Dave Bry, author of "Public Apology: In Which a Man Grapples With a Lifetime of Regret, One Incident at a Time."
NEW YORK — Dave Bry is a professional apologizer, first in a Dear (Person He’s Wronged) column online and now a letter-by-letter memoir of messing up and making amends.
Bry’s Public Apology is stuffed with wrongs, from the foibles of an anxious, surly tween on the New Jersey shore to the regrets of a 20-year-old who drinks and drugs too much, losing his father to cancer at a crucial time in his growing up.
Could you fill a book with apologies? Bry has no trouble.
Through high school in Little Silver, N.J., with his little sister and psychologist, ex-hippie parents, Bry spends a lot of time apologizing for bad behavior at school as he set a record for detentions and tried to lose his virginity. He succeeds with the girlfriend of a classmate. And he’s sorry.
Girls figure big into Bry’s apologies. At Connecticut College, where it took him six years to graduate, he once left a drawer full of a girl’s love letters behind after she left her school and friends behind to join him there.
A victim of the recession, the 42-year-old Brooklyn dad of an 8-year-old son started writing his Public Apology column at the culture site the Awl in 2009, as he lost a magazine job and got his freelance writing career off the ground. About 40 percent of the book is repurposed columns.
Bry (pronounced bree) hopes others will join him in apologizing — on a Tumblr called the Public Apology Project. Ahead of the book, from Grand Central Publishing, just a handful of people had taken up Bry on his offer of anonymity to set things right in their own lives.
Here are five questions for Dave Bry:
Q: Your chosen format is very 12-steppy. Have you ever been involved in a 12-step program? Did the method influence you at all?
Bry: A lot of people have said that. I went to six (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings when I was in college. In college, I used to drink too much, which is probably apparent to anyone who reads the book.
And so I was sort of sent to a local AA group by the shrink at the college clinic, where I went, ’cause I was basically trying to stay in school, trying not to fail all my classes and drop out of school. So yeah, I have been to meetings.
I’ve never thought about that before, whether or not that might have stuck with me in terms of storytelling. Not consciously.
Q: Was the idea for the book to share something of yourself beyond the usual memoir?
Bry: I’m a little reluctant to talk about it in terms of getting weight off my shoulders, confessing for the sake of alieving guilt. In my least generous look at it, I’d call it a gimmick.
But I relate well to other stories told in the first person, that feeling of, ‘Oh man, it could have come out of my own head.’
The loftiest goal of the book would be that people might relate to it and remember, ‘Oh my god, I remember when I did that stupid, embarrassing thing, and I remember when I was such a jerk and I’ve been beating myself up about it since.’ It’s nice to know that other people feel that way.
Q: Were you trying to get in touch with your previous selves?
Bry: I think about the stuff that I’ve done wrong a lot. I’m a real harsh judge of behavior, probably most harshly my own. I look at my behavior pretty closely and look back on things and can identify many, many times in my life that I screwed up.
I think I’ve always been looking back five years and thinking, ‘Oh my god, thank god I’m not that same person. I was such an idiot.’ Five or 10 years from now I’ll be looking back and thinking, ‘Oh my god, what a clown, what a fool. I can’t believe he wrote that book.’
Q: Do dads have more to apologize for than moms? I noticed both you and your wife were responsible for losing your son in a Brooklyn park.
Bry: I do more parenting, hours-wise, than my wife. I work at home and my wife works in an office. But the (expletive)-up ratio? I am definitely the (expletive)-up in the family (laughing), compared to my wife. I really, really felt strongly that thing people talk about, where before you have a kid you’re living for yourself. Once you have a kid it really is that you’re living for that other person.
Q: Do you have more to apologize for than the average person?
Bry: No. The way that I look at it is that we’re all pretty much the same, and some of us maybe will feel more guilty about stuff, and maybe get kind of more hung up.
I think my northeastern Jewish upbringing made me sort of lean in that direction, toward the kind of Woody Allen, hand-wringing guilt. But I kind of think everyone’s equally guilty, except the extreme examples.
Basically, I think, we’re all trying to do our best in this world, and we all mess up a lot. The flip side is we’re all deserving of forgiveness.