The search for a childhood hero comes to little, but the reasons behind it are illuminated.
For Dubner (Turbulent Souls, 1998), there was something special about Franco Harris, the great running back for Penn State and the Pittsburgh Steelers, some special alchemy that stirred Dubner’s soul. What accounted for “the spell he’d cast” over his adolescence, Dubner wonders. What was the gap that Harris filled, or the ghosts of that past that an older Dubner still feels thrum through him at odd moments? Confessions . . . is primarily a psychological memoir, with Dubner unraveling his life and playing it off against Harris and all that the athlete represented to him. His father died when Dubner was 13, just when the man had emerged from a long depression and had shone brightly for a few years, his death stealing away the fatherly spark that Dubner still needed (“Take me, lead me, teach me, protect me, give me permission”). Harris seemed the perfect surrogate. He was “owned by no one” and “He thought for himself, upended expectations, bowed to no pressure other than those he generated.” Further, he was humble and thoughtful, plus being a crackerjack running back, the one who pulled off the “Immaculate Reception” and led the champion Steelers. He also guarded his privacy, had a talent for making appointments and breaking them, and kept the obsessed Dubner at arm’s length. As a result, Dubner does a lot of soul-searching: Just why was he dogging poor Harris anyway? He concludes that it was in an attempt to know and understand his role model in a way he wishes he could have done with his father—to gather up some love and fill a few cracks in his life.
Dubner’s search may yield what appear to be crumbs, but they’re crumbs with flecks of gold.