"My son is very sensitive about other people who feel like outsiders, and I’ve watched him befriend a lot of people who are being bullied or otherwise ostracized in schoolyard society."
Daniel Handler, who is better known as Lemony Snicket, may write books about terrible things befalling children, but he tries to take good care of his own. The man behind all thirteen installments of the bestselling Series of Unfortunate Events series (and five others books under the Snicket nom de plume) is actually a very sweet, big-hearted dad. He’s also a long-time San Franciscan with the eccentricities to prove it — thus the swimming with his son in the shark-infested waters of the bay.
“We swim together in the Bay, and then we go out to lunch, and head to our favorite bookstore, Green Apple Books, and that’s just about every weekend,” said Handler.
Has fame gone to Handler’s head in the wake of the Series of Unfortunate Events Netflix series or all the edifying awards and book deals? Not so much. He’s low-key and funny. Even when not in character as the morbid Snicket, Handler’s dry wit pokes through. If he’s not at least a bit nihilistic, it seems like he does an awfully good impression.
What is your name?
What is your occupation?
How old are you?
How old are your children?
I have a son who’s 14.
What is his name?
Is he named after anyone in particular?
It’s a family name. But, it’s not after a famous Otto or anything.
Do you have any nickname for him?
I think none that my 14-year-old son would like me to repeat.
What does your son call you?
He calls me Dad, except when he’s trying to irritate me, and then he calls me “Mr. Handler.”
How often do you see him?
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
Trying. Trying. Trying.
Describe your father in three words.
Unconditional love. Dead.
What are your strengths as a father?
Imagination and honesty.
What are your weaknesses as a father?
I would say an inability to handle mechanical devices is a big one. My son is interested in them, and I am of no help to him there.
He’s deep in adolescence now and adolescence is tough, and I worry about if he has enough of a toolkit for it. But I haven’t spotted exactly anything I’ve done wrong. He’s the usual angsty adolescent. It would be nice to know if there was some sort of formula to skip that.
What is your favorite activity to do with your son?
We have a pretty good weekend routine where we swim together in the San Francisco Bay. I enjoy swimming in cold, open water. So does he.
What’s been the moment you’re most proud of as a father?
My son is very sensitive about other people who feel like outsiders, and I’ve watched him befriend a lot of people who are being bullied or otherwise ostracized in schoolyard society. And that makes me happy. It’s not something I particularly saw in myself. I noticed when kids were obviously lower on the pecking order, but my son has a real ethic about befriending them and making them feel more comfortable and I don’t think I was brave enough to do that.
Did your father give you any heirlooms, and are you planning on giving any heirlooms to your son?
My father was a scrupulously honest person about business and very moral about money and I am making sure that is instilled in my son. He has a real sense of how lucky and privileged he is and of the moral duty that comes with that. And I think about it as coming from my father.
There’s not an old watch or anything.
What’s the “dad special” for dinner?
I do all the cooking, so, it’s either all the dad special or none of it is. I make a wild green pesto that’s not just staple but a bunch of greens. It started as sort of a strategy to get him to eat more leafy greens without knowing it. So, he ends up eating half a pound of dandelion greens but he doesn’t know, or kale, or spinach. But now he knows what’s in it but he still likes it.
Are you religious and are you raising our kid in that tradition?
Yes, I’m Jewish, and our family is Jewish. My son had his Bar Mitzvah last year. And I take part in that ethic of social responsibility that comes from Judaism. When my son was very small, he came home from one of his first days of religious education, and he said, “I don’t think there’s a God.” I said, “Okay.” And he said, “But it’s really rude to say there’s not a God in front of people who believe there’s a God.” And I thought, “Go forward and preach that gospel, my friend, and that may fix everything.”
What is a mistake you made growing up that you want to make sure your kid doesn’t repeat?
When I was a teenager, I didn’t feel as if I could have called my parents during scary evenings, if you know what I mean. And I totally could have, but I never thought that I could, I thought that they would be furious with me. I think about those nights and the choices that I made, and I didn’t make any super-disastrous choices, but they were based on the fact that the last thing I thought I could do was contact my parents. As my son approaches that age, I would like him to feel that he could contact me. So, whenever he has contacted me kind of unexpectedly, I’m always grateful for it, because my hope is that it’s the beginning of a tradition that he can call me.
Besides saying it, how do you let your son know that you love him?
We say it a lot in our household. We’re not embarrassed about saying we love each other. We say it a ton. My son is now in possession of a phone on which he can text, and I guess that doesn’t count, but it enables us to express affection for one another in the middle of the day and it’s very moving to me. He wanted a phone a lot and lord knows what else he’s doing with it, but we’re keeping small tabs on it. Some of the time he likes to express affection for his family with it. That makes me happy.
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