Humor columnist Dave Barry jokes that he wanted to title his newest book “Dave Barry: I Bet You Thought He Was Dead.”
His publisher, however, vetoed that in favor of “You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About” (Putnam, $26.95).
The parenting angle comes from the first of the nine essays in the book, in which Barry writes about taking his then-13-year-old daughter, Sophie, to a Justin Bieber concert. But Barry warns readers in the introduction that the book isn’t just about parenting. Other essays include such disparate topics as grammar, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series and Barry’s family trip to Israel.
Barry, 66, has written 25 nonfiction books and more than a dozen works of fiction and has won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Newsday caught up with him by phone from his home in Coral Gables, Fla.
Question: How does Sophie feel about your writing about her? You broadcast the fact that she has pictures of Justin Bieber in her room in what she calls “The Corner of Appreciation” and tried to invite him to her bat mitzvah. She’s not mortified?
Answer: I have learned to finesse that. I went through it with my son. We always had a deal, Rob and I — I won’t write about him without telling him. I also tell them that without these stories about them that I’m writing, they would not be going to college.
Q: Since you mention Rob, who is now 33 and an investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal, tell us what differences have you found in parenting girls vs. boys?
A: With Sophie, I’ve never once been to the emergency room. With Rob, he qualified for the “Every Tenth Fracture Is Free” program. He and his friends communicated mostly by putting their lives at risk. Hitting each other, dropping out of trees on each other — that was how they would interact. Sophie is extremely social. As far as I can tell, she is best friends with every other teenage girl on the planet Earth. They all know each other, they’re all in constant contact, all of them are one giant organism of teenage girls.
Q: What do you think is different about parenting in South Florida and parenting in the Northeast?
A: I remember taking Rob to New York when he was really tiny, like maybe a couple of weeks old. At one point, I was in Manhattan. It was just me with Rob, no woman around, just a guy with a baby. I got more unsolicited advice from women on what I was doing wrong. People would come up to me like, “He should have a hat.” I would put a hat on him. They’d go, “Why do you have a hat on? He doesn’t need a hat.” In South Florida, I don’t get any advice from anybody. It’s more laid back.
Q: What was it like having a second child later in life?
A: Most of my friends, when they found out I was going to be a dad again, thought I was out of my mind. I’m not going to accuse my friends of being old. But once their children were out of their lives, they kind of stopped at that point. They didn’t have to change anything anymore. When you have a kid again in your 50s, you’re totally out of your comfort zone, and you have to readjust. I have to stay way more adaptable.
Q: Your kids are about 20 years apart. What was it like raising two different generations?
A: It’s the best system ever. You have to have more than one marriage to do it, that’s the down side. I recommend it strongly. Neither of them has anything the other one covets. The only thing in common they have is their father.
Q: Are you working on any more children’s books, a la “Peter and the Starcatchers”?
A: I did just finish the day before yesterday another fiction book. It’s called “The Worst Class Trip Ever” for Disney. It’s about a trip to Washington, D.C. On the plane, they see these two guys, and this group of four kids decides they’re bad guys and they have to stop them.
Q: You aren’t a grandparent yet, right?
A: I’m going to be in June.
Q: New fodder for a book?
A: Oh, my God, yeah, I’m going to use that.
Q: Do you know what they’re having?
A: It’s a boy. Good luck to them.