Humorist Dave Barry takes a sensitive look at late fatherhood in new collection

06/20/2014 7:00 AM

06/21/2014 7:47 PM

With his 67th birthday coming up, it’s not surprising that Dave Barry can fall into what he calls “geezer mode.” But you can’t just holler “Get off my lawn!” when the kid who’s driving you crazy is your own teenage daughter.

The joys and jolts of second-round fatherhood are among the subjects of “You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty,” a collection of new comic pieces by Barry.

His career has included writing Pulitzer Prize-winning, widely syndicated columns for the Miami Herald, as well as seeing his work become the basis for movies and a TV series. The Broadway play “Peter and the Starcatcher,” based on a children’s book he co-wrote with Ridley Pearson, won five Tony Awards in 2012; he was a founding member of the legendary (some would say notorious) author band the Rock Bottom Remainders; and, of course, he has written dozens of bestselling books.

“You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty” is fully stocked with Barry’s trademark skewed, self-deprecating humor and underlying sweetness, especially when he writes about daughter Sophie. Barry has a grown son from an earlier marriage, and Sophie is the child from his current marriage — young enough to be entering her teens just as her dad was turning old enough for Medicare.

Barry points out in the introduction that “this book isn’t about parenting. It mentions parenting, but it also covers many other topics, including grammar, sex, camels, women, brain surgery, sex with women, how to become a professional author, airlines, Justin Bieber and death.”

But his relationship with his daughter is a running theme and the main subject of the book’s first chapter, “Sophie, Stella, and the Bieber Plan.”

In it, Barry recounts what, for a father, is “the ultimate sacrifice: I took my daughter to a Justin Bieber concert.” Sophie was 13 when Barry and his wife, Michelle, took their daughter and Stella, her BFF (“This is a term that girls my daughter’s age use to describe essentially everyone they know”), to see the Canadian pop star.

Barry is deeply impressed by his wife’s dedication to scoring concert T-shirts for the girls. “If we ever go to war with Japan again, and they embed their forces deep inside heavily fortified caves on Iwo Jima again, instead of sending in the Marines, all we need to do is put the word around that the Japanese forces are in possession of overpriced Justin Bieber merchandise. Within minutes they will be overrun by moms fully capable of decapitating an opposing shopper using only their MasterCards.”

He is far less impressed with Bieber: “The concert itself was also pretty brutal, lasting (this is an estimate) twenty-seven hours.” But he’s tenderly respectful of Sophie’s futile but fervent effort to invite Bieber to her bat mitzvah by tossing an invitation onto the stage.

A chapter called “Manliness” includes Barry’s account of his embarrassing attempt to teach Sophie how to do long division, as well as some manly fashion advice for young people: “As a general rule, do not wear ‘ironic’ clothing unless you wish to make the bold fashion statement: ‘I’m still living off my parents.’?”

Other chapters offer a hilarious critique of “Fifty Shades of Grey” (Barry and I are on the same page for that one), deadpan advice on becoming a famous author, and a commentary on junk mail for the over-60 set — lots of Viagra ads, because “the human penis is poorly designed. It is the Windows Vista of mammal penises.”

The longest chapter is about a family trip to Israel, and its tone alternates between the comic and the serious. It’s clearly a meaningful experience for Barry, especially as a father, but it’s also got plenty of goofy tourist behavior on his part — among other things, he walks backward off a cliff and takes a scary ride on a camel.

But it brings him closer to his daughter as well.

“As we gaze upon the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, which has played such a significant role in world history, Sophie makes an observation that reminds us why it is so important to take children along on trips to foreign lands.

“‘They have free wifi here,’ she says.”

You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About, by Dave Barry (224 pages; Putnam; $26.95)

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