Everything about my dad was big. Even without an arm, leg and three fingers (Vietnam injuries), he rode a motorcycle (modified of course), was part of a biker gang, had curse words tattooed on his arm(! that went over well in private school, believe me!!!) and everyone who has ever met him has had a story about him. He was an imposing man, with a giant beard and a very loud voice (also probably due to becoming a bit hard of hearing in Vietnam). He was also a great story teller, a man who valued adventure (spontaneous hot air balloon rides? Yes!). A man who would take my mother and I on fantastic adventures (once when I was 14 I scuba dived every day and then tasted a different piece of Key Lime Pie on each Florida Key–marking on a specially made (for me) scoring card so that I could once and for all definitively decide which Key possessed the best Key Lime Pie–Islamorada (FYI). So when this book fell into my lap a week or so before I graduated from college, I would’ve never known how important it would be to me in the future not because it’s a great book (it is) but because of the timing.
You see, my dad was killed in a motorcycle accident the day after I graduated from college fifteen years ago.
And I was reading this book that week.
And at the time it made me think about all the stories I knew, and all the things I didn’t know about my dad…
…and then I just never got a chance to ask them.
Every few years I like to revisit the book. It’s cathartic for me. It opens up wounds, but it also soothes me. Edward Bloom is dying (that’s no secret) and his son Will comes home to see his dad through the end but also reconcile what he knows and what he doesn’t. It makes me mad at Will Bloom for not understanding his father and “wanting to know him” even though he actually does but then I sympathize because do we, as children, ever really know our parents 100%? As children our parents are infallible, almost mythic creatures. As we get older we doubt them a little more, we see their weaknesses and we recognize them as the mere mortals they actually are. This book is both celebrates the man Edward Bloom but it also tears into his failings as Will’s father. I was lucky to have a great relationship with both of my parents so for me, the draw is to watch Will examine the stories and find the kernel of truth hidden within them. I can assume for others it may have deeper meaning and deeper parental issues. But for me on this read, it is a book about the power of great story telling, the myths we create within ourselves /about others and how those myths can indeed become “truth” over time. This book, in it’s scant 200-odd pages, touches on the old tall tales you might remember from when you were young, a little bit of the Odyssey, and of course, if you name a character Bloom, there might be some connection to Ulysses. If you have a few hours, I hope you can dive into this book because it’s funny, sad, poignant, witty and nostalgic with the flick of the page.
I’ll read Big Fish again next year and I’m sure (like this year), I’ll think of my own larger than life father who told me “charming lies” such as the fact that Jaws bit his leg off when he was swimming when he was 20.because perhaps it wasn’t the right time for the truth (I was four when I asked–maybe that was too soon for Jaws too?), or maybe it just made a better story than stepping on a landmine. I’ll never exactly know, but I’ll always remember it.
Miss ya Dad.