A middle-age man and his father bond over the building of the son’s coffin.
Giffels (English and Creative Nonfiction/Univ. of Akron; The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt, 2014, etc.) has written for a wide variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Magazine, Grantland, and Beavis and Butt-Head (an association that he illuminates in these pages). However, in this highly personal book, he casts himself as very much his father’s son, a can-do man of the Midwest, someone who is happiest when he is busy with some sort of project. The author calls it “ ‘the family disease.’ A restlessness, a compulsion to keep doing things, doing new things and newer things yet, a discomfort with comfort.” So he and his father decided to build a coffin together—but not one for the father, an 81-year-old widower whose own life had been threatened by cancer. They built one for the author, who was in no immediate need of one, except perhaps for literary purposes and for the need to finish the project before his father died. “One of my goals with this endeavor was to learn from him—practical skills and hopefully more,” writes Giffels. “Whatever he would allow. And just to have reason to spend extra time with him.” Intimations of mortality intensified as the author lost his best friend to cancer, shortly following the death of the author’s mother, which had blindsided him. “Grief,” he writes, “has a way of becoming about everything in one’s daily existence….Everything bathed in the sadness of loss.” So, in addition to providing a bonding opportunity with his father, the coffin became a way of dealing with grief and with mortality.
A lifetime’s worth of workbench philosophy in a heartfelt memoir about the connection between a father and son.