On November 28, 1979, squadron commander and Navy pilot Peter Rodrick died when his plane crashed in the Indian Ocean. He was just thirty-six and had been the commanding officer of his squadron for 127 days. Eight thousand miles away on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, he left behind a grief-stricken wife, two daughters, and a thirteenyear-old son who would grow up to be a writer--one who was drawn, perhaps inevitably, to write about his father, his family, and the devastating consequences of military service.Read more...
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On November 28, 1979, squadron commander and Navy pilot Peter Rodrick died when his plane crashed in the Indian Ocean. He was just thirty-six and had been the commanding officer of his squadron for 127 days. Eight thousand miles away on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, he left behind a grief-stricken wife, two daughters, and a thirteenyear-old son who would grow up to be a writer--one who was drawn, perhaps inevitably, to write about his father, his family, and the devastating consequences of military service.
In The Magical Stranger, Stephen Rodrick explores the life and death of the man who indelibly shaped his life, even as he remained a mystery: brilliant but unknowable, sacred but absent--an apparition gone 200 days of the year for much of his young son's life--a born leader who gave his son little direction. Through adolescence and into adulthood, Rodrick struggled to grasp fully the reality of his father's death and its permanence. Peter's picture and memory haunted the family home, but his name was rarely mentioned.
To better understand his father and his own experience growing up without him, Rodrick turned to today's members of his father's former squadron, spending nearly two years with VAQ-135, the "World-Famous Black Ravens." His travels take him around the world, from Okinawa and Hawaii to Bahrain and the Persian Gulf--but always back to Whidbey Island, the setting of his family's own story. As he learns more about his father, he also uncovers the layers of these sailors' lives: their brides and girlfriends, friendships, dreams, disappointments--and the consequences of their choices on those they leave behind.
A penetrating, thoughtful blend of memoir and reportage, The Magical Stranger is a moving reflection on the meaning of service and the power of a father's legacy.
Special treats for special dads
Father’s Day 2013 brings with it memoirs, nostalgia pieces, books on child-rearing (specifically from Dad’s POV) and also interesting volumes related to golf’s singular, imaginative hold on the father-son bond. We can’t review every item that made it over the transom, but here’s a sampler of our favorites.
SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND
In an epic mix of sprawling journalism and personal memoir, veteran magazine writer Stephen Rodrick presents The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life, in which he searches for clues to the mystery of his dad, a U.S. Navy pilot who crashed into the Indian Ocean in 1979 during maneuvers that were part of America’s response to the Iranian hostage crisis of that year. Rodrick, only 13 at the time, here acknowledges the resulting emotional gaps and confusion in his family’s life, and sets out to grapple with his own dysfunction while also investigating his father’s past to gain perspective on the man and on the military lifestyle in general, especially as it affects spouses and children. Rodrick’s approach is nothing if not frank, and at the risk of alienating those he loves, he emerges triumphant, purging some personal demons and seeming to gain a better understanding of what family means.
There are some interesting thematic similarities to Rodrick’s work in The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA, in which former Newsweek foreign correspondent Scott C. Johnson recounts his curiously peripatetic upbringing and makes an effort to understand his father and his unlikely profession. It wasn’t until he was a teenager that Johnson learned his dad was a CIA agent. Looking back, Johnson recounts the veil of deception that always seemed to shroud his father’s attitudes, demeanor and social activities. Questions remain unanswered for years, yet some clarity emerges right before 9/11, when son elicits from father an understanding of his notions of patriotism and morality. Later, while working as an international reporter in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, Johnson begins to find parallels in his own work, mainly in its secretive nature and its reliance on a certain kind of trust. With a scope spanning the Cold War and the war on terror, Johnson’s father-son memoir offers a rare glimpse of family, from separation to hard-won reconciliation.
LIFE ON THE LINKS
In Loopers: A Caddie’s Twenty-Year Golf Odyssey, professional golf caddy turned journalist John Dunn offers an engaging and surprisingly gritty approach to the sport’s literature. Against his father’s wishes, Dunn takes up the life of an itinerant caddy, and this volume essentially covers his episodic, two-decade journey across the U.S. working at golf courses great and small. Dunn makes it inside Augusta National Golf Club, manages to cross paths with celebrities and titans of industry, even travels across the pond to St. Andrews. It’s a gypsy existence that sometimes demands a scrappy persistence and a lot of compromises, yet Dunn’s account makes clear that his “a breed apart” personality is a good match for the vagabond lifestyle, which includes its fair share of fun and adventure. The book comes full circle when Dunn must confront his father’s imminent death from cancer. Closure occurs as the book reaches its poignant end, and golf’s linkage to the relationship between fathers and sons resonates once again.
TWO BIG DADDIES
Actor Steve Schirripa has had some great roles. Formerly the entertainment director of the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, he then parlayed his connections there into both TV and big-screen roles, mainly on “The Sopranos” as Bobby Bacala. Fact is, Schirripa is bigger than life. And while his new book, Big Daddy’s Rules: Raising Daughters Is Tougher Than I Look, written with Philip Lerman, definitely has a tongue-in-cheek feel to it, the tough-guy approach he espouses to child-rearing is heartfelt and refreshingly commonsensical. For Schirripa, it’s about protection—plus it’s his conviction that when parents assert an authoritative stance, kids will push boundaries more reasonably (and hence maybe end up with fewer tattoos!). This is parenting the old-school way, laced with tales from the trenches and committed advice on how to bring kids through the tough years, including discussion of topics like dating and sex, drinking and drugs, the value of money and hard work, and more.
“Today, big families are like waterbed stores; they used to be everywhere, and now they are just weird.” So says popular comedian and actor Jim Gaffigan, the author of Dad Is Fat but more tellingly the father of five young children, who, as of this writing, live with him and his “very fertile wife, Jeannie” in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Unsurprisingly, Gaffigan’s new book reads like one big extended stand-up routine about family life in general and the challenges of parenting a large brood in particular. Fans of the author’s sharp, dry wit will definitely be amused. The book is peppered with warm, candid photos of Gaffigans young and old.
AN AMERICAN ICON
Finally, there’s John Wayne: The Genuine Article, a coffee-table book suitable for the movie legend’s fans. Wayne was a dad, of course—son Ethan provides the preface here—and certainly was an authoritative film figure who epitomized the rugged American male. Michael Goldman’s text offers a welcome rundown of Duke’s life, from his almost accidental entry into the movies to his iconic rise in celluloid and later status as patriotic figure, with concluding chapters sharing a glimpse into Wayne’s personal moments and memories as a father. The plentiful graphic material includes reproductions of rare personal documents, family photos, letters to and from Hollywood stars and politicians, shooting-script excerpts from various Wayne flicks and other memorabilia.