Sunday is the day we remember our doting, caring dads — but this Father’s Day, Tess Callahan wonders whether it’s possible for a dad to overextend his love. She looks at three books where a father’s protection means keeping some dangerous secrets.
Is it possible to love your child too much? This Father's Day, I'd like to introduce you to three fathers whose passion to protect their sons invites calamity. These are fathers with secrets. Big secrets.
Each of us, it seems, has a key relationship that sits at our core. It may not be someone we see everyday or think of often. Yet the person remains there, loved or hated, as our center of gravity. For my brother, it's his son. For my husband, it's his father. Whether boys and men are close to their dads or not, the power of the father/son relationship is titanic.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, paperback, 226 pages, Vintage, list price: $14
Our first flawed but goodhearted father is Ed Boone from Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The story is narrated by Ed's son, Christopher, an autistic 15-year-old boy bent on solving the murder of his neighbor's dog. Ed is fiercely committed to protecting the boy from the truth, both about the dog and about his absent mother. Needless to say, Ed's secrets are impossible to keep. The freshness of the narration here, seen through the boy's eyes, is so compelling that you'll feel for this dad even when the boy is terrified of him.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, paperback, 304 pages, Vintage, list price: $7.99
The nameless father in Cormac McCarthy's novel, The Road, takes even more shocking measures to protect his boy. He has no choice. The two are traveling a barren landscape decimated by an apocalyptic event that has left the planet essentially lifeless. In a world where even a dandelion or cockroach would be welcome, the only other life forms are a few fellow human beings, mostly cannibals. The father spits up blood every morning, but tells the boy he is fine. He also feigns belief that there are "good guys" out there like them. The boy's faith in this is unshakable. The father's? Well, let's just say he doesn't end where he started. Don't let the ghastly plotline dissuade you. The lyricism of McCarthy's prose suffuses even this grim landscape with astonishing beauty. This is a father you will never forget.
Out Stealing Horses
Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson, paperback, 304 pages, Picador, list price: $14
Instead of sacrificing his life for his son, the father in Per Petterson's novel, Out Stealing Horses, sacrifices his son for another life. The story is told from the point of view of Trond Sanders, a 60-something man living in remote Norway. He reflects upon his 15th summer when Norway was occupied by the Nazis. His father's secret participation in the resistance, and in a neighbor's wife, led to mysterious absences. Father and son adored each other. Yet, the father ultimately vanishes, leaving only a note and a deepening chasm. Trond is left with a vast space for navigating loss. Think what you like about this father, you cannot deny his hold on his son, even after decades of separation.
Tess Callahan's writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Newsday, Boston College Magazine, Stylus Anthology and Cottonwood. Her most recent novel is April & Oliver. She lives with her husband and children in northern New Jersey.
Three Books... is edited and produced by Ellen Silva