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My Father's HeartReview - My Father's Heart
A Son's Reckoning with the Legacy of Heart Disease
by Steve McKee
Da Capo Lifelong, 2008
Review by Kaolin
Jan 13th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 3)

Steve McKee's memoir begins with a stark, sad event in his life when he was an adolescent. He and his dad were watching a popular TV program when his dad died of a heart attack. No one else was with them at the time and McKee's life has been shaped and reshaped by this critical moment in his life.

In the 70's I had been studying astrology under a wonderful teacher named Betty Lundsted. Betty had written Astrological Insights into Personality, a landmark book connecting astrology with psychology. In class I remember Betty telling us that for an adolescent male to lose his father at that time in life, is quite a blow. It often leaves him in a fantasy world about his dad, a fantasy that may be hard for a son to live up to. Why? There is often no goodbye beforehand and of course there is never a future together. There may be no one else for the young man to lean upon. The past becomes merged with the loss and as one gets older one wonders if his own memories of himself as a boy and those of his father are myth, truth, or a little of both? How does one discern and plan for one's future as they mourn a loss they must take with them for the rest of their life? These are questions McKee asked himself as he wondered if he can prevent himself from making the same mistake his father had made. What mistake had his father made? He smoked, so McKee is in conflict about the very nature of addiction. How can addiction have power over love? Did dad smoke for pleasure, weakness or naiveté? Or was he discontent in his life, or dissatisfied with his family? If it was an addiction how could he allow it to overcome his desire to live longer and remain well for his family? If it was not how could he keep it up knowing it would kill him?

Steve's work was cut out for him. He would not smoke. He would have a family. He would be sure he lived long enough to see his son through life into adulthood. He would remain a good husband to his wife. He would not get sick and he would not die.  His strengths led Steve to invest his energy in sports, eat well, and take good care of himself. Only sadly, while the same age his dad was when he had died, Steve learned that he was also at risk. So what did he do? He experienced deep disappointment and fear. He also revisited life with his father and decided to write about it and followed his doctor's recommendation that he be on medication. His book is a journey, it is source of encouragement for others who have heart problems and it is a reader for those who know what it is to lose their dad when they are so young.

It is also a testimony to the agony children, even adult children must live with in order to justify, accept and forgive their parents addictions. Steve's book seems to get to the heart of the quandary, the basic confusion of values within a family. The appearance of happiness to the outside world which can often be misleading. While dad lit a cigarette he looked at his wife and his children loving them dearly. What did that mean? Some would say he was sick and had no choice, others would say he made himself ill and left his family.   

We all have addictions within our own families. Steve is not alone in this query.

For me the difficulty in the book was in the beginning of it. I simply did not get to know McKee or his father well enough to care about what had happened to them so early on. It takes time for me to grow attached instead I met family members, was taken back and forth in time, transported from place to place without any continuity or preparation. His seemed to be a journey into a memory, a memory too private for me to accompany him through it.  

On the other hand I understood that he was also in crisis and it is his heart that has rendered this story worth telling.

Midway in the book I grew fonder of him, his dad and his mom. I got a glimpse of his sister and the general aura of strength, companionship, and humor and love his mom and dad's friends offered them all. As I read on I was happy to discover my own imagination had been touched by him after all.

Is McKee a writer? He most certainly is a writer. Is McKee a good story teller? Yes. By the time I reached the end of the book I felt sadder and sadder for his father who seemed to be as complex as his son and for McKee who really worked hard to maintain his health and yet had to deal with an urgent care crisis anyway. This happens to so many of us. This is not new. What is new is the search through the pain, the surrender to grief and the curious ways in which death of a parent spirals in and out of our lives almost, if not quite everyday of our lives.  What is also new is the obvious caring McKee has for his readers while parlaying out to us the latest facts and fictions regarding heart care treatment and the desire to see to it that his readers do see their doctors to find out what is really going on inside their own bodies. One would think his dad must be pleased with his son's work and if you are smoking a cigarette now you might put that cigarette down and never care pick it up again.

Thank you Steve Mckee for My Father's Heart: A Son's Journey.

© 2009 Kaolin

Kaolin is the author of a forthcoming book from Crandall, Dostie and Douglass Books, Inc. titled Let's Talk About Race and invites you to log on to her website at http://www.spiritjourney.biz you can also email Kaolin at kaolin@spiritjourney.biz.


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