Imagine, for a moment.
You are a young child. Your father is the greatest hero you could hope for. He is a protector and a devoted man. You feel safe with him.
You are getting older. Your father is not how you saw him when you were a child. He is sad, drinks to excess, and tells you he loves a woman other than your mother and wants to leave. He is no longer a hero to you.
He takes long business trips, but your mother can never locate him where he says he's going. Phone calls to the house have no one on the other end, and your mother suspects he's having an affair. You hate him, even though he never leaves and continues to stay by your mother's side as cancer slowly takes her from you.
Imagine you are older. You are married and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. And you still hate your father for all he never was --- a false hero. You need to help him and do so grudgingly. You are surprised at how his life has collapsed. And as you help him and simplify his life, you stumble on a Pandora's Box of secrets, one that will forever alter your view of the man you so despise.
In MY FATHER'S SECRET WAR, Lucinda Franks details a years-long investigative inquiry into her father's life that is troublesome and heartwrenching. She always knew he fought in World War II as a young man and spent time in the Pacific Theater. He never talks about it except for minor remembrances and light tales.
While digging through a box as she packs up his life, with the beginning stages of Alzheimer's starting to rifle his memory and abilities, she stumbles across a Nazi hat and finds herself struggling for answers, ultimately discovering that her father was a secret operative for the military.
Sworn to secrecy, Tom Franks never spoke to anyone of the things he saw and did during the war --- the secret radar operations, the assassinations, the infiltration of enemy encampments. Nor did he ever talk about the horror he witnessed in coming to Ohrdruf, the first concentration camp liberated by the Allies.
Using all her skills as an investigative reporter for The New York Times, Franks lures her father to speak, at first not believing what she has uncovered. The business trips were more than business but not affairs. The silent calls were not from a mistress, though he did have one. The guns hidden all over the house and under the beds begin to make sense. All the while she must untangle a web of history and hidden documentation and memory while trying to connect with her father and understand him for the first time.
How does war, and the especially savage nature of concentration camps and assassinations, affect the life of a young man? How does keeping all of that pain bottled inside for decades alter every relationship he will ever have? How did it destroy the love he had for her mother, who waited for him while he was fighting?
Throughout, Franks does not pull her punches. The memoir is packed with honesty, from the deep-rooted spite and contempt to the ultimate understanding and love, and a return of the hero she had long lost. After hunting for the man who was her father, she sees him "through eyes that have no memory" and exposes a great and difficult story with an ending that is not so much happy as it is bittersweet.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on March 14, 2007