Ben Tanzer (Orphans) could have written a book on fatherhood that was all poop, sleep, and dwindling sex life. But the Gold Coast author’s new essay collection, Lost in Space: A Father’s Journey There and Back Again (Curbside Splendor, $15), doesn’t go for the cheap laugh.

There are lighter moments, sure—for example, a ranking of pop culture dads on the “rock/suck-ass father continuum” (rock star: Atticus Finch; suck-ass: Darth Vader)—but the best moments are more poignant. Whether he’s telling his sons about the Newtown shootings or watching the older one get his first haircut, Tanzer lets readers in on the softer, scarier, truer side of being a family man.

The up-and-coming essayist and blogger (This Blog Will Change Your Life) grapples with what it means to raise two boys and wonders how he’ll mold them into good men. “The boys are now my filter,” he writes. “When I’m happy, or sad, selfish or benevolent, all you have to ask is what role did they play in that feeling, what the effect is on them, and what any of that means in terms of being the kind of father I want to be, even if I cannot define what that is much of the time?”

Tanzer never does hammer out that definition, but watching him try is a pleasure.