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Father's Day: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son Hardcover – May 15 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 15 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547816561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547816562
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 454 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #894,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Blunt, tender, sometimes harrowing, and always affecting, Father's Day is a triumph. Bissinger unfurls the whole fabric of love and pride and heartbreak and salvation that makes a family, with an honesty that will make you gasp."

- Susan Orlean , author of Rin Tin Tin and The Orchid Thief

"Bissinger has the great writer's gift of showing us we are not alone. Here he explores the religion all parents share: that our children's essential goodness will somehow grant them safe passage through a rough world. What a book! Every parent should read it. "

- Chris Matthews , host of Hardball and author of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero

"I loved this unflinching, heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant tale of disability and difference, and what it means to be a father, a son, and a man."

- Jennifer Weiner , author of Then Came You and Fly Away Home

"Buzz Bissinger's memoir - a paean to his remarkable son - is tender, funny, frightening at moments when love is re-stated; even brave - which memoiristic writing rarely gets the chance to be. It also reads as unflinchingly true , which should give it a long and useful life in the reader's heart."a€€

- Richard Ford

" Father's Day is the story of a road trip like no other. Searing and heartfelt, this is not just an unforgettable portrait of a father and his son; it is a love story that speaks to the mystery, pain, and exhilaration of being human. "

- Nathaniel Philbrick , author of Mayflower and The Last Stand

" This brave and beautiful memoir gets at the core of what it means to be a parent - how painful it can be, how scary it can get, and how rewarding it is. By facing a challenge that would try any of us, and beat many of us, Bissinger emerges a better man. He not only finds his son, but himself, and the reader finds something, too. After reading Fathers Day , I've rethought my assumptions about what makes a successful and worthy life. Ultimately, this is a mesmerizing story about how we can all be better."

- David Sheff , author of Beautiful Boy

"Buzz Bissinger has given completely of himself in this moving book about his son Zach, who was born too small, too soon. There is the father's disappointment and guilt, his confusion and frustration, his wonder and love. That Zach has a twin brother, who grew up unscathed, and that Zach's mind is as divided as his father's emotions, makes the story all that more compelling. Father's Day is wonderfully, achingly written, with all the doubt that tells you how truthful it is. "

- Frank Deford , author of The Old Ball Game and The Entitled

"Every father of a special needs child should read this very insightful book."

- Temple Grandin , author of Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation

"A fiercely honest memoir about the complex hard drive of a son's brain and the balky software of a father's heart. Though his story is singular, Bissinger makes it feel like part of that eternal saga - fathers and sons trying to connect."

- J.R. Moehringer , author of The Tender Bar "Gorgeous and brutally honest . . . As much as this is a book for parents, who know well the crushing vulnerabilities of the job, it is also a story for grown children who understand what it means to love an imperfect parent. Would that we were all as forgiving as Zach. Grade: A' - Entertainment Weekly

"Riveting . . . Impossible to put down." - New York Times

"Visceral, arresting, and frank." - O Magazine

"A really good book, no matter what its genre, delivers a level of humanity that is both breathtaking and elemental. In Father's Day, Buzz Bissinger has delivered such a work . . . It's every bit as good [as Friday Night Lights ]. By telling his own story, Bissinger has given voice to parents of special-needs children everywhere. Moreover, he has given everyone a story of hope, humor and humanity." - Houston Chronicle

"Gorgeous and brutally honest . . . As much as this is a book for parents, who know well the crushing vulnerabilities of the job, it is also a story for grown children who understand what it means to love an imperfect parent. Would that we were all as forgiving as Zach. Grade: A' - Entertainment Weekly

'Bissinger may not seem like a likely candidate to pen a tender memoir-but he has.' - People

"A raw, intimate memoir that holds nothing back . . . Achingly tender." - Seattle Times

"A testament to his searing love for his disabled son." - Boston Globe

'Bruising yet tender.' - Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"[Bissinger's] greatest accomplishment to date is sharing with the world the inner life of his son Zach . . . The feel-good moments here are rarely sappy or sentimentalized, and it's not giving anything away to tell you that there's no trite happy ending here. What we get instead is something far more beautiful and substantial. We get to know Zach - and ourselves. Every high school in America should add this memoir to its curriculum. Father's Day implores us not only to open our hearts to the mentally challenged people around us, because that goes without saying. It also asks us to take the time to learn what every living soul has to teach us - even the ones who don't fully understand their own gifts. In gaining a new appreciation for his son's unique voice and by sharing it with such intimacy and compassion, Bissinger has done himself, his family, and his readers a tremendous service." - Philadelphia Inquirer

"A wrenchingly honest road tale." - Publishers Weekly

"Moving . . . By being so open about his own struggles as a father, Bissinger turns our eye back toward ourselves, prompting, perhaps, a similar honesty in our own self-reflections. Although its subject matter is vastly different from that of the popular Friday Night Lights , readers of that book will note the same keen eye for character and emotion here." - Booklist

From the Back Cover

Buzz Bissinger s twins were born three minutes and a world apart. Gerry, the older one, is a graduate student preparing to become a teacher. His brother Zach is a savant, challenged by serious intellectual deficits but also blessed with rare talents: an astonishing memory, a dazzling knack for navigation, and a reflexive honesty that can make him both socially awkward and surprisingly wise.
One summer, striving to understand the twenty-four-year-old son who remains, in many ways, a mystery, Buzz convinces Zach to join him on a cross-country road trip. As father and son drive from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, revisiting all the places they have lived together, Buzz learns to see the world through Zach s eyes. "Father's Day "is a powerful account of this journey, and a universal tale of the bond between parents and children.
Grade: A . . . Gorgeous. "Entertainment Weekly"
Blunt, tender, sometimes harrowing, and always affecting, Father s Day is a triumph. Susan Orlean, author of "Rin Tin Tin" and "The Orchid Thief"
[no author photo]
Buzz Bissinger is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of five books, including Friday Night Lights and Three Nights in August. He is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and a sports columnist for the Daily Beast. He has written for the New York Times, the New Republic, and many other publications.

" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars 125 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One Long Journey, Two Short Stories April 13 2012
By Keith Heapes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I just finished reading an advanced copy of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger's yet unpublished book titled "Father's Day." He has written two New York Times bestsellers: "Three Nights in August" and "Friday Night Lights," the latter being made into a film and eventually a TV series. As the subtitle indicates, Bissinger's book is primarily about "A Journey Into the Mind & Heart of My Extraordinary Son."

SPOILER ALERT: There may be plot information beyond this point that some readers may not want to know. If so, stop now or continue reading at your own risk.

Bissinger goes into great pains to describe the births of his twin boys, Gerry and Zach, who were born over three months premature (13 1/2 weeks) and often through literary flashbacks fills in even more details. The boys were born three minutes apart, three minutes that separated them into two completely different social, economic and academic worlds. Gerry, as Bissinger described him, was among the "Normals," while during the intervening three minutes, Zach suffered partial brain damage. Gerry is currently seeking an advanced degree at the University of Pennsylvania, with aspirations toward becoming a teacher; Zach, on the other hand, spent his childhood mostly in special schools and works in a stockroom.

In his own words, Bissinger describes his feelings for Zachary:

"It is strange to love someone so much who is still so fundamentally mysterious to you after all these years. `Strange' is a lousy word, means nothing. It is the most terrible pain of my life. As much as I try to engage Zach, figure out how to make the flower germinate because there is a seed in there, I also run from this challenge. I run out of guilt. I run because he was robbed and I feel I was robbed. I run because of shame. I am not proud to feel or say this. But I think these things, not all the time, but too many times, which only increases the cycle of my shame. This is my child. How can I look at him this way?"

Bissinger's passion to excel in his career as a writer, his two failed marriages and his obsessive guilt mentioned above have limited his opportunities to really draw closer to his now 24-year-old son, Zach, to understand how his world runs, how he copes in a world populated by "Normals" and especially how his father can become part of Zach's world. Bissinger decides to take Zach on a 10-day road trip from their home in Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, stopping at specific locations along the way to visit where they previously lived, the schools Zach had attended and especially the people who Zach knew while growing up.

I will admit that when Bissinger hatched his excursion across America plan (a dad and his extraordinary son on the open highway in a minivan that should have been retired years ago) I thought, "Is that the best you can come up with?" He had already told the reader that Zach didn't handle change well, so an almost four-thousand-mile drive to LA in an old minivan really didn't seem like a good decision to me. However, up to that point, I didn't know just how "extraordinary" Zach really was. Bissinger gives the reader a hint during the following comments:

"Zach is interested in people. It doesn't matter whether he last saw them 20 minutes ago or 20 years ago. Realizing this makes the route suddenly self-evident. We will travel across country in ten days stopping at all the places we've lived before or know well--Chicago, Milwaukee, Odessa, Texas, Los Angeles. Branson, Missouri, the evangelical answer to Las Vegas, is an add-on because I always have wondered whether the Christian right cheats at miniature golf. The real Las Vegas is on the itinerary as well."

Once the trip begins it doesn't take long before the reader begins to get glimpses of who the two main characters really are. After only a day or two Bissinger begins to let his worrisome mind spin off into chaos, while Zach stays focused on his collection of road maps, pinpointing where they are and how to get to their next destination. Bissinger often allows his frustration and anger boil over and explode into loud profanity-laden tirades. Bissinger's fits of cursing rage was one of the more unseemly characteristics of this book. We witness this after he becomes lost trying to leave Chicago, not noticeably realizing that he could rely on his son for help. When he discovered his camera and recording equipment have been left behind at a hotel, that just adds fuel to his rage. Often his anger would spill over during periods when he attempted to converse with Zach: "I am not at peace with my son. I am not at peace with the helpless horror of how he came into the world and what he became of it. I don't know if I ever will be and I do what I do when in conflict--take it out on someone else, too often someone I love."

It isn't until the fifth chapter that the reader finds out that Zach is not only mentally impaired but, according to Bissinger, he is also a savant! For me, this revelation places an entirely new meaning to his use of the word "extraordinary." Bissinger often refers to Zach's brain as his "hard drive" and the following quote from the book reveals the reason why:

"Zach is a savant. Embedded within him are the classic symptoms, a darkened cognitive landscape accompanied by remarkable skills in the area of calendaring--phenomenal recall of people's birthdays and the dates on which the most obscure events occurred, the capacity to see someone once and remember ten years later where and when he saw him, flawless recall of the street grids on maps, and ability to give you the day of the week for virtually any specific date in his lifetime."

Bissinger's initial expectations for the bonding he desperately wanted to take place with Zach while on the road was terribly inflated, to say the least. So it should come as no surprise to the reader that the road trip is filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, moments of pure excitement at an amusement park, conversations that lead to nowhere but frustration, and the joy of Zack's amazing ability to immediately reacquaint himself with school teachers and friends he hasn't seen in over a decade. Bissinger muses, "Zach, despite his limits, has been steady and true, while I have been volatile and inconsistent. I am volatile and inconsistent. But I thought I would do better, holding my emotions in check for my son."

As I've already noted, this book contains two stories. One about a very engaging and truly extraordinary young man named Zach, and the other story about Bissinger, a father who decades later is still wrestling with his mental and emotional anguish over the birth of this son and the damage that resulted. For much of the journey Bissinger spirals deeper into his dark and depressing life of guilt, hoping against hope that this trip will somehow change things, fix his relationship with Zach. As the journey nears an end, something special, something extraordinary begins to happen.

One of my favorite moments in this book is Bissinger's clever and crisp humor. There are definitely more than a few "laugh out loud" moments. But the part I grew to enjoy the most was the conversations between Zach and his father, especially the unusual way they are printed in the book. On the other hand, Bissinger's incessant use of profanity, as well as the repetition of his own painful memories, job and marital failures and negative experiences threatened to take over the book at times. Especially frustrating were the constant reruns of his personal disappointments over Zach's condition, as if the reader didn't feel his anguish the first or second time he revisited them. I did!

I would say that I mostly enjoyed this story yet, at the same time, I also had mixed feelings about this book. It was definitely a page-turner at times and also included numerous dips into Bissinger's gloomy, brooding nature. At a couple points, and for no apparent reason, Bissinger diverts the reader's attention from the road trip to an extremely detailed description of material which seemed completely unrelated to the storyline. Though the information was mostly interesting, it seemed to do little more than derail the story's momentum. One example I can recall at this moment is when Bissinger dedicates much of an entire chapter to the discovery and historical development of the incubator, which he notes was eventually improved and used for neonatal care of premature infants. That was certainly nice to know, but what about the trip? On the other hand, there are also many fun, light and uplifting moments shared between Bissinger, his two sons and a small collection of friends and family which in the end made this book worth reading.

I'll close with this typical and priceless conversational exchange between Buzz Bissinger and his 24-year old son, Zach:

~ I love you Zach.
~ I know.
~ How do you know?
~ You have to love me because you're my dad.
~ I love you because you're my son.
~ Yeah.
~ So let's do it again right now. We'll just go.
~ I'll think about it.
~ What do you mean think about it? Let's go. Let's go. Let's get out of here!
~ Maybe.
~ Com'on Zach. You know we'll have a blast!
~ Only if we fly.
5.0 out of 5 stars Flying with broken wings June 16 2014
By Whistlers Mom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Every parent who cares about his child experiences joy and sorrow, hope and disappointment, pride and shame. The parent of a special needs child experiences all the usual parental emotions in a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows with the knowledge that the "job" is never-ending. His "child" will never become an adult.

Zack's premature entrance into the world left him with limitations that define his life, yet his strengths and the devotion of his parents have allowed him to achieve more than anyone believed possible. As his stepmother says, his wings are broken, but everyday he flies. Now approaching thirty, he's still reaching for new goals and meeting them.

In a perfect world, it would be enough. But our world isn't perfect and neither is this author. Born into a family of high achievers, he has relentlessly chased the Goddess of Success. Some families seem to have the knack of combining high ambitions with high spirits and joie de vivre . His family just had the ambitions. His intelligence, energy, and talent go hand-in-hand with a genius for frequently making himself and everyone around him miserable.

In this painfully honest book, he lays bare his life - parents, sons, marriages, career, and his complicated relationship with the talented, troubled black man he met while writing FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and who has become a fourth son. He examines his beliefs about love and family and success and failure - the REAL ones. Not the facile platitudes that we tell ourselves and others, but the gut-deep feelings that drive our lives.

This may not be the book he intended to write, but it's beautiful, touching, and memorable. I always check out the Daily Deals, hoping to find books I want to read, but can't pay full price for. I found a real treasure in this one. Thanks.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Father's Love for His Son July 2 2016
By Carol Etgen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an incredible story by a wonderful author about the journey he has taken to come to terms with his relationship with his disabled son. Painful at times - frustrating at times, because the author is so very human in his thoughts and actions. I found myself wondering what was next in the cross-country journey the two of them took, and finding delight and tears at the end. Highly recommend.
5.0 out of 5 stars An honest read July 30 2016
By No name - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a most beautiful, honest account of a father's love for his children. It is a lesson on how to love unconditionally and how to accept the truth about what defines quality of life. The scale of what constitutes a good quality of life is not based on our interpretations, nor our life experiences. It is as individual and personal as the differences between others.
5.0 out of 5 stars Bracingly honest July 15 2016
By John Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A bracingly honest account of fatherhood that evokes enormous empathy and compassion.