O’Brien has always been a favorite author–I used to refer to hm as a Vietnam writer, but now that I’ve read his Dad’s Maybe Book, I know he hates that description. He hates war (which he says should be renamed ‘people killing’), and just because he wrote about Vietnam so compellingly, he would rather be known as an anti-war writer or a pacifist writer. At any rate, The Things They Carried and Going after Cacciato are two favorite books, and frankly, I’ve been a bit enamored with him as a writer and a person since the mid 90s. This book, his only nonfiction, started as a letter to his son (he was a first time father at age 56), but because parenting pretty much took over his life, he never did anything with those letters (a second son was born two years later) or snippets of stories until his sons were teenagers when the younger one suggested he write a book, but it could be a maybe book so there was no pressure to commit.
And so that’s what it became: kind of a book with letters to his kids, kind of a book about stories and writing (a lot of Hemingway references that have made me feel like I need to reread) and kind of a book about how Vietnam and other traumatic life experiences intersects with being a dad. Those were my favorite chapters. Several are titled “Home School,” and he relates a lesson in parenting to lessons about life and hard choices and war and heroism and courage, retelling some of what happened to him during and after Vietnam and how those stories creep into parenting his boys. In some ways the book feels like a messy collage of stuff he wrote over 14-ish years while being a dad, and not all of it is great, but many chapters/stories are beautiful, powerful, funny, and/or painful, and told with great honesty. I shared a several excerpts with my son.