From Dude to Dad

Dan Zevin Capitalizes on Transforming Schlepdom

By Susan Comninos

Published April 29, 2012, issue of May 04, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

No occasion drags formality out of Jewish humorist Dan Zevin. Instead, when the Forward called to interview him at the set time of 10 a.m. on a Sunday, he was dripping wet. “Actually, I’m just getting out of the shower and walking down the hall to my office,” he confessed. “You know what? Let me just get dressed, and I’ll call you right back on the landline, so everything will be more” — covered? this reporter wanted to ask —“clear,” he said.

Dan Zevin
christopher barth
Dan Zevin

Zevin, at 47, is the author of four collections of comic essays on his life progression from slacker to spouse to smitten dad. His fumbling his way through fatherhood from the front seat of his blotational SUV is the theme of his new book, “Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad” (Scribner). The book is the latest in his series of satirical titles (“Entry-Level Life: A Complete Guide To Masquerading as a Member of the Real World,” “The Nearly-Wed Handbook: How To Survive the Happiest Day of Your Life” and “The Day I Turned Uncool: Confessions of a Reluctant Grown-up.”) All present him as giggling his way toward the milestones of adulthood — yet meeting them nonetheless.

His new book frames him, in kind, as both front-runner and backpedaler. As a stay-at-home dad and primary caregiver to son Leo, 8, and daughter Josie, 5, Zevin is a poster boy for egalitarian — even feminist — fatherhood. But at the same time, he presents himself as a loving goof-off: a guy who’s picked the most enjoyable option — parenting — over working a high-powered, full-time job, while wife Megan, an editor at Little, Brown and Company, makes the sustaining bucks.

“When the kids came, I just decided that being a dad was a lot more fun,” he said. That is, compared with his former jobs of teaching magazine journalism at New York University and writing about celebrity fitness videos for The Walking magazine. (“They didn’t say, ‘Do not be funny,’” he said of his editors, “but it was meant to be a serious review.”) Instead, he sent up the flicks in a satirical piece that he sold to Spy magazine, and he morphed into a humor writer.

Since then, Zevin has capitalized on his endearing schlepdom — instead of a diaper bag, he packs baby gear in his multi-pocket cargo pants! — which he’s made into his visual punch line. (Blogging for The Huffington Post on “Fashion Week for Suburban Dads,” he writes: “For Day Two, we’re turning up the heat even more, because this father is feeling frisky. This morning, I cat-walked into my kitchen decked out in an 8-year-old bathrobe, Adidas tennis pants and open-toe, massaging sports sandals ensemble. Make no mistake. When I wore it to take the recycling outside this morning, it was obvious what Mrs. Lowenstein next door was thinking: [admiring expletive deleted].”) With nods to Woody Allen and Larry David, Zevin has forged a persona of half-dorky (yet all-devoted) Jewish dad that’s endearing and, what’s more, marketable.

How marketable? Well, Jewish comedian Adam Sandler has optioned the rights to “Dan Gets a Minivan,” which the former “Saturday Night Live” star wants to turn into a television series. So, is Sandler capitalizing on a trend toward involved fathers? Or a growing niche of stay-at-home dads? “If anything, I think he thinks it’s funny,” Zevin said cheerfully. “Which is, for me, unbelievably thrilling. I was literally jumping up and down when I got the news that he wants to turn it into a TV series. He’s somebody familiar. I think that’s what he sees in my comedy, too; it’s familiar.”

Zevin’s prose isn’t different from his actual life, he’s saying. Furthermore, he’s surprised to hear his humor called self-deprecating. “I don’t know,” he said, “I think it’s just honest.” The question, he feels, is, “Do you see things through a funny filter or not? And I always have.” He adds, “There’s a focus in Jewish culture on parenting and the kids and family.” But his fans don’t mention that. “People will email me, and they’ll never say, ‘I liked your book,’” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, do you want to go out and have a beer, or come to my barbecue?’ And sometimes, I’ll actually go.”

There’s a goofy sweetness to Zevin that’s hard to resist. While he doesn’t deny the challenges of parenting (“It’s hard work,” he admitted), he’s delighted to turn it into a good time.

The only time he gets noticeably angry is when he’s dissing hipster dads in Brooklyn (his old stomping grounds) who won’t spend non-ironic time with their kids. “Trust me, the last thing I want to do is turn you into one of those Creepy Helicopter Dads at the playground,” he snarls in his book at one musician more engaged with his agent and iPhone than with his toddler. “Look at that guy going down the slide with his 10-year-old over there. He’s got his kid strapped to him with his belt. He’s using his belt as a seatbelt. Jesus. Promise me you’ll have an intervention if you ever see me strapped to my kids on a slide.”

So what does Zevin want from his fellow dads? Not to call sexy moms “yummy mummies,” for starters. And to storm ill-named classes: “We’ve gotta get out there and show ’em we’re man enough for Mommy and Me!” he writes, chanting: “Parents with penises. Say it loud, say it proud! No, don’t really say it, shhhh. I was kidding.”

Does the comedian see any link between, well, male dorkiness and the capacity to commit to family over, say, gigs in the trendy clubs of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg? “No,” he said, sounding confused. “Marriage and parenthood are very hip; they’re very cool.”

In the next breath, he was enthused about his upcoming project: interviewing people from his minivan. “There’s a lot of room in there,” he explained. Moreover, since his family recently moved to the Westchester suburbs from Brooklyn, Zevin has felt a bit lonely. So together, he and a pal devised a plan to post to YouTube his backseat talks with local creative folk.

“People think there are no interesting types out in the suburbs, but there are. You just have to work a little harder to find them. My yoga teacher,” he concluded happily, “is going to be my first guest.”

Susan Comninos is a frequent contributor to the Forward. Her journalism most recently appeared in The Christian Science Monitor. Her poetry is forthcoming in Subtropics, The Cortland Review and Literary Mama.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.