Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Fathers and Sons
A new book called The Last of His Mind by John Thorndike was laying around the office. I took it home and found it was one of those books! The author spent a year caring for his father who was slowly -and agonizingly-fading away from Alzheimer's. Joseph Thorndike had a very distinguished career in journalism, including stints at LIFE magazine with Henry Luce. He was an emotionally reticent man who was deeply intellectual. John and his brother's upbringing had been complicate by his parent's divorce and his mother's alcoholism and mental illness. John Thorndike when we meet him is a man in his 60s, with his own complicated martial history, and a grown son of his own. He leaves a business and a life in Athens Ohio to move in with his Dad on Cape Cod. He writes, with humor and compassion of all of the indignities of old age: the forgetfulness, the slow fade, the incontinence. He is clearly not ashamed of his father and wants to spare him any embarrassment over these indignities. What John Thorndike has written is nothing less than a love story of a son to a father-a father who has never been emotionally available, but a beloved father nonetheless.
I picked up Thorndike's earlier memoir, Another Way Home tells of the author's life as as single parent to a toddler called Janir. Janir's mother is a Central American woman Thorndike met while in the Peace Corps. What began as a blissful relationship disintegrated quickly as Clarisa too, disintegrated into mental illness. Thorndike writes of diapers, play groups, sleep overs, kick ball, poop, and the life he builds for Janir, now a married man with a child of his own. It's another love story but this father to son. The world needs more of such stories, especially as well written as Another Way Home.
Ron Reagan has written his first book, Ronald Reagan at 100. I'm no fan of Ronald Reagan's politics. But the Reagan children have always fascinated me. There are two sets of siblings kept apart, another emotionally absent but benevolent father and a (step) mother who ran the show. Ron Reagan concentrates on unearthing his father's past going back to the Ireland of several generations ago. The book has been criticised since the author writes candidly that his father was showing signs of Alzheimer's in the White House. (This has been hotly disputed, not least by Reagan's older son, Michael.) It is clear Ron loved his father and even felt loved by him. It's another son to father love letter. I suspect if Ronald Reagan were alive today his son Ron would easily find the words to tell his father he loves him, even if the former president was abashed uncomfortable. This lovely book will have to do.