Going home again
The trials and temptations of growing up Catholic
John Grogan is more like Marley than he might want to believe. An affable, unassuming rabble - rouser, the author who penned a bestseller about his goofy dog gets up to some hilarious antics of his own in a new coming-of age memoir, The Longest Trip Home.
Our phone call to Grogan's home office near Philadelphia interrupts the former journalist and editor as he writes an entry in his journal, which he has kept since he was a teenager. "All my writing is steeped in 25 years of journal experience," Grogan says. "A lot of it makes you cringe, but important things surface." Things like the effect of an untrainable Labrador retriever on his marriage and young family. Grogan first wrote about Marley in a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, in which he bid a sad goodbye to the naughty dog. The column got such a strong response from readers that he expanded it into a book, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog. Grogan's account of life with Marley became one of the biggest sellers of the year, spending 23 weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Readers from all over the world discovered universal truths in the minutiae of Grogan's life as he juggled marriage, kids, family, jobs, in - laws and a rambunctious canine. "I didn't connect the dots at the time, but [Marley & Me] was about accepting loved ones, flaws and all," Grogan says.
That universal theme began to bubble inside him as he sat in church at Christmastime, "feeling unmoored" on the first anniversary of his father's death. It dawned on Grogan that he should write about his funny and painful youth being raised by devout and loving Catholic Midwestern parents, while at the same time having serious doubts about God.
Despite all the "misery memoirs out there," Grogan could only write what was true: that he had a happy life with typical growing pains while searching for his place in the world."My parents were the epitome of unconditional love," he says. "It was an important lesson to me as a parent." Trying to reach their lofty expectations, he grows up in the process - but not without a series of "Leave It to Beaver" - style mishaps first.
His humorous teenage exploits in suburban Detroit in the '60s and '70s would test even the most patient parent - like the time he was told to stay away from a notorious beach popular with burnouts and potheads but manages to rationalize taking the family boat over "for a look" and ends up on the front page of the local paper after the beach gets busted."Growing up in that period, with older brothers and sisters, it was a culture of throwing the establishment out and going down this new path," Grogan says. "Lots of kids got lost in that period and never came back."
Grogan manages to absorb the best of his parents' teachings while struggling to make his own decisions against their old - world thinking, editing the weed - inspired counterculture newspaperInnervisions in high school, being hauled to the principal's office twice, and later sleeping with girls in college."Before I could answer," he writes about his mother's long - distance grilling, "she started in about the sanctity of marriage and the need for God's blessing of sexual relations, and the repercussions of one irresponsible act. It was time to abandon ship. The SS Honesty was going down."After fudging about where his girlfriend slept during homecoming, "they finally seemed to buy it," he writes.