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An unsparing, loving account of fatherhood and the surprising, magical, and maddening first five years of a son’s life
“I was not prepared to be a father—this much I knew.”
Keith Gessen was nearing forty and hadn’t given much thought to the idea of being a father. He assumed he would have kids, but couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be a parent, or what kind of parent he would be. Then, one Tuesday night in early June, the distant idea of fatherhood came careening into view: Raffi was born, a child as real and complex and demanding of his parents’ energy as he was singularly magical.
Fatherhood is another country: a place where the old concerns are swept away, where the ordering of time is reconstituted, where days unfold according to a child’s needs. Whatever rulebooks once existed for this sort of thing seem irrelevant or outdated. Overnight, Gessen’s perception of his neighborhood changes: suddenly there are flocks of other parents and babies, playgrounds, and schools that span entire blocks. Raffi is enchanting, as well as terrifying, and like all parents, Gessen wants to do what is best for his child. But he has no idea what that is.
Written over the first five years of Raffi’s life, Raising Raffi examines the profound, overwhelming, often maddening experience of being a dad. Gessen traces how the practical decisions one must make each day intersect with some of the weightiest concerns of our age: What does it mean to choose a school in a segregated city? How do you instill in your child a sense of his heritage without passing on that history’s darker sides? Is parental anger normal, possibly useful, or is it inevitably authoritarian and destructive? How do you get your kid to play sports? And what do you do, in a pandemic, when the whole world seems to fall apart? By turns hilarious and poignant, Raising Raffi is a story of what it means to invent the world anew.
Keith Gessen is the author of A Terrible Country and All the Sad Young Literary Men, and is a founding editor of n+1. He has translated or co-translated, from Russian, the work of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Kirill Medvedev, and Nobel Prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl. A regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and New York magazine, Gessen teaches journalism at Columbia and lives in New York with his wife, the novelist Emily Gould, and their two sons.
Moderator Kara Baskin writes the Parenting Unfiltered parenting column for The Boston Globe, where she also writes about food and real estate, and is currently working on a literary field guide to being 40-something. She has written for New York Magazine's Grub Street, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.