Best-selling author Tim O’Brien shares wisdom from a life in letters, lessons learned in wartime, and the challenges, humor, and rewards of raising two sons.
“We are all writing our maybe books full of maybe tomorrows, and each maybe tomorrow brings another maybe tomorrow, and then another, until the last line of the last page receives its period.”
In 2003, already an older father, National Book Award–winning novelist Tim O’Brien resolved to give his young sons what he wished his own father had given to him—a few scraps of paper signed “Love, Dad.” Maybe a word of advice. Maybe a sentence or two about some long-ago Christmas Eve. Maybe some scattered glimpses of their rapidly aging father, a man they might never really know. For the next fifteen years, the author talked to his sons on paper, as if they were adults, imagining what they might want to hear from a father who was no longer among the living.
O’Brien traverses the great variety of human experience and emotion, moving from soccer games to warfare to risqué lullabies, from alcoholism to magic shows to history lessons to bittersweet bedtime stories, but always returning to a father’s soul-saving love for his sons.
The result is Dad’s Maybe Book, a funny, tender, wise, and enduring literary achievement that will squeeze the reader’s heart with joy and recognition.
This tender memoir begins in 2003, when 58-year-old novelist O'Brien (The Things They Carried) has a one-year-old son and another one on the way. In the format of letters to his sons, he shares the joys of fatherhood, which are muted by the prospect that his children may know him only as an old man or not know him at all ("Life is fragile. Hearts go still"). For the next 15 years, with the ashes of his father in an urn on his bookcase, O'Brien writes for his children what he wished his father had left him: "Some scraps of paper signed Love Dad'." O'Brien covers nights of colic, basketball games, and homework battles, but this is not a compendium of cute witticisms. He taps into the dark corners of his mind, sharing an analysis of, say, the parallels between the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775 and his 1969 tour of duty in Vietnam's Quang Ngai Province. He then presents a well-reasoned argument for replacing the word "war" with the phrase "killing people, including children," and war's impact on culture. O'Brien concludes with a humorous, moving letter of instruction for his 100th birthday. With great candor, O'Brien succeeds in conveying the urgency parents may feel at any age, as they ready their children for life without them.