A loving son reflects on life with a brawny father whose premature death permanently transformed him.
AGNI fiction editor and New Republic contributing writer Giraldi (Hold the Dark, 2014, etc.) paints himself as an “earnestly unjockish” adolescent who looked up to his muscular father for direction, advice, and as the ultimate example of raw masculinity. Raised solely by his father in working-class, blue-collar Manville, New Jersey, the author writes earnestly about his closet affinity for classic literature and mounting frustration at his inability to measure up to his father’s macho image. Craving the “sacral creed” of masculinity that seemed to power the town (and his male-dominated family), a spontaneous visit to his uncle Tony’s makeshift workout room drastically altered his perspective, priorities, and physique. He eventually joined the hard-core training circuit culture at the Physical Edge gym, the local “sanctum of the gargantuan.” Bodybuilding became an “obsession that included brutalizing workouts, steroids, competitions, an absolute revamping of the self.” Thankfully, this hardened intensity doesn’t strip Giraldi’s memoir of its personality. His adventures with body shaving, maddening diet regimens, the “fetishizing pleasure” of hoarding steroids, and bodybuilding competitions all provide moments of wry humor and steely determination. His interest in bodybuilding deflated once the gym closed its doors and the author’s father sold the family home to move in with a girlfriend. Giraldi poignantly ponders his father as a man morphing through the decades from a levelheaded, reliable family man to a “harebrained...high-stakes gambler” and a devotee of treacherous motorcycle racing. His father experienced many nonfatal crashes, but one would take his life in 2000 at 47. The details of his tragedy become blurred with accusations and unsettled with inconclusiveness from an anterior-mounted camera inexplicably vanishing from the scene of the accident. Giraldi provides a respectful homage to his father, who died “attempting to be worthy of an ancient code,” but he also pays tribute to the working-class male and the unspoken codes of machismo.
A hearty, bittersweet familial chronicle of masculinity drawing on the underappreciated bond between fathers and sons.