It is said that children should be seen, not heard, but that expression is sometimes better applied to parents. Until recently the most egregious parental oversharing was usually your sister-in-law's Christmas letter or the guy with the endless stream of baby photos. But there's a new species of chatty dad and mom: the hipster parent-memoirist.
In cyberspace and on newsstands, writers are out to prove that parenting, or at least parents, can be cool. The online magazine Babble.com spun off from literary sex journal Nerve com publishes articles by and for parents who can't quite believe they ended up doing something as square as raising a kid. (In his Babble blog Baby Daddy, Steve Almond endearingly refers to his 3-month-old as "the little f___er.") In a typical hipster-parent offering, an edgy novelist, musician or feminist sex writer has a baby--Me! Who'd'a thunk it!--and wrestles to reconcile his or her sensibility with the numbing demands of the cradle. For blogger Rebecca Woolf, that moment came when her baby barfed on the Moby section at an indie record store. Mom's response: "I call that punk rock!"
This diaper-changing confessional genre--A Million Little Peepees--is of a piece with a trend in niched America: alternative media for parents. Alt-rockers They Might Be Giants, Lisa Loeb and the Del Fuegos' Dan Zanes make CDs for their aging fans' tots. The Rockabye Baby! CD series lulls Junior to sleep with covers of songs by the Cure, Radiohead and Tool. The stylish magazine Cookie is marketed to "modern" (i.e., urbane and moneyed) parents who would rather expose their children to Eames than Elmo. Babies may change your life, these media tell us. But there's no reason they need to change your iTunes playlist.
The Howl of this movement is Neal Pollack's new memoir Alternadad (Pantheon). Pollack, a novelist and erstwhile punk-rock frontman, sets out to make sure that in a world of Disney and Barney, his baby Elijah, now 5, will be cool (and thus that Dad will remain so). He home schools the boy in hipster culture, taking him to blues shows and playing him a curated collection of punk. Goodbye, Baby Mozart; hello, Baby Ramone.
Full disclosure: I have two young sons, and if anything, Pollack gets my experience unsettlingly right. I live in Brooklyn, which along with the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles is the apparent epicenter of the hipster-parent movement. When one of my kids requests the Magnetic Fields on the iPod, I swell with pride as fathers of another era did when their sons completed touchdown passes. And if it's easy to criticize Pollack's preciousness, it's because, like a good, self-aware Gen Xer, he does it for you. "I wonder," he writes, "what Ariel Dorfman, Primo Levi and Arthur Koestler, men who wrote memoirs about actual struggle, would think about the genre of whiny new-parent hand-wringing."