. The minivan felt like a metaphor for outgrowing our old lives."

Dan_Zevin_Dan_Get_MinivanSubtitled Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, his book recounts the journey through those crossroads to the Promised Land, in his case a home in the suburbs of Westchester County, N.Y. He takes side trips to court for a leash-less dog and a prescription-enhanced rehabilitation for a torn ACL, among others, but mostly it’s a humorous coming to terms with the need to remake one's self during the medical condition known as "middle-age onset parenthood."

The transformation occurred as Zevin tried to simultaneously write from his hip but tiny townhouse in Brooklyn and tend to his young kids while his wife continued her successful career as a Manhattan publishing executive.

"It's not that I've lost ambition, it's just that my ambitions have evolved, shall we say," he writes in what we at-home parents will agree is the book's most relatable (and funniest) chapter, "On No Longer Giving a Shit." "Twenty years ago, it was my ambition to win a Pulitzer Prize. Today, it is my ambition to get a reclining chair for the living room. And not just any reclining chair. This chair needs to recline and swivel. …

"See, I made a choice to stop giving a shit. And now, I'm empowered by indifference."

Zevin isn't indifferent about raising his children, now 9 and 6, just probably more laid back about it than many of his female counterparts -– and for good reason.

"There are no role models for us. The stay-at-home dad model is new," he said. "We’re just figuring it out as we go. Women, our wives, have generations of role models to live up to."

Still, he's a man serious enough about the job to take a crash course on playing the guitar so he could serenade his tots just like his former Brooklyn neighbor, Del Fuegos leader children's music rock god Dan Zanes. "My dream is to get him to play at one my readings. Just once," Zevin said.

Meanwhile, he'd be happy just to become the spitting image of his dad, a familiar-quotations spouting New Jersey gynecologist. Zevin experienced this epiphany (which he also writes about in the book) somewhere between the boatload of bananas and cut-rate coffins they saw together during a bonding trip to a discount shopping mart.

"I can only hope to turn into my father. He is the consummate provider. The place that he goes to provide is Costco," Zevin said. "He's just got it to together. That trip to Costco – maybe that was my version of the father-son fishing trip. We went to the wholesale club instead of the golf club. Now I am an 'executive member' of Costco. I can get in an hour earlier than everyone else."

While he said "never specifically set out to write about fatherhood" just "a collection of funny stories written by a dad," Zevin said he is most surprised by –- and sounds most proud of –- the new identity being a parent brings with it.

"I used to be named Dan, and now I'm named 'Leo and Josie's dad,'" he said. "You merge. You become part of a new team. It's good."

Just like his book.

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Dan Zevin also writes The Minivan Diaries blog and interviews local folks in his minivan for a video series called Dan Zevin's Star Vehicle on YouTube.

Photo credit: Me. You seriously think a pro took that lousy shot?


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