Book Review: The Council of Dads

In Recommended Reads by Engagement

The_Council_of_Dads_book_cover_largeThe Council of Dads –My Daughters, My Illness and the Men Who Could Be Me

A Circle of Friends

This is not merely a book about dads. It is about living -a father cherishing every minute with his two-year-old twin daughters- in a year that sees him battling an aggressive illness. He refers to it as “The Lost Year”, but emerges gaining deep insight.

Bruce Feiler, a New York Times bestselling author, as well as television host of documentaries that called him to traverse harsh lands, finds himself stricken with cancer, and in danger of losing his leg and life.

Facing the possibility that he may not survive, he puts together a council of dads from among his friends so that his daughters can come to know about him through these men.

However, this not just a book for dads struggling with illness: chronic, degenerative, or terminal. It will grant comfort, encouragement, and inspiration to all dads.

More significantly, it is for a wider audience because Bruce explores greater themes: Manhood, Friendship and Fatherhood. He writes:

“By inviting these men into the inner most space of our lives, we were cementing a new kind of bond. And by forcing us to sit down and discuss our lives, I began to detect certain patterns among these men. First it was a new kind of maleness, one that would have been completely alien to my father’s father, or even my own father, who has a more distant relationship from even his oldest male friends. For starters, we talk -and fairly regularly. More important, we talk about things that were once exclusive domain of women’s magazines and daytime chat shows: our children, our feelings, even our bodies.” (Page 94 and 95)

Skillfully put together by alternating chapters on each significant person in Bruce’s life with a letter he writes to keep family and friends updated about his treatment, the book is beautifully bound by metaphor –that of one’s voice and walk.

Finding a Voice

Bruce wants his daughters, Eden and Tybee, to know him through his friends if he is no longer around.  In a talk with his longtime friend, Max, they reflect on love, loss, grief and hope.

“I would start by saying how much you loved them,” Max said. “How I watched you blossom by having children. How good a dad you were. The most important thing a parent can do, I believe, is water a child profusely with love. I would water your children with love.”

“What would you tell them to do with pain?” I asked. “Should they confront it or try to get over it?”

“It’s not something you get over,” he said. “It’s something that’s already part of you. So you have to come at it directly -and keep coming back at it…

…But at the same time,” he said, “I would do something else. I would tell stories. When you lose someone, the loss becomes the dominant memory. You have to build a rival memory. We went here and did this. He took you here and did that. By doing that, you help the girls find their own voice. They take the negative pain and create a positive side to it.” (Page 69)

Walking Alongside

In his letters to update family and friends (Read an excerpt here), Bruce often ends with a poignant phrase –he asks his readers to take a walk with him.

Throughout the book, he describes his friends as people who have walked alongside him. And, he hopes they will continue to do so with his daughters. As he reflects on the trip he took with Max across Asia in their younger years, he writes:

“But precisely because we endured those trials, our friendship became unbreakable. What happened in Shanghai stayed in Shanghai, and what was left was as enduring as the Great Wall of China…

I would want Max to embody for Eden and Tybee the values he has always represented to me. The loyalty of the friend who sees how far I’ve come instead of how far I’ve got to go. The dignity of the person who has devoted his entire life to serving others…

Max would teach them how to live.” (Page 69 and 70)

A Picture of Empowerment

The rest of the book is deeply personal. He writes about his grandfathers and father. What he learns about them is at times painful. But it allows him to reflect on the larger world these men were functioning in, their fatherhood journey, and his own, taking place in this century.

Bruce’s recollections of his dad are, at the same time, tender and empowering. He writes:

“I have strong memories of him coming into my bedroom every night when I was in high school, pulling up a chair, and asking if I had anything to talk about. I usually brushed him off and went back to my homework, but the message was clear that he was open for counsel.” (Page 79)

Dads: Read this book and find new strength to rise above the circumstances you face daily.

The Council of Dads by Bruce Feiler is available at a library near you.

For more information, visit Council of Dads.

Feiler, Bruce, (2010) The Council of Dads, William Morrow, New York, USA.

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

First published on 29-11-2011.