The Council of Dads by Bruce Feiler

Disease is a scary thing.  It can disturb an entire life’s worth of planning in a frighteningly short amount of time.  It has the power to separate people from those they love most.  It can make the most mundane of actions impossible to perform.  Bruce Feiler, finding himself seriously ill, made the decision to not allow his cancer to sever all ties with his daughters.  He documents his steps to make this happen, and it’s a good thing he did.

If nothing else, I can confidently say Bruce Feiler has good people in his life, most likely because he himself is a good person.  He is lucky enough to have six men he feels would be able to stand in for him and provide guidance for his daughters.  These are also men who come to provide for him — they visit while he’s sick, they talk to him frankly about how they would help his daughters in their times of need.  This book is a tribute to male friendships, and I found it very interesting to read for that aspect alone.

But this is also a story about how the past shapes the present.  Feiler’s own father and grandfathers have interesting stories that reflect how they ended up parenting.  His friends’ childhoods altered how those men think of parenting, friendship, and life.  Even Feiler’s disease can’t escape connections with history– his cancer-affected leg is the same one that he shattered as a child when he was hit by a car.

His story is touching, but I had a couple of issues with the structure of the book.  There are two narratives winding themselves through this book:  the standard parts that focus on telling the reader about one of the dads, or about Feiler’s back-story, or about meeting his wife.  The other is made up of letters:  one he wrote to the dads, one he wrote to his daughters, and several he wrote during the course of his illness to friends and family.  The two don’t feel smoothly-joined to me.  There are points where the reader hears about certain aspects a couple of different times, which I don’t particularly like.  I would rather not have the everyday events semi-sequestered in the newsletters, seeing as the rest of the book also contains a good amount of the everyday.

I also can’t help but think that Feiler could do with a little more candor.  It was a bit exhausting reading about all the positivity in his life, with very little shown of the more realistic moods of anyone, the children included.  We hear about his crying and the occasionally-off behavior of the twins, but most of it feels glossed over in order to portray everyone involved in the best light possible.  Having been seriously ill myself, some of the coping narrative doesn’t resonate with my own experiences.  It could be that we’re just different people, but I think that he is purposely holding back on the bad times for some reason.  Whether that is to avoid appearing weak, or to protect his children, or for some other reason, I don’t know.

I like his message.  I really like the non-letter parts of the book.  I’m glad that he is doing well, and that he decided to share his story.  I’m hoping he’ll write something else about his daughters, something in which they are all healthy and don’t have to worry about getting the marrow out of the moment.  I suspect they’re pretty good at doing that without trying.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Filed under 3.5/5, Advance Reader's Copy, Book review, Favorable, Nonfiction

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