Sunday, April 6, 2008

Our Little Book Club


My Dad, who has congestive heart failure, saw Steve McKee one morning on the Today Show, sent my step-mother to buy his book for my sister and I, and invited us to join a "book club" with him. He told me that the book was about a guy whose dad had two heart attacks, died when he was like 16 and now he's got heart trouble too. "It's about family and heart disease," he said.

Since my sister and I spent our weekends at our dad's house growing up sitting on his couch watching TV, and just because he'd never asked us to do anything like this before, we jumped at the chance to create a book club.

We decided to read a chapter a week and talk on Sunday nights about what we read. Tonight was our second three-way call. First, we created a family tree chart to help us keep the characters straight and we talked about our dad's dad and his reaction to our grandma's death, a bit about my aunts funeral, and about the joy the authors mom had just spending time with her dad- even if it was a boxing matches and baseball games. So many similarities and connections between just being families. We are smaller in number, more southern in location, and exponentially shorter on detail, but sharing a knowing resemblance - just because it's the shared human experience of a family.

At the end of the second chapter, McKee says, "In the uncanny way the family generations spill one onto the next, revisiting, reinventing, repeating themselves, that's what happened." So as we read this book together as a family and talk about what it means, we are talking about those moments we want to replay for our own sprouting families and those that are better left alone.

So maybe it's taken awhile for us to move from the silence sitting on the couch to reading and talking to each other, but we are there now - and even though we just hung up the phone, I can't wait for next Sundays phone call.

From Steve McKee comes “My Father's Heart,” a memoir of a father-and-son relationship cut short by heart attack, and the powerful pull of love across the empty years. An excerpt:

About two years before the heart attack that killed him, I had told Dad in so many words that if he didn’t clean up his act, he’d be dead in five years. Quit the smoking, get some exercise, stop nailing himself to the cross of his job. We were sitting at the kitchen table, he and Mom and I. Kathy was away at school. Dad had already had one heart attack, in 1963, when he was forty-four. It had been such an obvious warning shot across the bow. How could he not have heard it, when I so clearly had? He looked straight at me and said, “You’re right.” I wanted to reach across the table, grab him by the collar of the white dress shirt he always wore to work, and shake him. All these years later, I still do.

Shake him for proving me right with years to spare. Shake him for the cigarette cough my sister Kathy and I woke up to every morning of our lives. For missing my high school and college graduations, my wedding in 1978. For not being here for me and my wife, Noreen, to share with him the baby, Patrick, that we adopted in 1990. And for Mom, the former Helen Theresa O’Neil of Seneca Parkside, for being his widow for thirty-seven years, fifteen years longer than she was his wife.
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