A professor’s literary-minded meditations on fatherhood.
As a writer of poems, stories and a previous memoir (Half the House, 1996), and as someone who has “been teaching writers for nearly twenty years, focused especially on the memoir and the personal essay,” Emerson College senior writer in residence Hoffman knows how to recognize good material and how to frame and organize it, even as he dilutes the immediacy of emotion here with more abstract musings on pornography, feminism, and issues of race and class. In other words, his memoir is more powerful when it is showing us (his direct experience) rather than telling us (his ideas). This begins with the author and his brother talking with their father about his impending death, and it ends with the father’s funeral. “Sometimes I think I’ve had two fathers: the one who made me, and the one I’ve made of him,” he muses. This book is about both, as well as how the author’s own fatherhood has affected his feelings toward his father: “Being a new father, I was having a hard time with my dad—with him, with my memory of him, and with my idea of him.” The father and his family were blue-collar, not particularly reflective, and matter-of-fact in their racism. The author was sexually molested as a boy by his coach (whom his previous memoir helped send to prison), became an alcoholic, realized in recovery that his son had the same problem, and had to come to terms with his unwed daughter’s pregnancy, by a Jamaican man with a criminal history and an increasingly tangled relationship with both the author and his daughter. “I had feelings too complicated to fully understand,” writes the author of his impending grandfatherhood and the less-than-ideal circumstances surrounding it.
Hoffman writes of his father that “he was more comfortable with his many contradictions than I am with mine,” in a book in which readers are also likely to find more contradictions than comfort.