Sons on Fathers

The feminist movement has done much to highlight the various relationships women have had with their siblings, spouses, and parents, especially mother-daughter relationships (as seen in the work of such fine writers as Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker). It is not surprising, then, that male writers have begun to discover the central importance of fathers in their lives, and in their writings. In SONS ON FATHERS, Ralph Keyes pulls together (under the covers of a handsomely printed volume) an extraordinary group of poems, memoirs, notes, and autobiographical snippets all dealing with the central theme of frustrated communication between fathers and sons.

Awkwardness, distancing, pettiness, anger, and other emotional stances tend to define the relationships until father and son are lucky enough to express a pure and boundless love. Fathers exist in all the job categories: bricklayers, sailors, farmers, furniture dealers, pool players, carpenters, preachers, or janitors. And each one is remembered lovingly. President Jimmy Carter writes poignantly about dove-hunting with his father. A gay son explains how his “macho” father came to accept and love him. Larry King writes a masterful account of his tough “Old Man,” scratching out an existence in a homemade shack in rural Texas. Besides these prose pieces, there are also wonderful poems by Robert Bly, Raymond Carver, and Theodore Roethke, among others. Ralph Keyes has edited and arranged the material in eight sections, moving from childhood impressions of fathers, to their deaths, funerals, and lingering influences. Like all great books, SONS ON FATHERS preserves those fragile moments when the human spirit is most vulnerable and generous. The real subject, then, is love, and that will surely appeal to every reader.