A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting

A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting, By Guy Delisle Translation: Helge Dasher.
By Guy Delisle
Translation: Helge Dascher

Guy Delisle has earned a reputation as a cartoonist who portrays himself as a hapless explorer. In my review of Jerusalem, I wrote “Noting the strangeness of a place may not be particularly insightful analysis, but it works perfectly for Delisle. His stockpiling of numerous insignificant details mirrors how most clueless Westerners experience the rest of the world. Delisle has become the spokesperson for early stage culture shock because he never achieves true mastery of his subject. Not that he seems to care.” I also observed how raising a family has been increasingly taking up more of Delisle’s time and energy, making his travelogues even more rambling and incidental. His post-Jerusalem work hasn’t shown an appreciable evolution in his basic narrative style, but his storytelling in books like A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting have become more manageable by tightening their focus on one aspect of the cartoonist’s life. In this particular case, Delisle collects random anecdotes about his less than stellar approach to caring for two precocious children. And unlike his travelogues, there isn’t an arc connecting these separate incidents.

Delisle adapts the same everyman persona he’s used in the past. This works just as well in conveying his cluelessness when it comes to communicating with kids as it did with the locals of foreign lands. Only this time, he gets to be demonstrably angry and intimidating as a supposably adult authority figure. His level of self-absorption is just enough to be relatable to other harried parents. This results in the kind of dismissive condescension and obliviousness mixed with annoyance the average adult normally exhibits towards children. In the book’s opening story, Delisle neglects to replace his son’s fallen out baby tooth with money for two nights in a row. When the son begins to suspect his parents are the real Tooth Fairy (or its French equivalent), Delisle lies with “If it was us putting the money under your pillow, do you really think we’d forget two nights in a row?” When his son seems unimpressed with the amount of money he received for yet another tooth, a visibly upset Delisle pulls out a one-cent coin and gives the game up by making the threat "Next time I'm gonna give you this here instead of two euros!" The son’s open mouthed reaction is subtle, and hilariously appropriate to the occasion.

A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting, By Guy Delisle Translation: Helge Dasher.

In addition to resorting to those kinds of white lies, Delisle engages in even more of the usual parental shenanigans. He pretends to be more informed about subjects where he knows nothing. He feigns interest in his children’s activities. He inadvertently (or deliberately) terrifies them. He occasionally harangues them, especially his son for not showing more interest in traditional manly activities like fixing the house plumbing. Anyone who’s survived their childhood and remembers the hurtful things parents casually heaped on them will understand the often impassive expressions of Delisle’s kids. But they’re also the straight man bearing witness to his inappropriate behavior. When free to write about characters he genuinely cares about without tying them to a larger, sprawling travelogue, Delisle’s humor shapes up to be sharper and funnier.

In the book’s most curious anecdote, Delisle gets to be the curmudgeonly artist reflecting on his own status in the industry. When his daughter brings him one of her drawings for inspection, Delisle does what is expected of any parent and praises her young efforts. But after a slight pause, his inner editor takes over and he begins critiquing the drawing like it’s another magazine submission. He points out all its various technical flaws, then gathers himself once again and launches into an extended rant about young cartoonists and their unwillingness to put in the work and learn proper drawing skills: “I know what you're going to say ... You're going to tell me it's your ‘style’ and that you did it on purpose. Well, kiddo, let me tell you, there's a hell of a difference between drawing like a hack and having some kind of style. Not everybody's Art Spiegelman, you know."

Heh. I wonder from where a younger Delisle heard that from?