Another Way Home

It is fashionable today to believe that everyone should have equal opportunity to pursue any aspiration: Some women become breadwinners, some men stay at home to raise children. ANOTHER WAY HOME: A SINGLE FATHER’S STORY is not a politically correct treatise or a romantization of “Mr. Mom.” Rather, it is an account of one man’s search for a place to call home and people with whom to share his life.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador in the late 1960’s, John Thorndike marries a young Salvadoran girl. Their dream of self-sufficient farming stays strong, and so the couple chooses the countryside of Chile in which to build their homestead. This is where their son, Jadir, is born. At first, theirs seems to be a good, if primitive, life. Clarisa’s mental health deteriorates, however, and her behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Not even resettling in El Salvador seems to help. When Clarisa becomes a threat to Jadir’s welfare, Thorndike makes a hard decision to divorce his wife and take his two-year-old son back to the United States alone.

This is a love story between father and son, but the marriage relationship is always a quiet undercurrent. Despite divorce, time, and distance, Thorndike believed that Clarisa was bound to Jadir and himself “by blood forever.” Thorndike also recognized that life with Jadir, especially as he matured, “called for the same give-and-take as in a marriage, the same juggling of needs and demands.” The interplay of day-to-day life is revealed frankly, and by the end of the book Thorndike seems like an old friend.

ANOTHER WAY HOME may encourage readers to notice the stories in their own lives and the lives of those around them. Certainly, the ingredients of Thorndike’s journey will not necessarily match everyone’s experience. His have all the makings of a baby boomer stereotype: the Peace Corps, subsistence farming (quietly supported, not incidentally, by a family inheritance), extended family communities, and so on. Yet this book is much more than a hackneyed account or a solipsistic reminiscence. It is a powerful personal story that may help any reader—parent or child, single person or partner—to perceive more fully the patterns and possibilities of his or her own life.