Honoring Dad for Father’s Day

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate fathers everywhere with five books that explore various aspects of fatherhood.

Not from Here by Allan G. Johnson

Not from Here approved_101614_smWhen Allan Johnson asked his dying father where he wanted his ashes to be placed, his father replied—without hesitation—that it made no difference to him at all. In his poignant, powerful memoir, Not from Here, Johnson embarks on an extraordinary two-thousand-mile journey across the Upper Midwest and Great Plains to find the place where his father’s ashes belong.

As a white man of Norwegian and English lineage, Johnson explores both America and the question of belonging to a place whose history holds the continuing legacy of the displacement, dispossession, and genocide of Native Peoples.

More than a personal narrative, Not from Here illuminates not only the national silence around unresolved questions of accountability, race, and identity politics but also the dilemma of how to take responsibility for a past we did not create. Johnson’s story—of the past living in the present; of redemption, fate, family, tribe, and nation; of love and grief—raises profound questions about belonging, identity, and place.

Men Can by Donald N.S. Unger

Men Can sm compIn Men Can, writer, teacher, and father Donald Unger uses his personal experiences as a stay-at-home dad; stories of real-life families; and representations of fathers in film, on television, and in advertising to illuminate the roles men now play in the increasingly fluid domestic sphere.

Unger tells the stories of a half dozen families—of varied ethnicities, geographical locations, and philosophical orientations—in which fathers are either primary caregivers or equally sharing parents. He personalizes how Americans are now caring for their children and discusses the ways that popular culture reflects these changes in family roles. Unger also addresses the evolving language of parenting and media representations of fathers over several decades.

Men Can shows how real change can take place when families divide up domestic labor on a gender-neutral basis. The families profiled here offer insights into the struggles of—and opportunities for—men caring for children. Unger favors flexible arrangements and a society that respects personal choices and individual differences, crediting and supporting functional families, rather than one in which every household must conform to a one-size-fits-all mold.

The Package Deal by Nicholas W. Townsend
package dealIn The Package Deal, Nicholas Townsend explores what men say about being fathers, and about what fatherhood means to them. He shows how men negotiate the prevailing cultural values about fatherhood, marriage, employment, and home ownership that he conceptualizes as a “package deal.” Townsend identifies the conflicts and contradictions within the gendered expectations of men and fathers, and analyzes the social and economic contexts that make emotionally involved fathering an elusive ideal.

Drawing on the lives and life stories of a group of men in their late forties who graduated from high school together in the early 1970s, The Package Deal demystifies culture’s image of fatherhood in the United States. These men are depicted as neither villains nor victims, but as making their best efforts to achieve successful adult masculinity. This book shows what fathers really think about fatherhood, the division of labor between fathers and mothers, the gendered difference in expectations, and the privileging of the relationship between fathers and sons.

These revealing accounts of how fatherhood fits into the rest of men’s lives help us better understand what men can and cannot do as fathers. And they clearly illustrate that women are not alone in trying to “have it all” as they strive to combine work and family.

My Father’s Testament by Edward Gastrfriend and Björn  Krondofer

1500_regThis first-person account, by the youngest of eight children of a pious Jewish family from Sosnowiec in Poland, is remarkable for the faith shown by a teenager faced with the horrifying realities of the Holocaust. Edward Gastfriend, known as Lolek as a boy, remembers in heart-wrenching detail, the seven years he survived in German-occupied Poland.

My Father’s Testament is an intimate portrait of a teenage boy trying to stay alive without losing his humanity—in hiding, in the camps, and during the death marches at the end of the war. It will engage readers interested in the study of history, the Holocaust, and religion.

Embedded in this unique memoir are two other stories of fathers and sons. One lies in the moving Foreword by David R. Gastfriend, Edward’s son, now a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. The other lies in Björn Krondorfer’s Afterword. Years after he met Ed Gastfriend, Krondorfer was startled to hear his father mention Blechhammer as one of the places he was stationed as a young German soldier. Blechhammer was where Lolek was held in a slave labor camp. The coincidence led this German father and son to travel back to the site to confront the Holocaust.

Sex and the Founding Fathers by Thomas A. Foster

G-000865-20111017.jpgBiographers, journalists, and satirists have long used the subject of sex to define the masculine character and political authority of America’s Founding Fathers. Tracing these commentaries on the Revolutionary Era’s major political figures in Sex and the Founding Fathers, Thomas Foster shows how continual attempts to reveal the true character of these men instead exposes much more about Americans and American culture than about the Founders themselves.

Sex and the Founding Fathers examines the remarkable and varied assessments of the intimate lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris from their own time to ours. Interpretations can change radically; consider how Jefferson has been variously idealized as a chaste widower, condemned as a child molester, and recently celebrated as a multicultural hero.

Foster considers the public and private images of these generally romanticized leaders to show how each generation uses them to reshape and reinforce American civic and national identity.

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