Jun 13, 2013
As Father's Day approaches (Jun 16--insert ties/golf joke here), it's a good time to think about the complicated relationships we often have with our fathers and the many marvelous books that have been written about this relationship.
On the sweeter side, check out Big Russ and Me: Father and Son: Lessons of Life by Tim Russert, an intensely personal and charming memoir of American life in the 1950s and the special bond Russert shared with his father, the irrepressible Big Russ.
One of the most fascinating recent books about fathers is Thirty Rooms to Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock 'n' Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic by Luke Longstreet Sullivan. Here's how Sullivan describes his new memoir: “It’s like The Shining. . . only funnier.” Thirty Rooms to Hide In tells the story of Sullivan’s father and his descent from being one of the world’s top orthopedic surgeons at the Mayo Clinic to a man who is increasingly abusive, alcoholic, and insane, ultimately dying alone on the floor of a Georgia motel.
In Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so. This book explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance—all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice.
The theme of transcendent love is continued in Father's Day: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of my Extraordinary Son by Buzz Bissinger. The author of Friday Night Lights recounts a father-son road trip during which he gained insight into the worldviews, challenges, and talents of his socially challenged savant son, Zach.
Father and son alike weigh in on their complicated relationship in Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez (with Hope Edelman). In this dual memoir, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez recount their lives as father and son. In alternating chapters, they tell stories spanning more than fifty years of family history, and reflect on their journeys into two different kinds of faith.
Sometimes one's father is a mystery, such as in Stephen Rodrick's The Magical Stranger: A Son's Journey into his Father's Life. To better understand his father--a Navy pilot who died when his plane crashed in the Indian Ocean--Rodrick spent eighteen months with members of his father's former squadron, the World-Famous Black Ravens, following them around the world and learning about their lives.
Or their death leaves many secrets behind, like After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story by Michael Hainey. Michael Hainey had just turned six when Bob Hainey, Michael's father, was found dead near his car on Chicago's North Side of an apparent heart attack. Thirty-five years old, Bob was a shining star in the world of Chicago newspapers. And then suddenly he was gone, leaving behind a young widow, two sons--and questions surrounding his mysterious death that would obsess Michael long into adulthood. Finally, roughly his father's age when he died, and a seasoned reporter himself, Michael set out to learn what happened that night.
On the darkly comic, but still poignant side, try Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father. Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the "Fun Home." It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.
Shall we lighten things up? What better time than Father's Day to read Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern, a hilarious coming-of-age book about a son's relationship with his foul-mouthed father by the 29-year-old comedy writer who created the massively popular Twitter feed of the same name.
Too modern for you? Go old school with one of the iconic fathers of memoir and film: Frank Gilbreth, as portrayed in Cheaper By the Dozen by two of his children, Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. First published in 1948, these stories of twelve lively kids combined with a famous efficiency expert father who believes families can run like factories, and a mother who is his partner in everything except discipline have made generations of kids and adults laugh--and they're still hilarious today.
What are your favorite books about fathers? Tell us in the comments!
Happy reading and Happy Father's Day!