When journalist Tim Russert went on a book tour to promote his 2004 bestseller BIG RUSS & ME, in which he talks about his relationship with his father, he heard many stories from readers concerning their dads. Then the mail began arriving, letters from complete strangers who wanted Russert to know what kind of father they had and how special their dad was. Russert quickly realized that these correspondences about fatherhood belonged in a book of their very own.
In WISDOM OF OUR FATHERS, each chapter deals with a different subject. Work, forgiveness, being there, memories, missing dad, tolerance and discipline are some of the areas explored. Interspersed among the reminiscences from men and women of all ages are Russert's experiences both as a son and as a father to his only child, Luke.
Most of the fathers here are non-celebrities who work hard to provide for their families. Rudy Guiliani's father taught him to remain calm in times of crises because other folks will need that calmness; Rudy drew on that life lesson on September 11, 2001. Some have quite a sense of humor. There is the dad who bought a watermelon and placed it in the garden where his young daughter had planted watermelon seeds just a few days earlier. And one dad packed his daughter's Kewpie doll in her luggage, which she opened up on her honeymoon.
Then there is the dad who receives a Mother's Day card every year from his grateful daughter who he raised alone. He baked brownies, sewed flannel pajamas, and was a Mr. Mom long before the movie was made.
Most of the letters contain positive stories about fathers. They are down-to-earth men with their share of flaws who try hard to be good parents; many are modest and fairly quiet. Children born during and after the baby boom wrote that their fathers didn't express many emotions and rarely said "I love you" to their sons and daughters but showed their love through their actions.
Most boys want to be like their fathers and try to copy them. One grown son fondly remembers shaving with his dad, who would lather him up. A young gay man who came out to his father feared the worst, but received just what he needed from him --- unconditional love.
According to Russert, 99 percent of parenting involves being there. Many times a father's work schedule caused him to miss a play, a sporting event, or a holiday with his son or daughter. No doubt he regretted his absence as much as his child. A milkman who had a very early rising time used to stay up late and talk with his young son on the evenings when his wife was at a meeting. Even though the milkman was no doubt sleepy when he got up for work, the son remembers those special times alone with his dad.
This book makes the reader realize just how difficult and important it is to be a good father. The impact he has upon his son's or daughter's life is long-lasting. WISDOM OF OUR FATHERS allows the reader to search his or her memory for thoughts and feelings that may be partly buried or forgotten in the busyness of the moment. Father's Day is coming soon --- this is a very appropriate and timely gift.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 24, 2011