In my early newspaper days some three decades ago, a young woman I worked with made it known that she had a crush on Michael Chabon, who was about our age and making a splash as the Next Big Thing.
At 25, Chabon had published “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” a critically acclaimed novel that signaled his arrival. He was also handsome, as the author photo on his dust jacket made clear.
My friend sent him a letter — this was before email, so she was obliged to put her thoughts on paper — and I recall him sending her a letter back, an exchange that now seems as quaint as a scene in a Jane Austen story.
I didn’t follow Chabon’s work back then and knew him only as the faraway object of my friend’s affection. He seems fixed in that part of my life in the same way that certain high school classmates remain forever young, recalled only through yearbook portraits that never change.
But the years pass, even when we’re not paying attention. The woman who once fancied herself as the local president of the Michael Chabon fan club has been a mother and happily married for years, although not, alas, to Michael Chabon.
Chabon continues to write fiction, but the man once held up in that long-ago season of my life as the ideal hipster now also writes about his experiences as a middle-aged father.
All of this came to mind recently when “Pops,” Chabon’s latest book about fatherhood, crossed my desk. Chabon and I belong to the first generation when “parent” became widely used not only as a noun but a verb. Clerks will probably misfile “Pops” in the parenting section of the bookstore, assuming it’s the kind of book that lists practical things every father should do.
Chabon is a busy father, as any parent who does the job well must be. But one of the key insights of “Pops” — something he also touched on in an earlier book, “Manhood for Amateurs” — is that “parent” isn’t always an action word. Along with the doing, parenthood is also enriched simply by being with your children.
Chabon makes the point in the title essay of “Pops,” in which he recalls a visit to his own father, confined by advanced age to a sickbed. He lies in bed with his old dad, watching a movie on TV, something the two haven’t done in decades. For a couple of hours, just sharing each other’s presence is enough.
That kind of sharing can seem, at first glance, like the easiest thing for families to do, yet it can also be the hardest, as the close of summer gives way to busy school calendars. Yet, it’s worth doing, if only because the chances to make such connections aren’t limitless.
Michael Chabon, a man from my distant past, has given me a fresh reminder of how fleeting time can be.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.