Pat Byrnes, who may or may not wind up as a stay-at-home dad in Springfield, is currently balancing the care-taking duties for his two lovely young daughters with the promotional chores surrounding the publication of his insightful, funny and charming book, "Captain Dad: The Manly Art of Stay-at-Home Parenting," which grew from the blog (captaindad.org) that he began shortly after the birth of his first child in 2005.
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"I became a parent at the tender age of forty-five," he writes in the book. He spent the preceding years at the University of Notre Dame and in such disparate endeavors as the aerospace industry, advertising, comedy, commercial voiceovers, book illustration and, most prominently, as a cartoonist for such outlets as The New Yorker magazine and as creator of the syndicated strip Monkeyhouse.
His lively illustrations pepper this book but what is most delightful is his sense of humor. It is often very creative, as in his suggestion for a "Night Muzzle: For the kid who has trouble closing both his eyes and his mouth." But it isn't all jokes and one-liners. There is great understanding of what he calls "The Hardest Job in the World," as well as love in such capacity that moms as well as dads will enjoy his story.
Rebecca and Lucy, you are lucky little girls, even as you join in what your father refers to as the "Hug party: What happens when you try to steal a moment's physical affection from your spouse, but the kids are jealous of the attention."
And that brings me back to Springfield.
Byrnes' spouse is Lisa Madigan, the state's attorney general and ever a potential gubernatorial candidate. Not to influence her decision, but after digesting the heart and sensitivity of "Captain Dad," I have no doubt that Byrnes would be a great stay-at-home dad if home happened to be Mars.
Most students of Chicago history, especially those drawn to flames, would be able to tell you what happened on Oct. 22-23, 1910: A fire in a beef house at the Union Stock Yards and the ensuing collapse of that building resulted in the deaths of 21 firemen and three civilians. In terms of firefighter fatalities, it was the deadliest in American history until 9/11.
That disaster justifiably takes up most of the pages of a fine new book, "Fire Strikes the Chicago Stock Yards: A History of Flame and Folly in the Jungle," but there were others, many of them.
"Does history, in fact, repeat with some inexorable force?" asks the book's introduction.
You might think so after learning of some of the 300 extra-alarm fires that hit the stockyards during its lengthy, bloody life on the South Side. A few even took place after its formal closing in 1971, an irony of sorts, given the Great Fire of 1871, which the book also covers in tidy fashion.
The men working at the stockyards, their employers far removed, were matter-of-fact about the inherent dangers of their environment. "The meatpackers seemed to consider fire a way of life," the book states, and why not, given that they toiled in a sort of living hell most powerfully detailed in Upton Sinclair's 1906 muckraking novel "The Jungle."
The authors of this book are a couple of old journalism hands: John Hogan and Alex Burkholder, who spent most of their careers working in television. They prove themselves here to be diligent and thorough researchers and fine writers. This is a gripping story, understandably almost reverential about the firefighters who so often were forced to plunge courageously and all too frequently into "the most combustible urban square mile in the United States, if not the entire planet."
Jeryl Levin, the president of Chicago Area Ethnic Resources, calls her organization's new edition of "The Chicago Area Ethnic Handbook," "CliffsNotes for ethnicity."
I see her point. This book, vastly different from the first edition in 1997, when the area's demographics were vastly different too, does have a just-the-basics feel as it gives us a few pages on 37 ethnic groups. But it is a valuable primer.
The book is edited by Cynthia Linton and each section — jammed with facts, figures and resources — is written by "a scholar or community expert," none more estimable than Timuel Black on African-Americans.
"This book was written for the mainstream, for folks who will never read a scholar's complex analysis of race or ethnicity," Levin says. "It is about knowing something about your neighbors, your community and people in your workplace. So many stereotypes and misconceptions are out there. There is a lot of goodwill behind this project. There is abundant pride and a commitment to increasing understanding."
Not that Mayor Rahm Emanuel needs to emulate his predecessor, but when the first edition of the book came out, Mayor Richard M. Daley gave copies to many visiting dignitaries.
"We haven't heard from City Hall this time around, but I know we got the book into the mayor's hands and tried to reach out to tourism and cultural affairs but so far — nothing," says Levin. "I know the book is not about Ferris wheels, casinos and staircases to the sky. But I've never thought of Chicago that way. I love Chicago for its diversity and, being fourth-generation, love to look at it through the eyes of my immigrant friends who have taught me a lot about the world."
You can get a copy of the book at chicagoethnic.org. At $40, it's a bargain.
Rick Kogan is a Tribune senior writer and columnist.
By Pat Byrnes, Lyons Press, 256 pages, $19.95
"Fire Strikes the Chicago Stock Yards"
By John F. Hogan, The History Press, 160 pages, $19.99
"The Chicago Area Ethnic Handbook"
Edited by Cynthia Linton, Chicago Area Ethnic Resources, $40Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun