Meet Lizzie Beckwith: Comedian, Writer, Mom …

There’s a milestone occurring here @ Daddy Brain. Some might say it’s simply the fact that I’m posting something new (which is another story I’ll detail soon). In reality, it’s the fact that this is the first time I’ve ever highlighted a mom (other than my wife) on this blog.

I’m keeping it in the family (she’s my cousin), but the reason I’m highlighting her is because she’s funny. And she’s written a book that makes an excellent gift for mom (Mothers’ Day is right around the corner) called, Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation.

According to Lizzie, “this book is not one of those traditional, all-too-earnest parenting guides that, for generations, have sucked all the fun out of child rearing. The foundation of my Guilt and Manipulation family philosophy is simple: we do things a certain way, and everyone else is an a**hole.”

“Is that something you should put on a bumper sticker and slap on your minivan? Of course not — that would be trashy. But in the privacy of your own home, you can employ essential components of Guilt and Manipulation to mold the little runts ruthlessly yet effectively into children you won’t be embarrassed to admit are yours.”

Who is Elizabeth Beckwith, you ask?
Other than funny, Lizzie is a mom of two and the wife of a fabulous guy who shall remain nameless to protect his identity. Lizzie is at the forefront of a new movement: moms being funny about parenthood. Once an exclusive club for dads attempting to cope through comedy, Lizzie offers up laughs in her non-parenting, parenting book. What’s interesting, at least to me, is how the book’s honesty (often laced with sarcasm) really made me think about how I parent without beating me over the head about it.

Lizzie is also a stand-up comedian who has appeared on various talk shows, including The Late Show with Craig Kilborn and Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. She’s also appeared in TV shows, film and and has graced the stage of many a comedy club.

And now, a few words from Lizzie about comedy, her book and Grandma Frances …

Daddy Brain: Other than your comedic nature, what provoked you to write this book?

Lizzie Beckwith: When I was getting ready to have my first child, I was reading a few “real” parenting books and started to find them terrifying. They all stated the importance of having a definitive parenting philosophy, and I didn’t really have a clue what that would be for me. I have always maintained that I was raised by the best parents in the world, so I decided I just wanted to do what they did. They were neither dictators nor pushovers, but we (their offspring) always wanted to please them and feared disappointing them.

As I tried to deconstruct how in the world they managed to be  easy-going, loving parents and yet still pull off being the kind of parents you would be horrified to disappoint, I thought of all of these funny anecdotes and stories about growing up. I realized that my parents kept us in line by giving us non-stop encouragement while at the same time using the horrible example of others to teach us right from wrong. We lived in fear of being like “those jerks!” that my parents were so disgusted by. So, when we did do something bad, we were filled with so much guilt, there was no need for any formal punishment! I joked that if my mother wrote a book it would be called, Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation, and then I thought, “Hey, I should write that book!”

DB: Why have you chosen comedy as your form of communication? Why not another genre?

LB: I’ve been obsessed with comedy since I was a little kid.  I don’t know how to communicate any other way.  That’s just the way my brain is wired.

DB: Why is stand-up comedy so intriguing to you? Have you ever used a chair?

LB: When I was a kid I used to rent all of those “Evening at the Improv” videos, and I just devoured them. I loved stand-up comedy, but it didn’t occur to me right away that it was something I would ever do. One night when I was about 16, I went to a coffee house with my friend and an open-mic was going on. That was the first time it hit me, “Oh, if I wanted to do this, I could actually do it.  Here.  At this place.”  I went back the next week and performed comedy on stage for the first time. It was thrilling.  It is one of the only artistic mediums where you know instantly if something is working or not. Musicians can hide behind the blare of their guitars, with stand-up, either people are laughing or they’re not. I loved the instant gratification.  Of course, some nights, I wish I was holding a guitar.

DB: Who is the funniest comedian on earth? Why?

LB: I have so many favorites, that’s tough for me to answer, but I think I’ll go with a childhood favorite,  Bill Cosby.  I have so many memories of watching “Bill Cosby: Himself” with my brother, Patrick, and just weeping.  Cosby can weave a story like no one else.  Story-telling comedy is the most difficult type of stand-up because if you lose people early on, there’s not easy exit.  Cosby is a master story-teller. What he’s telling you is hilarious in and of itself, but the way he delivers it — that just brings it to another level.

DB: If you inherited $500 million dollars tomorrow, what would you do with your life?

EB: I would still be pursuing the same dreams, I would just have a nicer bathroom floor to cry on.

DB: Finally, what is your favorite memory of our Grandma Frances? What do you remember the most about her? What are the similarities you see between our Grandma and your mom as a Grandma?

EB: There are so many vivid memories of Gram.  She really was such a strong presence, when she entered a room everyone hopped to attention, it was like General Patton walked in. You knew she was gonna inspect you and make a biting comment based on her observations, but it all came from a place of love. Gram wanted you to be the best possible version of yourself and she would be openly frustrated with you if you fell short of what she believed you could be. It didn’t matter if it was your career or your hairstyle, Gram expected the best out of you.

I guess the thing I remember most about  her was her commitment to prayer. If you were in trouble, Gram would stay up all night saying the rosary for you — and I mean, all night. Not just one prayer at the end of the day kind of deal, she would be lighting candles, saying novenas, praying the rosary — she did it all, and she did it with love and she never complained about it.

I miss her so much sometimes.

Often I’ll hear some kind of political story on the news and wonder what Grandma would have said about it. Gram read the newspaper cover to cover every day until the day she died. She always knew what was happening in the world, and she always had an opinion on it.

As far as the similarities between my mom and Gram as Grandmothers, I would say the common thread is their need to feed their grandchildren. That’s a big one, food. My kids love my mother’s food so much. My son is much more inclined to eat something if I tell him I’m making it “the Grandma” way.

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I hope you enjoyed my interview with Lizzie Beckwith. For more about her book, visit

And remember, you are not alone…

The The 40-Year-Old Version: Book Review & Author Interview

Picture 2Here I sit, having freshly completed, The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad. I’ve committed to writing a review, which is fine by me. The book is refreshingly good, and I enjoyed it immensely. But where do I start? How do I do it justice without sounding like dozens of other positive reviews of Joel’s work?

I think I’ll start from the same place Joel did. Honesty. I don’t mean honesty like, “hey, I stole your pen.” I mean honesty that comes from the soul. Honesty about feelings that men are not supposed to have, let alone share. But Joel is brave enough to do just that. 

Although many of the mini-chapters (which are really self-contained articles, perfect lengths for busy dads) are just plain funny, there’s a healthy dose of real issues that concern dads — both married and divorced. From the sad, defeated moment of moving back in with his parents (after the divorce), to using donuts & driving as a form of escapism, to rebuilding one’s life — Joel shows us (dads) that we are not as alone as we may have thought.

I also like the way Joel reminded me of the sacredness of even the most mundane-appearing moments with my kids. I could go on, but why? I’d rather let the author speak, or should I say type, for himself. I hope you enjoy the interview… 

Daddy Brain: Are you still seeing your kids just once a week? If so, how do you feel about this?

Joel Schwartzberg: I see the kids (my son, 9; and twin daughters, 6) every Friday night, and all day Saturday. I also take one of them out every Wednesday night for dinner or dessert so we can do some one-on-one bonding. Given my full-time work schedule, it’s as much exposure as I can logistically get, and I’m thankful for every moment. But I don’t measure my fatherhood by how much time I spend with them; I consider myself a full-time father. Fathers are fathers, period.

DB: How were you treated during the divorce process? Did you get any respect as a dad or a man?

JS: My ex and I chose to use a mediator, because there was mutual trust at first. I also didn’t want the kids to have to move out of their house, even if it meant giving more than what was required.

Since then, my ex has moved into another house with her boyfriend, but doesn’t seem to realize that changes the game a bit. So, unfortunately, we’re talking to lawyers now about, to put it diplomatically, equalizing the situation.

It helps that I now feel equally qualified as a parent. Early in the divorce, I felt like the lesser parent. I think many dads – divorced or not – probably fall into that trap, but in truth our dadhood is ours to define. It’s up to us to take responsibility and discover what I call our “inner dads”.

DB: I have divorced dad friends that struggle with balancing their new (intimate) relationship with their relationship with the kids. They’re haunted by fear of commitment; fear of another failed relationship; difficulty integrating their kids into the mix; the need for friendship & intimacy vs. the fact that their girlfriend might not be the right match for a man with kids. How was this transition for you?

JS: Well, fortunately, I wasn’t burdened by any of those anxieties and fears. My kids love people who love them back, so I had no real concerns about their new stepmom, who has the double benefit of being a 5th grade teacher and a terrific cook.

As far as me, my last marriage showed me the dynamic that doesn’t work for me, making it easier for me to recognize the one that does. Yes, there’s a balancing act between my life as a husband and my life as a father to these kids, but my wife is patient and understanding (and I reward her as often as I can). Finding someone who would accept me and my three little carry-ons was not hard, but I consider myself very lucky in that regard.

DB: In your book you have an article called, “Parenting by Numbers.” Something you wrote hit me hard. “This is the year it will sink in… This is the year they’ll start to think of me as a terrible, angry father.” Raising my voice. Losing my patience. Being snippy, short and gruff. There are all things I battle with on a daily basis. And quite frankly, even if it only makes up 2% of my time with my boys, I feel like an awful father. What do you do to avoid these negative moments? How has your progress been?

JS: Those moments seemed to subside with the emerging definition of my own role in my kids’ life. When I was defining my fatherhood based on my ex-wife’s expectations, it frustrated me to no end, and I’m sure I transferred that resentment to the kids. But now I remind myself that I’m their dad – their only father — and I have control over this situation. It also helps to put myself in their shoes; I can appreciate a lot of their hurt and vulnerability that way.

I think we need to cut ourselves some slack too. All parents are handicapped in one way or another. We all screw up. But kids at this age are incredibly resilient, so the point is how we move past it. 

I talk to my kids about my anger, and sometimes apologize for it if I feel I’ve crossed a line. This seems to make everyone feel better. Some have called that weak parenting, but I want my kids to be comfortable expressing their deep emotions, and as their parent I need to model that behavior.

DB: What advice do you have for divorced dads, or dads that are in the process of getting divorced?

JS: To remember they are not divorcing their kids; just their ex. To see the divorce as an opportunity to reconnect to their children on their own terms and, in doing so, become a more genuine – and happy — dad. And to understand that they are their children’s permanent, irreplaceable, full-time Dad, no matter what. Nothing can change that.

DB: Finally, will there be a sequel to your book? Or are you going to be like Billy Joel and just ride on the success of your previous work, never to grace us with anything new again? What’s his deal anyway?

JS: That’s probably what his last wife is saying.

As for me, I’m going to see how far this book goes. It was optioned by an L.A. producer. Let me say that again: IT WAS OPTIONED BY AN L.A. PRODUCER. So when that dream gets inevitably crushed, I’ll decide what to do next. I do have a day job, you know.

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I’d like to thank Joel for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’d like to learn more about his book, or contact him, please visit: his Web site.

And remember, you are not alone…