Raising Raffi examines the profound, overwhelming, often maddening experience of being a dad. Gessen traces how the practical decisions one must make each day intersect with some of the weightiest concerns of our age: What does it mean to choose a school in a segregated city? How do you instill in your child a sense of his heritage without passing on that history's darker sides? Is parental anger normal, possibly useful, or is it inevitably authoritarian and destructive? How do you get your kid to play sports? And what do you do, in a pandemic, when the whole world seems to fall apart?
A wise, mild and enviably lucid book about a chaotic scene ... Is it OK to out your kid like this? ... Still, this memoir will seem like a better idea if, a few decades from now, Raffi is happy and healthy and can read it aloud to his own kids while chuckling at what a little miscreant he was ... Gessen is a wily parser of children’s literature ... He is just as good on parenting manuals ... Raising Raffi offers glimpses of what it’s like to eke out literary lives at the intersection of the Trump and Biden administrations ... Needing money for one’s children, throughout history, has made parents do desperate things — even write revealing parenthood memoirs ... Gessen’s short book is absorbing not because it delivers answers ... It’s absorbing because Gessen is a calm and observant writer...who raises, and struggles with, the right questions about himself and the world.
The Raffi essays raise fascinating and thorny questions about children’s rights to digital privacy, and how the internet has influenced our willingness to accept levels of access into people’s lives we would have once found unthinkable and likely grotesque ... I wanted to see Gessen grapple with these questions in Raising Raffi ... But Gessen’s new memoir is strangely devoid of reflection on the ethics of writing about his own child ... 'There was a particular gap, I thought, in the dad literature,”'he writes. 'In the few books out there, we were either stupid dad, who can’t do anything right, or superdad, a self-proclaimed feminist and caretaker.' Rather than charting a third course, Gessen sort of combines the two existing options, providing a voice for the voiceless: dads who don’t really know what they’re doing, but are well-educated and extremely involved and sure as hell going to overthink it ... Gessen’s writing about Raffi is sweet and exasperated and often quite funny — I found myself laughing aloud at his descriptions of their squabble ... But I felt sort of strange about it, too, the same feeling that comes over me when I realize I’ve become a little too invested in the Instagram presence of some couples I vaguely know ... Part of the problem here is that Raising Raffi doesn’t quite know what kind of book it’s trying to be ... Gessen’s ambivalence about how much of his culture to pass on to Raffi is the most interesting part of his memoir, precisely because it’s highly specific.
... his book proceeds as so many dad books don’t: with a father’s careful, piercing introspection, and a deep analysis of anger ... Gessen writes about his temperamental, trying son with a depth that can only come from years of loving observation ... Memoirs of fatherhood are rarely so honest or so blunt.