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The Author Speaks

Interview With Paul Reiser, Who's Mad About 'Familyhood'

The actor and comedian's encore: being a father

You remember Paul Reiser. His affectionate dissection of married life on the sitcom Mad About You made us laugh at the foibles of newlyweds in the '90s. These days, the television icon is on to something else — parenting boys, 11 and 15, at age 54. And writing about it.

Recently Reiser talked to us about the joys of being a bad disciplinarian, his first taste of an empty nest, and why he won't be sporting a new baby on a magazine cover like so many other midlife Hollywood celebrities.

See also: Excerpt from Familyhood.

Actor  and author Paul Reiser discusses his book Familyhood

Comedian Paul Reiser talks about parenting, marriage and middle age in Familyhood. — Photo by: NBC/Photofest

Q. What do you enjoy most, writing about fatherhood?

A. It's amazing that out of all the things in life, you don't get a practice round as a parent. No one says, "Well, this is the first kid, so we won't count this one." I've discovered there's a sort of a universal dread that we all fear at various times: That we are, perhaps, the worst parents in the world. Writing this book, it was comforting to realize we all feel that way. If you're doing it right, you don't avoid those periodic feelings of insecurity or panic.

Q. You write that you model some of your parenting style after your father.

A. One of the wisest things my dad ever said to me was when I screwed up on something as a kid. He said, "Listen, that's your job to try and get away with stuff and my job to try and catch you." And it was such a revelation, that he understood that.

Q. That it's a game?

A. Yes, and now I don't think I'm a great disciplinarian because secretly I'm rooting for my boys to win. When I lay down a rule and I see my kids cleverly dodge it or argue their way past it, I know I'm supposed to push back. But secretly I'm going, "Good for you! Well argued, you made your case, and I pity the next guy you go up against."

Q. And does your wife applaud their efforts too?

A. We're usually on the same page. We tell the boys they cannot drive a wedge between us, they can't play us one off the other, but they both do. One will come over to me and say, "Look, Mom thinks it's a bad idea that we watch this movie but we think you know we'd like to watch it, and you're a better parent." I know what he's doing but I kinda like being the better parent, so I can't go against that.

Q. You have the added concern of balancing your public life and private life. How do you do that while writing about your family?

A. It's interesting, I am a very private person and yet I make my mark by talking about personal stuff. The material is never meant to be literally autobiographical but it is certainly generated from my own life. So if you're reading this, it is not a story of my life but hopefully the story of many of us.

Next: Reiser's first taste of an empty nest. >>

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