from the editor's desk

Review of ‘Love, Dad: confessions of an anxious father’ by Laurie Steed

Steed, Laurie. Love, Dad: confessions of an anxious father. Fremantle Press, 2023. RRP: $32.99, 296 pp, ISBN: 9781760992064.

Jen Bowden

Laurie Steed is one of the most generous people in the Australian writing industry. Though his own path to publication has been peppered with obstacles—as described in his new book Love, Dad—he’s the kind of bloke who, on finding himself on the career ladder would reach down to pull up those who are a little further behind, or give those ahead of him a solid, confident push up to the next rung. Many writers in WA and beyond, myself included, can attest to this, having taken advantage of his services as a mentor and manuscript assessor.

This memoir, Love, Dad, has that same generosity of spirit: it is an endearingly honest, captivating and vulnerable exploration of one man’s experiences of fatherhood, family and self-discovery. In a world where masculinity still holds connotations of being unemotional, tough and distant, Steed reveals a softer side to the term, where emotional honesty and admitting you’re wrong is par for the course. Bandit Heeler, step aside, there’s a new role model for modern fatherhood in town.

Love, Dad charts Steed’s own relationship with his two young sons, his dad, his brothers and also the wider world. It covers the time from when he was ‘Laurie the single guy to Laurie the man with a family’ (285). Through the course of the book, we’re privy to his father’s serious accident and subsequent coma, his emotional relationship with his brothers and mother, and the challenges and highs of becoming a father to two bubbly boys.

From the very start, Steed highlights and rejects those stereotypes of what it means to be a ‘father’ which are so ingrained in society:

I was going to write a memoir about a strong, resilient, and triumphant man and father—only doing that would have denied what it means to be an active, present parent. I could have said I was killing it, barely raising a sweat, but doing this would have enforced the idea that to be a man means you never have to say, ‘I’m struggling’. (9)

This immediate consciousness of those biases and social expectations, as well as his observation of how far removed they are from reality, endears Steed and his story to the reader. The honesty of the language he uses, and the suggestion that he isn’t ‘strong, resilient, and triumphant’ or ‘killing it’, sets the tone for a deeply person and frankly refreshing exploration of fatherhood and modern masculinity.

One of the best things about this memoir is the way that Steed challenges preconceptions of gender stereotypes when it comes to parenting, all within the wider context of being emotionally vulnerable enough to depict the times when he struggled and sought help. Rather than doing it in a way that is demanding or accusatory, telling us what should or shouldn’t be happening, Steed raises these questions in his trademark gentle, astute way:

In time, I learn all kinds of things, like how onesies have button patterns that would freak out Picasso, and that some stains may fade, but will never disappear from a baby’s couture or your own. That if you’re a mum and you head out with a baby, people want to fawn, but also to advise. That if you’re a dad and you head out with a baby, you win an Olympic medal for doing things mums do all the time. (54)

Through the humour of these observations, Steed offers a candid depiction of the assigned gender expectations that come with having a child. Similarly, the existence of mothers’ groups but not fathers’ groups gives Steed food for thought: ‘In those early months of fatherhood, I yearn for a man to talk to about this. I hope that maybe one day they will be around—even a couple of men I can hang with from time to time, and share the journey’ (54–55).

Steed draws parallels between family life and his writing career. The impact of juggling parenthood, a PhD and the seemingly endless battle to ‘make it’ as a writer offer revelations on knowing and understanding oneself and any kind of emotional or physical authenticity. Steed often cites or relays comments from his ‘inner critic’, a semi-destructive voice that pushes him to try and be the best rather than just be himself. But as the memoir and his life marches on, he comes to realise that writing and fatherhood have one thing in common—that you need to be yourself. Steed’s inner critic changes tone and becomes more constructive as he learns a valuable lesson: there is no set way for a career or fatherhood to go, these things just are what they are.

There are many things you’d expect to find in a memoir about fatherhood in Love, Dad, but also a great deal more that you might not anticipate, such as experiences of grief, love, death, self-discovery and mental health. But it isn’t possible to convey the value that this vulnerable, engaging and utterly unique memoir has for perceptions of modern fatherhood in the space afforded here. The only way to truly appreciate this beautiful, enlightening and insightful book is to read it.

Jen is a writer, editor, podcast host and event moderator based in Brisbane. She lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland and has written for a number of UK newspapers and magazines including The ListThe Guardian and The Scotsman. She previously worked for Fremantle Press and now teaches writing, journalism and publishing at Curtin University, where she’s also doing her PhD in creative writing.

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