The Rob Wilder Interview

Today is the day to make up a new slur.

I will be taking a summer vacation, so will not be back with new material until July 10. But the archives have been refreshed for your enjoyment.

In the meantime, Chicagoans, please mark your calendars for the next Funny Ha-Ha for August 1st at the Hideout, featuring sketch comedy by Schadenfreude, a monologue by Andy Ross, short films by Steve Delahoyde, readings from Eric Spitznagel, John Green, Mimi Smartypants and more!

Today I interview the author of the book Daddy Needs a Drink, which, as Augusten Burroughs says, "hits you in the face like a fully loaded diaper. These hilarious tales of fatherhood are both shockingly foul and utterly humane. This is a spectacular book - even if you don't have kids and may never want to. If you do have kids, Robert Wilder will make you feel like you aren't the only one screwing it all up." He also writes a column of the same name and teaches English and creative writing to high schoolers in New Mexico.

The Rob Wilder Interview: Just Under Twenty Questions

Does it seem like there is more of a reading niche lately for new parents? I feel like I've been seeing more published, especially, on Salon about parenting.
I don't know if there are more parenting books out there but there are a lot of cool ones (like Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay), written by parents with a sense of humor, which I fully appreciate. Parents are the largest subculture, that's for sure. Well, after those Da Vinci Codiacs.

Readers seem to feel free to comment upon the parenting skills of those who choose to write about it. Have you received any angry letters or emails from those who felt somehow offended by your book?
Some people don't like parents being too human around children, which I find rather odd. I don't think we have to lose all our adult traits when we have children. I think it's possible to be irreverent one minute and love your kids the next. If you run around all day with your kids doing kid activities, it's ok to enjoy an adult beverage at night.

How do you respond to those folks?
I listen for a long while then tell them that I understand how hard it is to be a parent today. There's so much pressure to be perfect. Then I offer them a jolly rancher.

What are some reasons you want nice, average kids as opposed to geniuses?
The geniuses I know make really bad hygiene and fashion choices.

What are some of the great cocktail party conversation starters you learned during your stint as a dog show researcher?
When I worked at dog shows, I loved saying "Best Bitch" on a walkie-talkie. Also, dog owners love to talk about how different doggie diets change the shape, size, and texture of bowel movements.

How did you end up in New Mexico? I don't feel like I know of many East Coasters who land in the Southwest.
It's a long story, but basically, I escaped the East because I wanted to do something solely on my own.

When Daddy needs a drink, what does Daddy usually order?
Grand Gold Margarita on the rocks, no salt, with a water back.

What's the best Father's Day present you've ever gotten?
This year I got a really cool pair of shoes and a travel mug from a Canadian museum.

Are you fine with being associated with parental writing or are you hoping to escape that eventually?
My next book, which will come out in the fall of 2007, will be about teaching-what it's like to try to teach teenagers every day as well as my own experiences being a student and parent of two young students. Then after that, I hope to write about growing up "the Wilder way" with my dad and three brothers.

What's been a challenge you've had to face as a teacher of late and how did you deal with it?
I think it's hard sometimes dealing with uber-parents who love their kids to a fault. I had a parent block my door recently, stopping me from attending my daughter's birthday party, until her daughter got an extension on an essay that was already fine.

What advice would you have for young writing teachers?
Have students write in as many genres as possible while really dissecting great examples of those genres. Always write with your students. Field trips too. It doesn't matter where. My Creative Writing class once took a trip to a very sophisticated car wash. Get the kids out of the classroom once in a while. Be awake in the world.

Do you have any advice for aspiring columnists on how they can acquire one?
Write as if you already have one. Hope they take a nice photo too.

What are your secrets for coming up with material on a regular basis?
There's no secret really; it's all hard work. I think every day has at least one good story, essay, or poem in it if you look and think and write hard enough.

What are you working on now?
I'm revising the teaching book, currently called Learning to Scrawl, writing a column about whether or not sharing is overrated, and trying not to become a fat English teacher.

If you were going to advise someone on writing about their children, how would you advise them to avoid sounding like their kids are the best in the world, and also how to avoid sounding like their kids ruined their lives?
I guess it's trying to understand your kids as complex human beings as much as possible, which is not easy. You can start by looking at yourself very very closely.

You studied with Natalie Goldberg. Have you found that the 'monkey mind' stuff is helpful or is it too touchy-feely to be practical?
Natalie Goldberg is a master. Every time I sit at my desk, I use something Natalie teaches. It's so easy as a writer to go crazy and find something to do other than write. Every time I hear myself talking too much, I tell myself to go back to the notebook and write something new.

Based on what you've learned as a dad, if someone has the luxury of deciding when to start a family, how does one know when?
That's a tough one. You're never fully ready. I've seen so many different types of great families from teen moms to people having kids in their late 40s to gay men hiring surrogates. I think whatever you end up doing, you have to try to embrace the chaos that follows. Enjoy the ride because it doesn't last long.

How does it feel to be the 150th person interviewed for
Taller than I would have imagined.

More interviews here!