When physical therapist J. Matthew Nespoli’s wife became pregnant with their first child, he found that the bookstore’s shelf of baby primers failed to prepare him for what lay ahead. He anticipated the diapers, tantrums, sleepless nights and expenses, but not the sheer volume, grossness and exit velocity of baby poop; the extraordinary duration and decibelage of crying jags; and the infinite variety of useless baby paraphernalia. Baby Keller’s draining demands, scream-all-night schedule and monopolization of his mother’s breasts made Nespoli sometimes see him as a “vampire baby”—a vision that haunts the author’s uproarious self-published fatherhood memoir, Daddy Versus the Suck Monster.
The author says that sales have been brisk, fueled by great word of mouth and rave reviews. San Diego News, for example, called the book “an honest, comedic, and irreverent portrayal of first-time fatherhood,” and Blogcritics said that “[t]his book will make you laugh out loud many times.” The success has been gratifying for Nespoli, who also has an unpublished novel, Broken, and a couple of screenplays under his belt. He also pens sports commentary for the fantasy football site DraftSharks and the sports news site Bleacher Report, a gig that has helped his wife accept his gridiron obsession. “I say, ‘Honey, I’d love to go to your sister’s, but unfortunately I have to watch football for work.’ And she buys it,” he says.
“I wanted to be honest and not sugarcoat things,” Nespoli says of his unflinching portrait of Keller’s first year. “Being a parent is terrifying, and sometimes you get angry at your child.” But he also tried to infuse it with the humor he found missing in dry, formulaic baby-rearing manuals. He wanted to write about the experiences of new fathers who, like him, feel that they have “stopped existing” in a household centered on the intense mother-infant bond.
The result is a memoir with a literary voice that’s as raucous as Keller’s antics—and sometimes just as cheerfully offensive. Nespoli wallows in the pungent details of mess, noise, and chaos and his richly profane responses to them. He also exposes intimate scenes from his marriage and his own raunchy daydreams. “One of the most challenging aspects of parenting was the total decimation of our sex life,” he recalls of the postpartum period when his wife, affectionately called “The Bride,” was in no condition for romance. The author’s struggle with that situation is a major theme of his book. “I wanted to show how a man’s mind will drift,” he says. “Men, by our nature, are very horny creatures; I don’t think we have to be ashamed of that as long as we’re controlling it.” In the book, he writes about taking stroller-walks by the ocean with Keller, whose cuteness proved a magnet for the “Divorced Hottie Mommies of Manhattan Beach.”
But beneath the memoir’s scatological and laddish humor, there’s a sweetness and seriousness. Kirkus Reviews found “the author’s absurdist knack for overstatement…forgivable and endearing” and noted that “underneath the frivolity are a remarkable sincerity and the trustworthy, progressive voice of experience.” The book resonates with members of both sexes, Nespoli says. “I’ve gotten many emails and Facebook messages from guys who were thrilled that I put that out there, because their wives enjoyed reading it; it allowed them to be a little more honest about things.” It even met with approval from “The Bride” herself—aside from Nespoli’s occasional revelations of paternal delinquency. “Like when I dug a hole to put the baby in so I could play volleyball—she wasn’t too pleased about that,” Nespoli allows.
Nespoli says that he plans to write another fatherhood book, perhaps after Keller—and his little brother KaiRae—reaches adolescence. Fans beguiled by the author’s horrifying, hilarious and heartfelt take on parenthood will be eagerly waiting.