Like father, like son. Newspaperman Sheehan’s potent memoir finds a lot of unfortunate parallels between his own and his father’s lives: drinking gone sour, marriages abandoned, a furious pursuit of freedom that turned both remote, then solitary.
Sheehan always remembers running after the love of his father. George was a doctor, son of a New York Irish doctor, who worked dawn to dark to get beyond what he saw as the confines of his heritage. He was an absence to his 12 children, and Andrew, smack in the middle, acutely felt the lack of attention. Sheehan tries to get a grasp of the situation by exploring how his father’s sense of insecurity and inadequacy might have made him unapproachable. The two shared time together, but never enough. And there was alcohol: “Even in temperate Irish households, alcohol was always a presence, a specter from the past kept at bay, in hope that if no one acknowledges it, the beast will just someday roll over and die.” For neither man was it so temperate. Worse still, when George gained fame as a running guru in the 1960s, he started to pursue women, forsaking his family. His mother would always accept him back, but after he had entered into the family’s midst, he would take what he wanted and then leave again. Sheehan follows along in his father’s footsteps: a runner, a writer, an escaper from responsibility and from his own emotional life. As the son gathers the rubble of his life, George discovers he has inoperable prostate cancer. He wakes up to the glory of his family, and the pages devoted to this time are heartbreaking in their beauty and unadorned brevity.
Enough ache here to fill more than a lifetime, albeit with reconciliation at the end and a “father who wondered at the beauty of his son and could claim no influence.”