To celebrate Father’s Day on July 21, we’ve rounded up nine memoirs of fatherhood. Fatherhood takes many forms, and in these books dads masquerade as detectives, comedians, drivers, providers, bruisers, and teachers to raise their children. Moving, intimate, and honest, the authors grapple with their identities as fathers and as men, and how best to engage with the world around them to show their children its beauty and shield them from danger.
Once More to the Rodeo by Calvin Hennick
What does it mean to be a good father? How do you explain the world to your son when you are white and he is not? What if you want a drink of whiskey but know that if you have one sip you'll finish the bottle? These are just some of the questions that Calvin Hennick wrestles with in his probing memoir Once More to the Rodeo. To address these issues, Hennick decides to go on a road trip with his son from Boston to his childhood home in Iowa. What follows is a pull-at-your-heartstrings account of their conversations and observations of what surrounds them literally and metaphorically. On the trip, and in life, Hennick is determined to be there for his son: to love him, to support him, to show him what manhood looks like, while ensuring they have the “most fun anybody’s ever had.”
The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Before he won the National Book Award for Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote the magnificent The Beautiful Struggle. In this memoir, Coates details his father’s determination to raise, educate, and keep his black sons on the right path—even if it meant beatings—in the tough Baltimore neighborhood where they grew up. A moving and loving tribute to his father who taught Coates and his brother how to be strong black men in America.
The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia with poems by J. Hope Stein
At a comedy festival in 2016, Mike Birbiglia talked about something he never had before—being a father—and the crowd went wild with laughter. The New One is derived from that stand-up routine and it’s hilarious, kind, contemplative—and yes—cringe-inducing. At first, Birbiglia was reluctant to have kids. Along with common reasons like overpopulation and cancer running in his family, there was also the fact that, in Birbiglia's opinion, there are no great men left—“The men we used to think were great were priests, politicians, and gymnastics doctors. It hasn’t ended well for great.” But after making the plunge into parenthood, he emerges as a seasoned entertainer to his daughter. Interspersed throughout the book are poems by his wife, J. Hope Stein, which make this memoir refreshingly honest and intimate. It as if we are part of their family—humor, and all.
Think Black by Clyde W. Ford
Part memoir and part history, Think Black examines the impact of racism on a father, on a son, and within a tech company. As the first black software engineer at IBM, John Stanley Ford contended with racist colleagues daily. Though he was determined to make the most of it, the bitterness of being overlooked and marginalized for the color of his skin took its toll on Ford and his family—especially his son Clyde. Two decades later, Clyde Ford joined IBM and began to discover far more about the daring ways his father had fought back against institutionalized racism than he ever could have imagined as a child.
The Adventurer's Son by Roman Dial
A page-turning and heartbreaking memoir of a father who journeys deep into the jungle to find his son, who disappeared in Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica. During his desperate search, Roman Dial struggles to confront the realities of his parenting. He had raised Cody to be comfortable with adventure, to explore the unknown wilderness. Did he push his son too far? Is that why his son is missing? Was he a reckless father? Or were the survival skills he taught Cody keeping him alive? Both a moving memoir and a detective story, The Adventurer’s Son demonstrates how far a father will go for his child.
From Fatherless to Fatherhood by Omar Epps
Author and actor Omar Epps chronicles his journey from humble beginnings in Brooklyn to the bright lights of Hollywood. Growing up without a father, Epps shares what it was like to feel abandoned as a child, how he wrestled with becoming a father himself, and how he broke the cycle of fatherlessness in his family. Candid and intimate, Epps pays tribute to the importance of family and the gravitas of fatherhood.
Kickflip Boys is an uninhibited story of raising two sons who challenge, refuse, and sometimes vandalize our societal structures. Sean and Leo are skateboard kids, who are bright, skip school to skate, sometimes do drugs, and love one another. This memoir is a wild ride, filled with heartbreaking moments that drop into sunshine ones: “Later, I’d discover that not every park was as mellow as Food Lion Skatepark, not every skater a misunderstood angel.” As the boys age, spinning further into defiance, Neal and his wife, Mary, wonder about their complicity in their children’s behavior: did they give them too much freedom? Did they reward them for disobeying the rules? Love, anxiety, and the pursuit of freedom burn through every page of this rewarding memoir which seems to say: the rules don’t always work, but devotion does.
Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces by Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon, acclaimed fiction writer, sets his sights on fatherhood in Pop: Fatherhood in Pieces. The anchoring essay went viral when it was first published in GQ, and it’s easy to understand why. Chabon recounts accompanying his 13-year-old son to Paris Fashion Week, and while Chabon is bored by the posh clothing, Abraham transforms before his eyes. Relishing every moment, he lights up when he talks to designers and when he sees the exquisite clothes. Short and impactful, this collection of essays brings out the wonder of fatherhood and the beauty of watching your children come into their own.
One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard
Before he died, renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard called his grown children to share something he had been hiding all of their lives, and much of his own: he was black. After his parents began passing as white to find work in Brooklyn, Broyard began doing the same and the rest, as they say, is history. One Drop is Bliss Broyard’s memoir of tracking down her father’s relatives in an attempt to understand her father—and herself.
In these memoirs, men grapple with what it means to be a father. In some cases that means being a detective or a comedian, and in others, a protector and confidant.