At its best, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose is the very moving story of a family living through the last days of one of theirs, dying of a brain tumor. But it’s also a book about politics, since Joe Biden continued to serve as vice-president throughout the ordeal and was pressed to decide whether to run for the presidency to boot. And at times the narrative reminds us of how necessarily detached from regular folks’ lives privileged people can live — with private planes, round-the-clock security, and a certainty that access to care or specialists is always possible. I thought I would think solely of the private suffering, but I found myself uneasy with the privilege.
Tag Archives: fathers
Refuge stars an Iranian family who is split up by exile to the US, leaving the daughter-narrator to alternatively miss and bemoan her father, whom she only sees very occasionally when he can get a visa to meet her and her brother in various cities around the world. The complicated relationship of the addict-father with the rest of the family is the best part of the book. Alas, it is surrounded by many meandering stories about the daughter’s geographical moves, her marital issues, and the refugees she is helping on the side, none of which seems to get anywhere.
The heroine of The Widow Nash is not a widow, but an escapee of an abusive suitor and an oppressive family who, in her mid-twenties, settles in a small Montana town where she tries to rebuild a life, incognito, and even find love. What would be impossible today (disappearing without a trace) is rarely possible in 1904, at least with a determined ex-fiance, but it works, just about, and we get a story that mixes small-town gossip and violence with a life very well-traveled, since Mrs Nash has accompanied her mine-owner father around the globe. Despite a few longish and not entirely needed stories about developing Yellowstone attractions, bravo!
In The Darkroom recounts the author’s long quest to figure out who her father really is, a father who abandoned his family and who, after a long estrangement, informs her that he is now a woman. (She continues to refer to her as “my father” but uses feminine pronouns throughout, which makes for confusing sentences!) It turns out that her father, who moved back to his (her) native Hungary later in life, had a charmed upbringing in Budapest followed by a harrowing escape from the Nazis. It all comes out, very, very slowly, along with the sex-change operation in Thailand and the questionable bureaucratic games s/he played to get there.
I much preferred the parts of the story that were personal and centered on the father rather than the more general historical references. Such a complicated personality!
I was disappointed by First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama, perhaps predictably since, after all, presidents are people too so their approach to parenting cannot be too different from everyone else’s. Except that they have little time for their offsprings, and that many push their massive ambitions onto their children, with unsurprisingly grim results. There are many carefully researched stories in the book, but a surprising lack of analysis so here is my take. Given a choice, don’t be the child of a president. Most likely, you will be shunted aside for more important things, and pressured to achieve as much of your dad — and even if you are lucky to have a great dad (which is unlikely) you will live your life under the harsh light of 24×7 media scrutiny. Sad.
My Father, The Pornographer is a tough memoir to read, of the author’s sifting through his father’s prodigious output as a writer of science fiction, and, mostly pornography. While he labors, he reminisces about a difficult man, an always neglectful and often cruel father, and tells outlandish true stories about tagging along with his parents to science fiction conventions, only to be left to his own devices, or, worse, in charge of his marginally younger siblings.
After such a childhood, I’m not sure I would have lugged the (literally) tons of books left in his father’s study to my own house, let alone inventoried them, or read the private papers that showed his dad’s darker side. But the author writes powerfully about both his growing up and the experience of sorting through his father’s estate.
Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in One of America’s Toughest Communities is the story of a group of men from a housing project in Watts who are brought together to become better fathers. It’s a harrowing story, as most of them grew up without fathers and have criminal records, most are unemployed, and they are living in a very violent environment. But there are also wonderful moments, moments when they support each other in words and in action, and when they express their concern for the young men around them in general, not just their sons.
The book is an interesting counterpoint to Ghettoside, and left me with a similar feeling of hopelessness, with just a few beams of optimism.