Fatherhood can be a challenge filled with responsibility, frustration and even pain, when life and relationships don’t go smoothly. But love, hope, pride and a sense of personal reward are the fulfilling part of the deal, and this selection of new titles helps to express the importance of the tie that binds.

AT HOME IN THE KITCHEN

A cartoonist, and also an editor and writer for The New Yorker, John Donohue exploits a wonderful idea about men and food and emerges with Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families. Fact is, many of the world’s great chefs are men, so there’s no startling revelation here about males being savvy in the kitchen. But Donohue deftly links the phenomenon to the societal changes in modern-day life, where women and men are increasingly exchanging traditional roles, a situation that has opened the doors wide to average guys exercising culinary muscles—and proving to be pretty darn good at it.

Donohue solicits testimony mostly from writers, editors and journalists—including Stephen King—who supply interesting accounts of their personal excursions into the cooking life and recommendations for their favorite cookbooks, plus a few recipes each. Screenwriter Matt Greenberg’s Grilled Burgers with Herb Butter look straight-ahead delicious, as does musician and short story author Mohammed Naseehu Ali’s Peanut Butter Soup. King’s Pretty Good Cake seems simple enough (and tasty), yet the range of the submissions overall is ethnically rich (Manuel Gonzales’ Mexican Chocolate Pie!) and occasionally exotic (Shankar Vedantam’s Yashoda’s Potatoes), and some creations are doubtless more difficult to achieve than others (for example, Slatecontributor Jesse Sheidlower’s Bacon-Wrapped Duck Breast Stuffed with Apples and Chestnuts). Donohue cleverly peppers the text with funny, sophisticated cartoons, making Man with a Pan uniquely smart and also very useful. A must-have for kitchen-friendly dads, this volume should reap rewards down the road for family appetites everywhere.

GOING THE DISTANCE

Veteran CBS newsman Jim Axelrod has had an interesting career covering presidents and world events and hobnobbing with broadcast journalism icons like Dan Rather and Ted Koppel. Yet when shifting fortunes at his job filled him with self-doubt, Axelrod went into reflective mode. His resultant book, In the Long Run: A Father, a Son, and Unintentional Lessons in Happiness, is essentially a memoir of his upbringing, adulthood and working life, but the book’s main thrust concerns Axelrod’s sudden and quixotic attempt to match his late father’s running time in the New York Marathon. The senior Axelrod, a lawyer who wreaked some emotional havoc on his own family, serves as focal point for his son, who strives to reconcile their relationship and adopt his father’s achievement-oriented approach to running as a way to reconnect with the past and his memory of a loving man. The middle-aged Axelrod endures some expected physical lumps in getting into shape, but more importantly, his very readable text imparts some heartfelt lessons about the father-son bond.

THE GAME OF LIFE

Author/journalist Steve Friedman also strives to reconnect with Dad, and in his case golf is the activity that must serve as the linking metaphor. Not so easy, though, since the author despised the game growing up, mainly because he saw it as a barrier between him and his father, who played constantly. Friedman’s Driving Lessons: A Father, a Son, and the Healing Power of Golf tells the story of his return to his hometown in the St. Louis suburbs, resolved to learn golf under his father’s tutelage and make the conscious attempt to understand the game—and also dear old Dad. This brief book offers warm, funny and ironic chapters in which we view the author learning to golf—not an easy task, mind you, once you hit a certain age—and assessing his own life and career status, but mainly benefiting from his father’s encouragement and simple life philosophy. Both warm and cautiously unsentimental, Driving Lessons is a welcome little read and a great gift idea.

COMING HOME AT LAST

Finally, in the category of gut-wrenching fatherhood experiences comes A Father’s Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home. Co-authored with Ken Abraham, David Goldman’s personal tale is one of intense confusion, misunderstanding and deep hurt, not to mention a years-long investment of time and money in a battle in international courts to regain custody of his son.

Seemingly happily married in 2004 and the father of young son Sean, former successful model Goldman was stunned to discover that when his Brazilian wife, Bruna Bianchi, left the U.S. for a vacation with their son in her homeland, she had no intention of ever returning. So began Goldman’s five-year nightmare of attempting to have Sean returned to him, a journey of unimaginable heartache and loss in which he encountered stiff legal challenges, negotiated the thicket of long-distance international diplomacy, raised awareness among American government officials and the media, and combated the determined resistance of Bianchi’s Brazilian family, who refused to return Sean to his father even after his mother’s sudden death.

Goldman’s account seems repetitive at times, mainly because there were so many starts and stops in the process, but ultimately his tireless pursuit of Sean—by way of working the complicated legal system and marshaling support from lawyers, high-profile American officials and TV networks—does pay off. His bittersweet reunion with his son, and a sense of hope for their future together, concludes the coverage. The Goldman story gained a fair amount of attention in the States, and this eventful recounting should draw many interested readers.

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