Book Review: Father's Day

Buzz Bissinger doesn’t care what you think about his parenting. Honestly. He doesn’t. That’s what makes his new memoir, Father’s Day: A Journey into the Mind & Heart of My Extraordinary Son compellingly different from other parenting books.

 

Bissinger’s candor about his failings and how he responded poorly to his son Zach’s “serious intellectual deficits” are bracingly real. He’s not trying to impress readers with how empathetic he was or what a fabulous, patient father he can be. He’s laying all the ugly stuff out there. He isn’t concerned if you judge him because he’s already done a number on himself as far as condemnatory judgment is concerned.

 

Bissinger, the author of the widely acclaimed Friday Night Lights, has three sons, adult twins Gerry and Zach, and the college-aged Caleb. However Father’s Day is focused on Zach, specifically on the cross-country trip Bissinger took with Zach in the summer of 2007 in an attempt to get to know Zach who -- despite the fact that he has child-like comprehension skills, counts on his fingers and doesn’t understand much of what he reads - still remains emotionally and intellectually out of reach to his father as much as Bissinger wished it were otherwise.

 

There was a three-minute gap between the birth of Bissinger’s son Gerry and his son Zach, born three-and-a-half months premature in 1983 and weighing little more than two pounds apiece. Gerry, who was born first, had stronger lungs than his twin brother Zach and, as Bissinger said, the three minutes between Gerry and Zach’s births made all the difference in whether Zach’s brain got the oxygen it required. It didn’t. Zach was hospitalized for his first seven and half months on the planet.

 

The legacy of Zach’s birth is something which continues to rattle and anger Bissinger, and had -- prior to the road trip with Zach, which he recorded so he could quote their conversations verbatim - caused Bissinger to mentally check out to some degree when he was with Zach. “It is the most terrible pain of my life,” he said. “As much as I try to engage Zach, figure out how to make the flower germinate because there is a seed, I also run. I run out of guilt. I run because he was robbed and I feel I was robbed. I run because of my shame. I am not proud to feel or say this. But I think these things, not all the time, but too many times, which only increases the cycle of my shame. This is my child. How can I look at him this way?”

 

The book -- which is sprinkled with anecdotes about Bissinger’s  relationship with his parents and his own career highs and lows, as well as Bissinger’s admission that he has anxiety, depression and “mild bipolarity” -- reads like the script for a buddy road trip movie, as Bissinger drove them to an eclectic assortment places to which he and Zach had connections and Bissinger frequently lost his cool when he foolishly didn’t listen to Zach’s suggestions on which roads to take because Zach not only has an unbelievable memory but is something of a human GPS.