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Things My Son Needs to Know about the World

About The Book

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove shares an irresistible and moving collection of heartfelt, humorous essays about fatherhood, providing his newborn son with the perspective and tools he’ll need to make his way in the world.

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World collects the personal dispatches from the front lines of one of the most daunting experiences any man can experience: fatherhood.

As he conveys his profound awe at experiencing all the “firsts” that fill him with wonder and catch him completely unprepared, Fredrik Backman doesn’t shy away from revealing his own false steps and fatherly flaws, tackling issues both great and small, from masculinity and mid-life crises to practical jokes and poop.

In between the sleep-deprived lows and wonderful highs, Backman takes a step back to share the true story of falling in love with a woman who is his complete opposite, and learning to live a life that revolves around the people you care about unconditionally. Alternating between humorous side notes and longer essays offering his son advice as he grows up and ventures out into the world, Backman relays the big and small lessons in life, including:

-How to find the team you belong to
-Why airports explain everything about religion and war
-The reason starting a band is crucial to cultivating and keeping friendships
-How to beat Monkey Island 3
-Why, sometimes, a dad might hold onto his son’s hand just a little too tight

This is an irresistible and insightful collection, perfect for new parents and fans of Backman’s “unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness). As he eloquently reminds us, “You can be whatever you want to be, but that’s nowhere near as important as knowing that you can be exactly who you are.”

Excerpt

What you need to know about motionsensitive bathroom lights
So. I’m the one who’s your dad. I know you’ve started to understand that now. Up until now, you’ve really just sailed through life and let the rest of us do all the hard work. But as far as I’ve been told, you’re now one and a half, and that’s the age when you can start learning things. Tricks. That kind of stuff. I’m very positive about that, let me tell you right now.

Because I want you to understand that this whole parenthood thing isn’t as easy as it looks. There’s a hell of a lot to keep track of. Diaper bags. Car seats. Nursery rhymes. Extra socks. Poop. Above all, poop. There’s a lot of poop to keep track of. It’s nothing personal. You can ask any parent with small children. That whole first year, jeez, your entire life revolves around poop.

The presence of poop. The absence of poop. The discovery of poop. The aromatic sensation of poop. The waiting for poop. Seriously, I can’t express how much of your life will be spent waiting for poop once you have children.

“Shall we go? Okay! Has it happened yet? Huh? What did you say? It hasn’t? Damn it. Okayokayokay. Stay calm, no need to panic. What time is it? Should we wait for it? Or do we go now and hope we make it there before it? Let’s risk it! Okay! Not okay? What if it happens on the way? You’re right. Okay. Quiet, so I can think! Okay, but what if we wait here and then nothing happens, then what do we do? Risk it and go anyway? And then if it happens on the way and we’re like, ‘God. Damn. Sonofa… BIKE! If we’d just left straightaway instead of arguing about it, we would’ve made it there before the poop!!!’?”

You get it? That’s what it’s like all the time once you’ve reproduced. Your entire life revolves around the logistics of poop. You start having discussions about it with strangers, all matter-of-factly. The consistency, the color, the departure schedule. Poop on your fingers. Poop on your clothes. Poop that gets stuck in the cracks between the tiles on the bathroom floor. You start talking about the metaphysical experience of poop. Breaking it down to the academic level. When those Swiss physicists appeared in the media a couple of years ago talking about their groundbreaking research and the discovery of a “previously unknown particle” that could travel faster than the speed of light, and the entire world was wondering what this new particle might consist of, all parents with small children looked at one another in unison and just said: “Poop. I bet anything it’s poop.”

And the worst thing isn’t even the poop itself. The worst is the moments of not knowing. When you see those small twitches on your baby’s face and say, “Was that…? It looked like she… but maybe she was making a grimace? Maybe she just… farted? Oh God, we have three more hours to go of this airplane ride, please tell me it was just a fart!” And then you have to wait those five seconds. They’re the longest five seconds in the history of the universe, I can guarantee you that. There are ten thousand eternities and a life-affirming French drama between each of them. And then, finally, as though it were one of those scenes in The Matrix where time itself slows down, the scent reaches your nostrils. And it’s like being hit in the face with a sack of wet concrete. The walk to the airplane bathroom after that, it’s like when the warring slaves marched out to battle the lions in the Colosseum. I swear, when you come back out afterward you feel like those warriors must have felt when they returned to Rome after beating the barbarians, but on the way in you are known by only one name: Gladiator.

When you’re older, I’ll tell you about the very first poop. The ancient, eternal, original poop. The one all babies poop at some point during the twenty-four hours after birth. It’s completely black. Like evil itself had pooped. No joke.

Changing that diaper was my Vietnam.

And sure, you might be wondering why I’m bringing this up now. But I just want you to know how everything in life hangs together. Poop is part of the world, you see. And right now, when issues around the environment and sustainable development are so important, you need to understand the part that poop plays in the grand scheme of things. The importance poop has had for modern technology.

Because, you know, the world hasn’t always been like this. There was a time before everything was electronics and computers. Can you believe that when I was young, if you watched a film and couldn’t remember an actor’s name, there was no way for you to find out! You had to wait until the next day and then go to the library to look it up. I know. Sick. Or you would have to call a friend to ask, but then get your head around this: if you did that, you might have to hang up after ten rings and say, “Nah, he’s not home.” Not h-o-m-e, can you imagine that?

It was a different time. But then all this technology came along. The Internet and mobile phones and touch screens and all that crap, and it just put a huge amount of pressure on my generation when we became parents, you know? Every other generation of parents could just say they “didn’t know.” That’s what our parents do. Drank wine while you were breast-feeding? “Didn’t know.” Let us eat cinnamon buns for breakfast? “Didn’t know.” Put us in the back seat without a seat belt? Took just a little bit of LSD while you were pregnant? “Please, we didn’t k-n-o-w. It was the seventies, you know. LSD wasn’t dangerous back then!”

But my generation knows, OKAY? We know EVERYTHING! So if anything goes sideways with your childhood, I’ll be held responsible. It will never be legally sustainable that I acted “in good faith.” I could have googled it. I should have googled it. My God, why didn’t I google it?

Damn it.

We just don’t want to make mistakes. That’s all. We’re an entire generation who grew up and became specialists in one or two things. We have Web shops and tax deductions and consultants and personal trainers and Apple Support. We don’t do trial and error; we call someone who knows. Nature didn’t prepare us for you.

So we google things. We read online forums. We call the medical advice line because you almost hit your head on the corner of a table, just to ask whether it could cause “psychological damage,” because we don’t want to risk you failing trigonometry when you’re sixteen and then thinking, “Maybe he suffered post-traumatic stress? Is that why?” We don’t want to be held responsible for the fact that you were out all night playing with your stupid laser weapons and hovercrafts instead of studying.

Because we love you.

That’s all this is about. We want you to be better than us. Because if our kids don’t grow up to be better than us, then what’s the point of all this? We want you to be kinder, smarter, more humble, more generous, and more selfless than we are. We want to give you the very best circumstances we can possibly provide. So we follow sleeping methods and go to seminars and buy ergonomic bathtubs and push car-seat salesmen up against the wall and shout, “The safest! I want THE SAFEST, doyouhearme?!” (Not that I’ve ever done that, of course; you shouldn’t pay so much attention to what your mother says.)

We keep your entire childhood electronically monitored to such a degree that it makes the Big Brother house look like a damn wonder of integrity, and we go to baby swim lessons and buy breathable, practical clothing in gender-neutral colors and we’re just so insanely, insanely terrified of making a mistake. So indescribably scared of not being good enough. Because we spent so long being the biggest narcissists in world history before we became parents and realized how unimportant we really were.

The realization that you will, from that moment on, draw all your breaths through someone else’s lungs hits you harder when you aren’t prepared.

And all we want is to protect you. To save you from life’s disappointments and shortcomings and unhappy romances. We actually haven’t got a clue what we’re really doing—having kids is in many ways like trying to drive a bulldozer through a china shop. With broken legs. Wearing a back-to-front ski mask. While drunk.

But we’re going to try, damn it. Because we want to be the best parents we ever could be. That’s all.

So we google things. We google everything. And we care about the environment. Because we didn’t inherit the Earth from our parents, we’re borrowing it from our children and all that crap. We believe in that crap! We’re ready to fight for that crap! We have framed posters with sunsets and rocks and really inspirational quotes and crap on them on our living room walls and everything! We buy better cars. We recycle. We install small motion sensors on all our lights so that they automatically go out when there’s no one in the room. And sometimes, we take things a step too far. We do it with the very best of intentions, but sometimes we just want too much. Sometimes, my generation is just so incredibly overambitious, please try to understand that. And that’s when some bloody genius decides to install those motion sensors in the restroom with the baby-changing facilities at the shopping center. So that the lights go out after we’ve been in there for thirty seconds.

So, here we are. You and I. And the poop. In the dark.

You’re not old enough to have seen gymnasts competing hanging in those wooden ring things in the Olympics, but that’s roughly what it looks like when the lights go out while I’m sitting on the toilet myself and need to try to turn them on again. So you can just imagine the modern interpretation of Swan Lake it takes to be able to turn them back on when you have a diaper as heavy as a dumbbell in one hand and half a pack of moist wipes in the other, standing on one leg to stop your baby from falling off the changing table with one knee.

And it’s right then, at that very moment, that I feel like my generation might have taken the whole environmentally friendly technology thing just a small step too far. That’s just how I feel. Get it?

I think you get it.

I just want you to know that I love you. Once you’re older, you’ll realize that I made an endless line of mistakes during your childhood. I know that. I’ve resigned myself to it. But I just want you to know that I did my very, very best. I left it all on the field. I gave this every ounce of everything I had.

I googled like hell.

But it was really, really, really dark in there. And there was poop… everywhere. Sometimes, you just have to follow your gut. Honestly, you should be happy we even got out of there alive.

About The Author

Photograph © Linnéa Jonasson Bernholm/Appendix fotografi

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called OveMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s SorryBritt-Marie Was HereBeartownUs Against You, and Anxious People, as well as two novellas and one work of nonfiction. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter @BackmanLand and on Instagram @Backmansk.

Why We Love It

“If you’ve read Fredrik’s novels, you can already guess that the advice he has for his newborn son isn’t the far typically found in books like this. The voice is funny, completely honest, and full of heartfelt emotion. Fans will adore this book because it offers many of the same pleasures as his fiction—a mixture of humor and observations about the human condition that ring true.” —Peter B., Editor-in-Chief, on Things My Son Needs to Know About the World

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (May 7, 2019)
  • Length: 208 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501196867

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Raves and Reviews

"Delightful, thoughtful essays on fatherhood…Parents—especially fathers—will appreciate Backman’s witty and touching lessons.”

– Publishers Weekly

“Each chapter is filled with Backman’s dry wit and brutal honesty, but behind all of the humor is real, heartfelt sentiment and poignant advice. This will make readers laugh out loud, but new fathers discovering the ups and downs of parenting will especially relate to this hilarious account of fatherhood.” 

– Booklist

“Splendidly entertaining…readers will find all the humor, profound insight and compassion that make his fiction so irresistible. One needn't be a fatheror even a parentto treasure this collection. As with all of his previous work, Backman artfully crafts his words to touch each person both individually and universally.”

– Shelf Awareness

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