A father-son soul-searching expedition forms the heart of Boston-based writer Hennick’s moving memoir.
Nile was just 5 when his father decided to take him on a road trip to create lasting, significant memories. The firstborn son of the author, who is white, and his Haitian wife, Belzie, a middle school teacher, Nile had progressed from a tantrum-filled toddlerhood into a “sensitive, big-hearted kid, quick to fall in love with new people and places.” Together, they set out from Massachusetts on a 10-day road trip with “impossibly high” expectations, and they hoped to end up at the annual two-night rodeo in Hennick’s hometown of Maxwell, Iowa, a place he hadn’t visited since his teenage years. The trip was a fascinating exercise in parental patience for the author, who was chronically challenged with weight issues and excessive drinking. The narrative progresses day to day as Hennick effectively incorporates his adventures with Nile with personal anecdotes about the author’s relationship with Belzie, his experiences as a father, and his own family history (“divorce is the organizing principle”). Along the way, father and son grew closer through stirring and educational conversations about the racial politics of skin color and baseball history in Cooperstown, New York, as well as challenging swimming lessons. After reuniting with Belzie and his daughter, “Peanut,” in Chicago, they made it to Iowa; at this point, Hennick painfully lingers over the impact of his lackluster relationship with his errant, indifferent father. Still, he was able to maintain a cleareyed resolve. “I want to be for my children the father I never had: present, sober, responsible, hard-working, competent, loving, organized, attentive.” Parents will find a great amount of relatable material in Hennick’s affecting, often poignant memoir. “One day,” he writes, “all that will be left of me is what my children remember.”
A tender and engrossing travelogue that fully embodies “what it means to be a man and a father.”