Comedian Michael Ian Black “A Better Man”

In a world in which the word masculinity now often goes hand in hand with toxic, comedian, actor, and father Michael Ian Black offers up a way forward for boys, men, and anyone who loves them.

Michael Ian Black

A Buzzfeed Most Anticipated Book of 2020, Michael Ian Black‘s new book, A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to my Son (Algonquin Books) is a poignant look at boyhood, in the form of a heartfelt letter from the comedian to his teenage son as he is leaving for college. But more than that, it is also a far-reaching and radical plea for rethinking masculinity and teaching today’s young men how to give and receive love.

In a world in which the word masculinity now often goes hand in hand with toxic, comedian, actor, and father Black offers up a way forward for boys, men, and anyone who loves them. Part memoir, part advice book, and written as a heartfelt letter to his college-bound son, A Better Man reveals Black’s own complicated relationship with his father, explores the damage and rising violence caused by the expectations placed on boys to “man up,” and searches for the best way to help young men be part of the solution, not the problem. “If we cannot allow ourselves vulnerability,” he writes, “how are we supposed to experience wonder, fear, tenderness?”

Honest, funny, and hopeful, Black skillfully navigates the complex gender issues of our time and gives a touching answer to an extremely important question: How can we be, and raise, better men?

Black, an actor, comedian, and writer, started his career with the sketch comedy show The State, on MTV, and has now created and starred in many other television shows. Movie appearances include Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, and Sextuplets.

He is also the author of several children’s books including the award-winning I’m Bored, I’m Sad, and I’m Worried, and the parody A Child’s First Book of Trump. His books for adults include the memoirs You’re Not Doing It Right and Navel Gazing, and the essay collection My Custom Van. Black also co-authored with Meghan McCain America, You Sexy Bitch.

As a stand-up comedian, Michael regularly tours the country, and he has released several comedy albums. His podcasts include Mike & Tom Eat Snacks, with Tom Cavanagh; Topics, with Michael Showalter; How to Be Amazing; and Obscure.

Married, he lives in Connecticut with his wife and two children.

Old School Love and Why It Works

“We’ve had hard times, but we have resilience and we always knew we wanted to be together,” says Rev Run, front man of Run-DMC about how he and his wife make their marriage work.

              A Hip Hop artist, even one who whose group has sold millions of records globally and was recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, isn’t the person we typically turn to when needing relationship advice.

              That is, until, you pick up a copy of Old School Love and Why It Works (Dey St. 2020; $26.99) by Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons and his wife, Justine Simmons, long admired by friends for the longevity of their 30 year marriage.  

              “We’ve had hard times, but we have resilience and we always knew we wanted to be together,” says Rev, front man of Run-DMC.

              “Now people come up to us, people who see us on TV or follow us on Instagram,” says Justine about their reality shows—Run’s House, All About the Washingtons and Rev Run’s Sunday Suppers. “They ask us for advice or say we should write a book about how we make our marriage work.”

              You can’t have a marriage without a love story, so let’s start with theirs. They met when Rev Run was just Joey but, still at the age of 15, an up and coming musician. He met Justine when performing at a roller rink. She was 14 but a vision in blue as he remembers. They went out, they liked each other, he wrote her a letter saying, “I will marry you one day.” But though they both lived in New York, the physical distance eventually worked against them. They parted. Joey became Rev Run, front man for the first rap group to earn a Grammy Lifetime Achievement honor. He was on top—fame, gold and platinum records, millions of fans, long days and crazy nights as he recalls. For some that would be all you’d ever need.

But there must have been something missing because years later when his cousin asked him if he remembered a girl named Justine, Rev Run asked him to get her number. He called and just like that the relationship was on again.

  So what makes a marriage last, I ask Rev and he refers me to the chapter he wrote about that very subject. It’s simple but it all makes sense. “If you want to go partying and clubbing and carousing and drinking, here’s a better piece of advice: Do. Not. Get. Married.” Instead just stay single.

              He has more to say.

              “Be selfless, not selfish,” he tells me. “Pay attention, listen to what your spouse is saying, don’t let it be in the background. “If I can see she really wants something or if she doesn’t see my point of view, then I back up.  One of the biggest takeaways I want for this book is that it’s important to listen to the whispers to avoid the screams later.”

              Takeaways are a big component of their book. Each of the chapters, written alternately by Rev and Justine end with a page of “Takeaways” or their advice on nourishing relationships. 

              Here’s a big one from Justine.

              “Both my parents were divorced and remarried,” she says. “If you have children and go into another relationship, make sure that they love your kids like they love you. And make sure you love their kids. If not, then don’t marry that person for your own selfish reasons because your child or their children will suffer.”

              Luckily, when Justine met Rev she loved his three daughters. When the two adopted after the death of their infant daughter, they all blended into one family. Parenting became so important that the couple wrote Take Back Your Parenting: A Challenge to America’s Parents about how to make it all work.

              Which brings us to this. Both Rev and Justine, who are a deacon and deaconess, want to help guide others—whether it’s in parenting or love. Helping is what they are all about.

              One last thought. The letter 15-year-old Rev wrote the note pledging to marry Justine one day—well, she saved it and when they reconnected, she gave it to him.

What: Rev Run and Justine Simmons presentation, Q&A and book signing event.  Old School Love and Why It Works

When: Friday, January 31, 7- 9 pm

Where: Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville, IL

Cost: Each ticket includes a copy of the book and admits one or two people. You will receive your book when you arrive at the event. They will not be available for pick up before that time. Rev Run and Justine will be signing each attendees book and posing for photographs after their presentation.

fyi: For more information and to purchase tickets, 630-355-2665; andersonsbookshop.com

The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing

Adam Frankel tells in his recently released book, The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing, about identity, family trauma and how in family those who came before us impact our own lives.

“This is the book I needed to write,” says Adam Frankel who worked as President Barack Obama’s Special Assistant and Senior Speechwriter.

But Frankel’s book isn’t about those heady days in the White House. Instead, the story he tells in his recently released book, The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing, about identity, family trauma and how in family those who came before us impact our own lives. It begins with his maternal grandparents, both Holocaust survivors who ultimately were able to make it to the United States and settled in Connecticut. But their trauma during those years didn’t end with the freedom and safety they found in New Haven. It echoed through the generations first to their daughter, who suffered from depression and was prone to violent outbursts and then to Frankel himself. But there was more trauma to come for Frankel.

“Shortly before joining the Obama campaign in 2007 I learned that my father was not my dad, a secret my mother had kept from us,” says Frankel, now the vice president of External Affairs at Andela. “In order to wrap my head around it, I had to go back in the past to my grandparents and my mom who had mental health issues.”

When he was writing The Survivors, Frankel says many of his relatives lobbied him to abandon the project. Besides pushback from family, he also had to deal with his own feelings.

“This was a very difficult book to write,” says Frankel, noting that he often had to take hours and sometimes days to step away before he could go back to exploring his family’s story. “Only by writing about it could I process it.”

Frankel, a graduate of Princeton University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he was a Fulbright Scholar, describes putting his thoughts on paper as a form of expressive writing where one receives physical benefits when writing about thoughts and issues that are weighing them down.

 “My goals in writing were to be as honest as I could and also to tell the story honestly about how World War II reverberated within my family,” he says. “All families have trauma somewhere and there’s nothing disrespectful about being open and acknowledging that. That’s the way we heal.”

Ifyougo:

What: Adam Frankel talk and book signing

When: Tuesday, November 19, 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Where: Northbrook Public Library, 1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: 224-406-9257; jccchicago.org

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