Greg's Reviews > The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me

The Council of Dads by Bruce Feiler
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's review
May 10, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: personal-development, thought-provoking, history-and-biography, lifetime-keepers
Recommended for: Parents, children, anyone!
Read from December 31, 2010 to January 31, 2011 , read count: 1

The Council of Dads recounts the thoughts and feelings and (to a lesser extent) experiences of Bruce Feiler as he goes through treatment for a particular virulent form of cancer. But the unique and enticing aspect of this memoir is his notion of the council of dads. Knowing that he might not be around to see his twin daughters, Eden and Tybee, grow up, he conceived of the idea of creating a council of the men who were uniquely qualified to teach his daughter the most important parts of himself…what he might not be able to teach them. I would like to have read his book many years ago…he writes with clarity and passion about the values and ideas he most wanted to pass long.

He spoke with six of his closest friends, each of whom embodied a value or attribute he wanted them to share with, or teach to, his daughters. And in writing of his experiences, and his invitations to his friends, there is much to be learned. What follows are those insights that resonated most strongly with me.

An excerpt from the letter he prepared as an in-person invitation to his council of dads:

“I believe my daughters will have plenty of resources in their lives. They’ll have loving families. They’ll have welcoming homes. They’ll have each other. But they may not have me. They may not have their dad.

“Will you help be their dad?

Will you listen in on them? Will you answer their questions? Will you take them out to lunch every now and then? Will you go to a soccer game if you’re in town? Will you watch their ballet moves for the umpteenth time? When they get older, will you indulge them in a new pair of shoes? Or buy them a new cell phone, or some other gadget I can’t even imagine right now? Will you give them advice? Will you be as tough as I would be? Will you help them out in a crisis? And as time passes, will you invite them to a family gathering on occasion? Will you introduce them to somebody who might help one of their dreams come true? Will you tell them what I would be thinking? Will you tell them how proud I would be?

“Will you be my voice?”

I think above anything else, this book has reinforced for me the truth that deep, abiding friendship is an indispensable part of life. Being more introverted than not, and something of a loner by preference, yet I have felt the lack of that kind of friendship in my life, and nothing pleases me more than to see others who enjoy it.

He write of his grandfather who, when confronted with his own mortality, took his own life, a man who was insular and seemingly distant from those who loved him most. In learning more about his grandfather’s life, and pondering on his aloneness, he came to believe that what his grandfather wanted most was to be heard. As he says, “We’re listening, Papa. We hear you. You are not alone.” I think that is what many fathers want most, and too often do not feel that they have, the careful, loving, listening ear and heart of their loved ones.

Quotes I liked:

1. On what he learned from his illness: “Cancer…is a passport to intimacy.”

2. At the end of each of his letters to friends and family: “Take a walk for me.”

3. On his father: “His goal was to provide the shoulders on which we would climb into the sky. He wanted nothing more than to be “between the commas” in some magazine, as in “Bruce Feiler, son of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin J. Feiler, reached some milestone this week…The higher joy is not the light, it’s the reflection. The greater pleasure is not climbing up; it’s handing down. Between the commas.

4. On negotiation and business dealings – three rules: “(1) Keep your cool – the other side will believe you are much more powerful than you really are; (2) Never threaten; (3) Give them a graceful out – Even though you may prevail, let them believe you didn’t get everything you wanted.”

5. On the mundanity of extraordinary experiences: “…cancer is not linear. Our lives rock along unaccountably – and unpredictably – among moments of hardship, stress, joy, pride, laughter, and exhaustion. There is profundity to explore, but also laundry to do. Someone asked me recently whether the “up days” of chemo, following the “down days,” suddenly seem beautiful and full of hope. Maybe, but I’m usually too busy unclogging the sink.”

6. From Mark Twain, after a visit to New York City: “Every man seems to feel that he has got the duties of two lifetimes to accomplish in one, and so he rushes, rushes, and never has time to be companionable – never has any time at his disposal to fool away on matters which do not involve dollars and duty and business.”

7. Feiler’s doctor, John Healy, on how cancer changes its survivors: “They understand themselves better. They are less distracted by the transient, unimportant things. Family becomes more central. Plus, they usually develop a constructive spirituality, one not based on dogma but real-life experience. And they are more sensitive to the suffering of others. They have an empathy that is part of the greatness of human beings.”

Throughout the book, Feiler introduces us to the values and attributes his council of dads will bring to his daughters. In the end, he summarizes them as follows:
Approach the cow
Pack your flip-flops
Don’t see the wall
Tend your tadpoles
Live the questions
Harvest miracles
I think I’ll leave it to you to read the book and find out what he meant.

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message 1: by Peggy (new) - added it

Peggy This review was powerful--I was teary and reflective just from the review. I will find this book and read it. Thanks for a great review!

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