This Dad Book Made Me Feel Seen As A Mom

Lucas Mann’s Attachments tackles body image, gender, technology, identity, existential grief, and the specific subgenre that is dad jokes.

by Hannah Matthews

While reading Lucas Mann’s brilliant, funny, tender new book, Attachments: Essays on Fatherhood and Other Performances, I was plagued on nearly every page by the thought: If I encountered this person on a playground, I would likely make attempts at a parent-to-parent friendship with a level of enthusiasm that would be worrisome. Soon, another thought chimed in: If I took a writing class from this person (Mann teaches creative writing at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth) I would become unstoppable. I imagined absorbing his skills through osmosis, that every sentence I wrote for the rest of my life would sing with a Mann-like level of clarity and warmth.

I should probably have expected to love this book as fiercely as I do. It opens with one of my all-timers, an essay I will always remember reading for the first time (it was originally published on LitHub in the fall of 2021), mostly because I was at work and had to excuse myself so I could cry in private. Reading "An Essay about Tiny, Spectacular Futures Written a Week or So after a Very Damning IPCC Climate Report" is — like this book as a whole, and like parenting in the United States in 2024 — a roller coaster of hope, joy, exhaustion, fear, rage, despair, and hope again. Over and over again, your stomach drops, before you are caught by the safety rails that Mann has meticulously crafted for the plunge, and you find yourself ascending again, a breathtaking view at the top. It’s an essay that makes me never want to leave Mann’s company on the page, or even to get off the ride he has crafted.

In other words: this is a writer you trust enough — and in whose hands you feel safe enough — that you will let yourself feel it all.

The rest of the essays in Attachments, which flow gracefully through Mann’s daughter’s childhood thus far and his ever-evolving conception of their relationship, are tender, searching, hilarious, devastating, accessible, sharp, and generous. Without exploiting her or invading her privacy, the author paints a picture of his (very charming) kid so deftly that I found myself constantly marveling both at how uniquely herself she is and simultaneously, how much I saw my own toddler in his insights and descriptions.

The collection’s range is stunning. He tackles body image (both his own and his daughter’s), gender, technology, identity, existential grief, and the specific subgenre that is dad jokes. How we see ourselves in the parents we make fun of, and how — like in every other arena — self-loathing is the ribbon running through all of our judgments of and disdain for others' choices. "Most of comparative parenting is being grossed out by the thing someone else is doing because you so clearly recognize the impulse,” Mann observes, a truth borne out by my daily ungenerous thoughts in the day care pickup line.

I am, predictably, moved by Mann’s writing about writing — or rather, about writing while parenting. (Name a more impossible duo. I’ll wait.) At one point, he describes a pattern I know far too well, in language more precise than I could ever muster:

“...the way I love being with my daughter and the way I sometimes love to write feel linked, in that neither is fully present, and the possibility of being fully present in either seems so exhausting that I find it hard to believe I wouldn’t deflect into something far more destructive. Now, as I’m writing this, I miss my daughter at school, so I look back through old pictures of her and find a good one…then post it to Instagram like, Can’t believe she was ever so young, and that banal observation feels more important and real to me than anything else I could write, despite its speed and ease and exact similarity to the posts of every other parent I know who’s hit a lag in their workday. When I pick my daughter up from school, I’ll pause in the car before going in and regret how disengaged I was from my working moments when I had them, flagellate as a way to avoid the other responsibility, then see her out in the courtyard, cheeks red, running toward me, and regret having ever paused.”

Mann strikes perfectly at the heart of my frustration with the framing, for parents of young children, of a so-called “work-life balance.” I spend my days with one foot in my work and the other in the labor of parenting — never feeling like I’m standing solidly in either lane, wearing ankle-weights of self-doubt, guilt, and shame about the time I will nevertheless continue to steal back incrementally for myself, bit by TikTok-scrolling bit, from my employers and my child — and I know I’m not alone.

Mann worries that his effusive celebrations of his daughter's 99th-percentile body size are beginning to border on performative; he interrogates his desire to make public (i.e., post photos of) any behaviors she exhibits or choices she makes that would seem to reflect his own “good” and progressive parenting. He is self-aware and honest in every word, confessing not just to the thoughts he is ashamed of having, but to his fear of making the confession in the first place. And what parent hasn’t felt trapped in this cycle, experiencing constant loops of desire to perform and embarrassment about the effort of the performance? Who among us isn’t walking around feeling shame about our shame?

"Art isn't supposed to be affirmative — that's something I know to be true," Mann writes, "but more and more it seems like the highest compliment you can pay to a piece of art is that it affirms you, that it provides a blueprint for how to be better, or at least feel better." And in a moment defined by our collective desperation to be better and to feel better, Attachments earns this compliment many, many times over. It is a book that might do for other fathers what Mann credits Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World with doing for him: illustrating a version of fatherhood that feels both positive and possible, rendering the father a solid, stereotype-defying presence in the narrative of a child’s life. I hope more dads write books about fatherhood; I fear that none may ever be able to match the beauty and vulnerability of this one.

Hannah Matthews is a journalist, essayist, and abortion care worker and the author of the book, You Or Someone You Love: Reflections From An Abortion Doula. Her work has appeared in ELLE, Esquire, Teen Vogue, Catapult, McSweeney's, and many other publications, Follow her on Twitter, subscribe to her newsletter of abortion love letters, or visit her website for more information.