CBR Bingo: Home. In which I return home and find my father.
Giving Back was written by my father, Edward Joseph. It’s a series of essays that he’s written and published over the years about family, memories, moments of human connection and advice for living. It’s a great book and I’m so proud of him.
The way my father came into writing is intricately tied to my own story. I had been living in San Francisco but returned to my home city in New York to spend some time living with my parents. While home, I got very sick. I barely functioned and was overwhelmed by even the smallest task. It took me six years to get well enough to return to San Francisco, but in that time I developed a close relationship with my father that I didn’t have before.
My dad was a teacher for decades and wrote a book called The Loneliness of the Long Distance Teacher about his experiences. He had written his first draft by the time I moved home. I was working as a freelance writer initially, until I couldn’t work due to my illness. Although my relationship with writing is fraught with anxiety, it’s still one of the most important things in my life.
My father approached me to help him edit and refine the book. We met every week. We would talk about his writing and I would give notes to consider. It was very important to me to not be didactic or run over his voice. He took my feedback with infinite grace. Over time, my father’s writing blossomed. He had never been much of a writer but his first draft was compelling. It just needed some loving care, some coaxing, to be the strongest it could be.
Like everything in his life, my father worked on his book with diligence. As a teacher, he was a fantastic student. Non-defensive, hard working, very disciplined. He never gave up, and by the end, he found his voice and cadence. But just as important was the connection we made as father and daughter. I was stuck to my mother like a little sticky frog, but there was distance between my father and I. He worked a ton while I was growing up, and his energy was depleted by his very challenging (and rewarding) teaching job. We are both intense in different ways, and frankly I’m not an easy daughter to have. To say I’ve caused my father’s hair to fall out over the years is not an exaggeration.
I know this review is more about the story of his coming into his own as a writer and our relationship, but the book itself is wonderful. As biased as I may be, my dad is a great writer now. Where he came from and where he is now is astonishing. He has a gift for telling stories about human connection and his humor is incredibly goofy. There are also a series of essays that give advice and information about a variety of things, like his colonoscopy and what it entailed (okay, I could have done without a story about my father’s butt, but that’s my hang up not his). One of his essays was published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul books; it is my favorite story of the book. It talks about my grandmother and her connection with him, even after she passed on.
Given this is a story of a life I know and have shared, I confess I did the traditional “I laughed, I cried.” I am so glad to have this book to know him now, and have a piece of him when he’s no longer here. That’s what I hope for in all the books I read—a little connection, a little immortality. I’m lucky enough to have a father who reached out through his writing.