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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Father's Day, by Buzz Bissinger

Here's a question for you Dads out there. Do you kiss your sons?
Not just when they're adorable toddlers, but later-even into adulthood.
I was raised to kiss my father and did so the day he died when I was in my 20s.
He and I had a tormented relationship that was never healed. Thirty years later I'm learning compassion and if that's his legacy to me, good.

But what about the rest of us? I have a daughter, not a son so I don't count much for this discussion.
Not to weird anyone out or to suggest anything besides deep paternal love, but I've been thinking a lot about men and their sons since reading Buzz Bissinger's new memoir, Father's Day.

Mr. Bissinger is a journalist and sports writer, best know up until now for his book Friday Night Lights-which became a hit move and a fine TV series. We learn now that Bissinger became the father of twin boys thirty years ago. The babies came far too early. Gerry recovered well and is today a smart 30 year old pursuing a successful career. Zach was oxygen deprived and Zach's life today is very different. He was left with the cognition of a 7 year old.

Zach will never live independently. He will never drive a car, hold a meaningful job, marry or have children of his own. He will always be 7 years old. His father has not written a book filled with new age- paeans to divine order and all that shit. Buzz Bissinger has written a book about a relationship between a father and a man child that is messy, heartbreaking, infuriating and one of the most loving I've ever encountered. Buzz is the dad to a man who doesn't spontaneously love back, but he is certainly heartful and affectionate. This kind of dialogue goes through the book.

BUZZ:  Do you love me?
ZACH: Yup.
BUZZ: Why?
ZACH: 'Cuz you're my Dad.

You will never tire of these exchanges. Such is Bissinger's sincerity-and skill as a writer.
 And to this day, Buzz Bissinger kisses Zach goodnight.

Buzz and Zach
At the hear of Father's Day is a cross country drive the two take, a bonding experience that Father hopes will truly impress Son. It doesn't. Zach isn't capable of that kind of depth. Zach has savant qualities. Geography and maps are his thing, but being a savant takes the place of emotional connection. He knows he has a dad, a mom, brothers, step- parents and he loves them all,  "'Cuz you're my Dad". Period.

The trip goes from Pennsylvania to Chicago and down down down to West Texas and up to California. Bissinger re- lives some of the early days of Friday Night Lights. Zach wants to visit old haunts. The drive is exhausting and disorienting. A perfect 'date night' for father and son in Vegas is a bust. The trip is no bust-Buzz Bissinger makes clear that the opportunity for time alone with one of his children is a tremendous opportunity. Zach doesn't and won't change. Buzz finally accepts his son's limitations and loves him even more.

Zach goes back to his job bagging groceries in Philly. Brother Gerry knows and accepts that eventually Zach will be his responsibility.. Bissinger writes a beautiful and heartbreaking book with no phony endings. Zach loves his father,  "'cuz you're my Dad'.

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