And that is a small taste of what it was like to write a book about growing up with my dad, and then to let him read the manuscript and have final say as to what he did or did not want included. Although he was particular about a few things (like not using the word "hop" to describe his method for entering and exiting automobiles), he could not have been more supportive of my efforts to write the story of our relationship.
Before I got started, I decided that I'd have him read each chapter before I sent it to my editor — to make sure he felt comfortable with everything in it and to confirm the accuracy of my memories. The vetting process began with my printing out the manuscript pages (he refuses to read off a computer) and sitting quietly next to him at the living room table in my parents' house in San Diego as he held a red pen in his hand and occasionally turned to me to say something like: "You use the word amazing twice in two sentences."
"Dad, I really just want you to check the material to make sure you're comfortable with it. My editor will help me shape it. All I care about is that you're comfortable."
"Well, I'm not comfortable with people thinking you're an amazing dumbshit, and that's what they'll think if they see you use the word amazing twice in two fucking sentences."
Despite his editorializing, reviewing my manuscript with him was a great experience. I was reliving my childhood, and he was reliving that time in our lives, too, except through my eyes. After going through each chunk of new chapters, we'd stroll down to our favorite pizza place, on the boardwalk next to the San Diego Harbor, where we'd grab a bite to eat and talk about whatever was on his mind.
"Unfuckingbelievable," he said one day at lunch when I was about half way through writing Sh*t My Dad Says. "You. You're going to be published."
"Well, I mean, I've been published before, Dad, so—"
"Bullshit. That titty magazine doesn't count."
"Maxim's not a... Okay, yes, in that titty magazine. But also on the web and stuff."
"The Internet? That's not being published. Any asshole can get on the Internet and toss shit up."
"Is this you congratulating me?" I asked.
"Ah, shit, yeah, sorry. I'm proud of you," he said. We sat quietly munching garlic rolls for a few moments, before he added, "But seriously, the fucking Internet doesn't count."
And that's kind of how it is with my dad — and why I love him to death. There's no filter on the man. You know where you stand with him; you never have to guess. I think a lot of people have similar relationships with their fathers — relationships not about passing the ball and riding double bicycles and eating ice cream cones, but rather based on a series of triumphs, mistakes, arguments, and incredibly awkward moments.
"I wasn't the perfect dad, but I did what I thought was right and tried not to raise an asshole," he told me after he finished reading the last page of the book a couple months later.
"Nobody's perfect, Dad," I said.
He turned and looked at me from across the living room table.
"Son, do me a favor: Don't speak in meaningless fucking clichés. Now put your shoes on. I'll take you out for some pizza."
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Justin Halpern is the founding editor of the comedy website HolyTaco.com and a senior writer at Maxim.com. Halpern created the Twitter page "Shit My Dad Says," which boasts more than a million followers, and is cowriting and coproducing a sitcom adaptation for CBS. He splits his time between Los Angeles and his parents' home in San Diego.
Books mentioned in this post
Justin Halpern is the author of Sh*t My Dad Says