Sunday, March 25, 2007

Father and sons...

By coincidence, I just read two consecutive books exploring relationships between father and sons.

The first was "Lay of the Land," by Richard Ford. This is the latest in Ford's epic "Frank Bascombe" trilogy. While the first two are among my favorite books, you don't need to have read them to appreciate this one. In any case, in this latest installment, our hero is 57, and gearing up to host a Thanksgiving weekend that will include a visit from his son, who is in his late 20s. While his son makes a decent living writing for a greeting card company in Kansas City, Frank, who lives on the Jersey shore, can't escape his disappointment over the way his son has turned out. It's not that the son is a failure, in any measurable way. Rather, for Bascombe, it's the small things, like his son's mullet, or that he lives in in the Midwest (gasp!), or that his worldview is considerably different. Despite good intentions, both father and son can't seem to connect, or understand each other. In the previous book, the son was a teenager with growing troubles in school and life which Frank tried -- and failed -- to repair.

The second book was "Gilead," by Marilynne Robinson. This was our latest book club pick. It's a slim, slow read. The father in this case is an Iowa pastor who got married and had a son in his late 60s. It's now the 1950s, and having just found out he doesn't have long to live, the father is writing a long letter to his young son, telling him all the things he will never have a chance to say when the boy is old enough to understand them. It's a subtle book that sneaks up you at the end.

I really enjoyed both, on their own terms. Of course, it's hard not to read them and not have the vague anxiety that all parents probably have at one point or another about how their kids will turn out, and how much you can even influence that. Will Liam be able to make friends? Will Kalian mellow out? Will Liam be a trenchcoat wearing, skateboarding, smoking-behind-the-school kid? Will Kalian continue along the path to becoming a girlie girl?

I guess the real question is this: Will I be able accept them for what they become, and not measure them against some ideal I had in mind for them? I hope so.

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