Fatherhood is fascinating, frustrating, frightening and funny—and the wise man appreciates all four aspects. As another Father’s Day rolls around, five books offer insight and interest for fathers of all ages—as well as mothers, sons and daughters, too.
Fathers, sons and the game of golf
At the same time that boys turn into young men, their fathers often reach their own turning points. The boy of 16 is learning what sort of man he may become; the father in his 40s is discovering the difference between the man he thought he’d be and the man he is. In his latest book, A Son of the Game: A Story of Golf, Going Home, and Sharing Life’s Lessons, golf writer and journalist James Dodson weaves together both these journeys, wrapped in a story of homecoming and the love of an ancient game. The tale begins as Dodson, disillusioned with golf journalism, returns to Pinehurst, North Carolina, “the home of golf in America,” to bid goodbye to a dying friend. Set amid the pine-covered sand hills between the mountains and the sea, Pinehurst is a home of sorts to Dodson, a place where he first learned the game of golf from his own father. When an opportunity to join a small regional newspaper arises, Dodson ponders it as a cure for his jaded soul—but worries how his family will respond, in particular his teenage son, Jack. There is conflict for both, but as father and son build a connection on the golf course, the “Pinehurst cure” leads them to a better understanding of themselves and each other. A Son of the Game is a magical memoir of midlife crisis, teenage uncertainty and the power of a legacy gently handed down. Whether you love the game of golf or can’t tell a sand wedge from a six iron, Dodson’s book will put the spell of Pinehurst on your heart—a spell that is simply the call of home.
From one dad to another
Children do not become teenagers overnight, and dads are not 40 in an instant. Fatherhood stretches for many years, and is experienced by men in many different ways. The Book of Dads: Essays on the Joys, Perils and Humiliations of Fatherhood, edited by Ben George, collects essays and memories about fatherhood from an assortment of writers, including Clyde Edgerton and Rick Bragg. Some of the accounts are pure humor, others are poignant, but all offer a fascinating record of ideas, attitudes and approaches to fatherhood. One wishes the collection were somewhat broader—the authors seem to share similar ideologies, with very little diversity in their views—but the essays themselves are well written and fascinating to read.
Lessons for survival
A consistent theme in the previous books is how fathers prepare their children to survive in life. Norman Ollestad’s Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival recounts the author’s experience of his own father’s unconventional approach to parenting, and how it led to the boy’s ability to survive in a situation his father had not planned—the crash of their chartered Cessna into a mountainside. Ollestad cuts back and forth between his travels with his surfer father, his life with his mother and her abusive boyfriend, and his fight for life as the lone survivor of the plane crash. It is a story of both a father’s successes and his failures, and is as much about surviving the actions of child-like adults as about the dangerous descent down the ice-covered mountain. At times beautiful, at times heart-wrenching, Crazy for the Storm is a commanding read—a tale that proves the power of the human spirit can rise against any challenge, and a father’s legacy can be larger than he imagines.
Norman Ollestad didn’t have Hawke’s Green Beret Survival Manual during his mountain ordeal, but he lived the most important part of it: “Never quit!” It is Myke Hawke’s first rule of survival, and his book tells how to apply it in the worst possible situations. Hawke served as a Green Beret for 25 years, rising from enlisted man to officer. His specialty: survival. Hawke’s book is full of techniques and instructions on everything from building shelters to identifying edible plants. And his advice covers situations from surviving the wilderness to dangerous urban environments—including gangs, riots, even a nuclear aftermath—and includes a strong dose of expert philosophy on the nature of survival. Hawke doesn’t just study survival, he has lived it, both as a soldier and as a 14-year-old boy abandoned to the winter streets of urban Virginia. Hawke is a survivor—and if you take his advice, when worse comes to worse, you can be too.
The best of ESPN
Lastly, fatherhood isn’t all about seriousness or survival. It’s also about having fun. And if your father is the type for whom “fun” means “sports,” you could do worse than to give him The ESPN Mighty Book of Sports Knowledgeedited by Steve Wulf. Instead of a collection of stats, this book is a delightful hodgepodge of trivia, essays and tips—like how to throw a Whiffle ball and strategies for winning Rock, Paper, Scissors. There are also accounts of great sports moments, lists of best (and worst) sports movies, and such essential items as a tour of Donovan McNabb’s locker. The contributors range from athletes to coaches, and the stories stretch from the poignant to the peculiar (like the time a lacrosse team fielded a six-foot-five-inch, 600-pound goalie). Fathers and kids (and like-minded mothers) will enjoy this crazy little mix of knowledge. After all, where else can you learn legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s rules for putting on socks? That’s the sort of stuff a father loves to pass on—especially if it drives a kid nuts.
Howard Shirley is a writer who is surviving fatherhood in Franklin, Tennessee.