Book Spotlight: Gut Check: Confronting Love, Work, and Manhood in Your Twenties
By Tarek Saab
Reviewed by Lisa M. Hendey
Spence Publishing, March 2008, hardcover, 208 pages
Don't let the title of Gut Check: Confronting Love, Work, and Manhood in Your Twenties fool you into thinking that former reality television star Tarek Saab's debut book is only for men or twenty year olds. On the contrary, this 44-year-old wife and mom can't recommend Gut Check highly enough. I started off reading the book from the vantage point of a mother of two sons, hoping that my study of Tarek's journey to manhood might shed a glimmer of light on the precarious path of parenting two sons in today's world. But in the process, I found myself truly connecting with the book not only from that perspective, but also more completely as a spiritual seeker. Although Saab's book relates experiences during his formative post-college years, his concepts of seeking real truth in this life are relevant to anyone, at any age, who struggles to make the most of every moment of this time on earth as a voyage to our ultimate goal - eternal life with God.
In today's society, we find ourselves surrounded by media-obsessed, instant gratification, celebrity driven lifestyles. Our children are growing up in a world where one's tally of unmet "friends" in a virtual world trumps real life relationships. We emulate the rich, the impossibly skinny, the overnight sensations - and these action messages trickle down to our kids and speak to them more effectually than the words we speak. So, in reading Gut Check I did learn a thing or two about the type of mom and role model I want to be for my sons. But more significantly, I learned about the importance of "focusing on death" to achieve a true measure of personal success in this life. This book reads almost like a novel, in "can't put it down" fashion, but also has a depth that will make you want to go back and truly study and meditate upon many passages. Tarek Saab's sharing of his own conversion journey has truly touched my life, which will in turn hopefully make me a better wife and mother.
I'm pleased to share the following conversation with author Tarek Saab and to give his book Gut Check: Confronting Love, Work, and Manhood in Your Twenties my highest recommendation.
Q: Please briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
Well, I'm 29 and I've been married almost two years. My wife Kate is now pregnant with our first child. I spent five years in corporate America, mostly in technical sales and international marketing, before becoming a contestant on NBC's The Apprentice with Donald Trump, where I was the 12th "fired" contestant. After the my appearance on the show I co-founded a Christian clothing line called Lionheart Apparel, as well as T. Saab Media, a company which manages and promotes my speaking engagements and my new book, Gut Check.
Q: For those who have not yet had an opportunity to read the book yet, please summarize the book.
Gut Check is the brief memoir of my life between the ages of 18 to 27. It is the story of my struggle through the phenomenon commonly known as the "quarter-life crisis" - that period of disillusionment in your twenties. Like most men, I grappled with the Peter Pan complex, struggling to grow out of my childish attachments to video games, sports, the party scene, television, etc. At its heart, it is the story of how I turned my lukewarm Catholic belief into an all-encompassing love for God. In the process, I discovered the very essence of manhood in my twenties.
Q: What prompted your writing of Gut Check?
There are so many books today geared towards teenagers and fathers, but hardly any addressed to the twenty-something demographic. The challenges we face in our twenties are in many ways unique to the age group. I've lived it, and I've seen all of my friends live through it. In hindsight, I wish I had a mentor to guide me through that vulnerable and intoxicating period. I wrote the book for the man that I was five years ago, in the hopes that some guy out there would be able to learn from my successes and miscues. The book is written like a narrative, filled with dialogue and humor, so my intent was to bring life to the journey as well. No one wants to read a boring book!
Q: What is the most important message you hope to share with both Gut Check and your public speaking?
Success in life and business begins by focusing on death. If we don't pursue salvation as the final end to all of our activities, we are missing the point. We can't ever truly live unless we know what we are living for! Work is not an end - it is a means to an end. The same is true for relationships and recreation. We spend so much of our life preoccupied with distraction - sports, music, video games, the Internet, television - that we leave little, if any, time for prayer, religious education, family, etc. What's the point of it all? Where will it lead us?
Q: Were you hesitant to "put yourself out there" as openly as you did, exposing yourself so deeply on a personal basis after having lived an "open book" type existence on The Apprentice? How does the experience of writing about your own life differ from the experience of being portrayed on reality television?
Well, the producers turn each contestant into a character. It's their job. They call it "reality TV," but it's still theater. As a result, the viewer never gets to meet the "real" person on the screen. You have no control. With the book, I had complete autonomy to tell my story from the heart. I was careful to be authentic without being scandalous. The external acts are less significant than the interior struggle. I did open up considerably in the book about my many challenges spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc. It's impossible to be genuine and relatable otherwise. Gut Check, in many ways, is like a modern day Confessions about my journey back to the faith.
Q: How have your loved ones and friends responded to the book? What types of feedback have you received from readers of the book and those who you've met through your speaking engagements?
Everyone has been surprised by the book. I think people were expecting a cheesy "10 steps" kind of book, so Gut Check really threw people for a loop. My loved ones have commented about how shocked they were to read my stories from college. It's not that the stories were offensive, necessarily, they simply cracked the "golden-boy" image to reveal a flawed young man. As far as other readers and young men throughout the country, the responses have been incredibly moving. Here are a few quotes from messages I've received in the last several weeks:
* "I am not a big sit-down and read a book type of person. So finishing the book in less than week is an indication of the impact it has made. I have written this email a dozen times in my mind, trying to find the right words. I can't find one word, thought or emotion to comment on your book. The book told the story of my life, then and now . . . Everything you said about being a man today and the difficulties it brings was right on target."
* "Tarek - This was the most inspirational book I have ever read. . . . Almost every thought and experience that I have witnessed since college you have addressed in your book. And you made so much sense out of it. I have struggled with the thought that there are not very many people out there that have the same things going through their minds as I do. But you made me realize that there are good people my age that really do strive to serve God with all their hearts. Your book strengthed my belief in God and my Catholic faith. You answered some of my questions that I really needed answered. I have never read a book so fast in my life. I couldn't put it down. It was almost like I was reading a story of my life, and what I have gone through. Such a great book."
* "I had been planning to congratulate you on the release of Gut Check. I finished it in a few days... I couldn't put it down. I really appreciate your honesty in the book. I just graduated from college in December and entered the business world just over a month ago. I think your book will help me to prepare myself to defend my faith in the working world. I know I'll be turning back to it constantly for guidance and inspiration."
Q: One of the portions of your story that moved me greatly was your "Post-It note" vision of the man you wanted to be. How closely do the ideals your penned on that list of values relate to your current personal priorities?
They haven't changed at all, really. That's the beauty of centering your life around God. He is that one immovable target that never changes. Dreams, goals, and careers all change, but God never changes, and His expectations never change. It is often very difficult to stay focused in a very secular world, but as St. Augustine writes: "Right is right even if nobody is doing it, and wrong is wrong even if everybody is doing it."
Q: As the mother of two sons, I am very concerned about the impact of parenting styles on the social development of the young men I'm raising. What has your writing of Gut Check and your own personal introspection taught you about the type of parent you hope to become some day? What advice and counsel would you give parents who are raising sons in today's society?
We all want our children to be better people than we are, and for some reason we think that it will happen by giving them the things we never had. That is an error. We need to become the men and women we want our children to be. They will follow our example. We are teaching our children every moment of the day, whether we realize it or not. The "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality leads to ineffective parenting.
Specifically, I would recommend getting rid of the television in the house as one immediate course of action. What purpose does it serve but as a gateway to impurity and slothfulness? I spent a great part of my youth in front of the TV, and it is one of my biggest regrets. It delayed my maturation process considerably.
Q: In the book, you describe an episode where you found yourself ill prepared to act as an apologist for your faith. How can we, as committed Catholics, prepare ourselves to uphold and defend our beliefs?
Preparation begins with prioritization. Which has the greater importance in your life? Education or entertainment? For most Catholics, that answer is pretty obvious, sadly. Fundamentally, we really need to change what we value, and we need to recognize that time is an investment. If you are not consistently reading good Catholic literature, what are you waiting for? No matter how educated the man, there is always something new to discover about the faith, about Church history, about our Christian ancestry. Just like in the parable of the talents, we need to ask ourselves if we are burying the gifts God has given us, or are we multiplying them?
Q: I am a major fan of your work and a greater respecter of the values you are aiming to reinforce through your speaking and writing. As a result, I found myself wanting to hear the "next chapter" in your story - the transition from where you leave us at the end of the book to the man you are today. Do you have plans for future writing projects highlighting your life as a married man living a somewhat "counter cultural" existence?
I would very much like to write another book, but I think it will be a few years. Gut Check was the right book at the right time for me, at the tail end of my twenties. Before I write a book about marriage, I want to be married for a few more years. Until you've lived through some challenges, there really isn't much to discuss. It's all theory for me at this point (smile).
Q: Tarek, I wish you the best in your endeavors and want to thank you for writing a book that is both edifying and inspirational. Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to share with our readers?
Thank you Lisa. In closing I will say: Pray the rosary daily; wear the brown scapular; get rid of your television; and buy a copy of the book Gut Check!
Lisa M. Hendey, wife and mother of two sons, is and avid reader and the webmaster of numerous web sites including CatholicMom.com and ProductivityAtHome.com. Visit her at LisaHendey.com for additional information.
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