Dad’s turn to Mom-up

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Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel about an UES father going through divorce and an unexpected custody experience

By Lorraine Duffy Merkl

Want to read a book about a single Upper East Side mom starting over? Head to Barnes & Noble on 86th Street and throw a rock.

A single dad’s story — you won’t hit much. Until now.

Thanks to the debut novel by New York Times Magazine staff writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner: “Fleishman Is In Trouble,” fathers now have representation in the form of liver specialist, Dr. Toby Fleishman.

Newly separated after almost 15 years of marriage to breadwinning talent agent (as well as emotionally withholding) Rachel, Toby expected weekends and every other holiday with his tween daughter, Hannah, and nine-year-old son, Solly, when he would, of course, claim the title of fun parent.

What Toby, the one-time chubby child cum obsessive grown-up dieter, didn’t expect was the plethora of women swiping right. It was as though he, “awoke one morning inside the city he’d lived in all his adult life and which was suddenly somehow crawling with women who wanted him.” He takes them all up on their offers.

Just when his optimism apropos of being a bachelor about town starts to kick in, Rachel doesn’t just throw water on his new normal, she waterboards it.

Toby is totally blindsided when one night, his ex drops off the kids at his apartment with no expectation of returning; and won’t respond via any of our many forms of modern communication.

Before you can say, “never happen,” I actually had a colleague who lost his custody battle to his former wife. A week later — count ‘em, seven days — she realized that raising three boys under ten by herself was more than she bargained for, brought them over to my co-worker’s house and said, “You wanted them? Here they are.” The guys lived with my associate and eventually his new wife, who was more of a mother to them than their own, until they each went off to college.

Although I wished Toby the same good fortune, especially in trying to track down Rachel, if only for the sake of the rattled Hannah and Solly, I have to say I smirked as he scrambled to do what I see so many of my single mother friends do each and every day — juggle career, never-ending parenting duties, and an attempt at a social life (I knew a mom who also threw getting an advanced degree into the mix) without having a nervous breakdown.

Toby milks the poor spurned soul for all it’s worth (his therapist calls him “the woman in the divorce”), causing cheers of atta boy when he tells off Rachel via email. However, as the novel progresses one can’t help but wonder: is Toby really a victim and is Rachel truly the wicked witch of the UES?

Well, as often is the case, it all depends on who’s telling the story, which turns out to be Toby’s old friend, magazine journalist Elizabeth “Libby” Slater, who he met when both were college students on a year abroad in Israel. It is through her that the tale of Toby and Rachel’s years together is revealed — as in his side, her side and the truth.

Perhaps Fleishman’s troubles didn’t begin when his wife left, but when he gave her reason to.

If this were a “mom begins again” novel, the newly emancipated woman would end up with either a handyman on Nantucket or a friend she suddenly sees through a romantic lens after he’s stuck by her on her journey.

What Toby needs is a more realistic relationship with himself.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels “Fat Chick” and “Back to Work She Goes.”