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Why I Wrote A Book About Fathers & Sons

It’s been just over a year since I published my first book, about the respective difficult upbringings of father & son in two vastly different generations. Today is Father’s Day, a good time to reflect. Indeed, lots relevant to the book has happened in 365 days.

It’s been just over a year since I published my first book, about the respective difficult upbringings of father & son in two vastly different generations. Today is Father’s Day, a good time to reflect. Indeed, lots relevant to the book has happened in 365 days.

At the initial release of Inger: Father & Son, I faced a bit of a challenge in explaining just what it was my book was about. There is the obvious aspect in the title, and documenting a family’s history and tough times during a war. There is a cultural aspect yes. But truth be told, I had a more important story to tell. Figuring out how to explain it didn’t come so easily. Maybe after having a year to think about it, I’ll have more success. Certainly I know more about some of the things I didn’t do quite right.

It does start with family, with relationships. To talk about family is uncomfortable at times, for myself and for many others. In my case it felt worthwhile, because I was aware of peoples discomfort with that subject going in and thought, as certain information began to come to light in my life, that there was something really great to work with there. I also knew I had a challenge on my hands, talking about things people would often sooner bury in as direct a manner as I did. I barely knew my dad. He barely knew his. As the reasons became clear, they had to be recorded and shared. How could such different generations in such different circumstances (famine and war in backwoods Russia vs relative opulence basking in the glory of technology in North America) share such similar problems? Are we ever really advancing as a species? What will it take for us to finally do so?

All these questions and more came into my mind as I pieced together this mystery in my research and writings, coyly theming the titles of chapters and passages according to classic Hardy Boys books. Of course, nobody else got it but it gelled for me what I was attempting to do and fueled the process. Not to just document a family’s trials and travails, but something bolder. I firmly believe that no child should have to go through what either of us did, and truly, what many others have had to go through, even today. I hoped that in the process of sorting things out for myself, I would come up with something others could relate to and perhaps elucidate what needs to change before that can happen. It was an experimental undertaking.

In recent times perhaps more than any other, we’ve undergone a difficult period in society when it comes to understanding the man’s identity. This includes his role in the family, in his community, the image he projects, and his internal view of himself. Nothing makes this difficulty more evident than the sharp changes we see reflected in mainstream culture over a short period of roughly half a century, even while lessons, intentional or otherwise, passed on from father to son remain deeply ingrained long after, even to the son’s sons. Today, the rise of feminism as well as a push to change gender norms leave generations of young men angry and confused, and generations of older men unable to relate to their offspring. Truly there has certainly not been a period of such radical social change as this in quite some time.

ingercoverSBecause it doesn’t always come right out and slap you across the face with what I’m really thinking about as I attempt to maintain a past tense narrative, Inger: Father & Son may, on its surface, come across as a niche period piece mainly of interest to Finns, Ingrians, immigrants and those who experienced World War II, an event which recedes further out of memory of the greater population. The portions to do with slightly more modern situations may be more familiar to the average reader, but at times it meanders into talking about events and impressions which in themselves might not seem to say a whole lot – except that I was an overly sensitive child with an active adventure life and an active imagination. I’m aware of perceptions to that effect. However these events and the way my childhood self dealt with them are dwelt upon quite intentionally, though not because they were somehow radical.

As I consider its overall reception, I’m actually reminded of another book I’m currently reading, which was quite well received but only because it concerns two well-known brothers. The younger, less notorious of the two wrote his side of things after the death of the elder brother. The elder brother was charismatic, a cult cultural figure of the late 20th century. The author in question turns out to be something like myself – adventurous and intellectually curious, but also cautious and not necessarily apt to be the center of attention. His book opens with three chapters about what I perceived as basically nothing. He writes about the personalities of various family members and relatives. He waxes philosophical. And he mentions in some detail how he was traumatized because of his brother’s domineering personality and mind-games, as he often grabbed him, staring him in the eyes during their childhood and growling “Never oppose my will!

It is precisely these sorts of situations which we shrug off, these sorts of musings which we can gloss over a bit when we’re impatient for something else. And it shocked me how boring I actually found that material, despite my utter empathy for what he experienced and my agreement with what he was trying to say, simply because I had bought the book looking for “the juicy stuff” concerning their later lives (which I’m sure is still to come). Now, I don’t think I take three chapters to say something relevant in Inger, but I can understand how important it is that a book find its audience, an audience which is actively looking to receive its core messages on some level. And it’s important that a book be as focused as possible. His took off because he had the fame of his brother to ride on, but it’s different when your main theme is not that ingrained in the greater “collective consciousness”.

My challenge was really that in writing about Finnish immigrants and war experiences, I’d on the one hand be attracting history buffs and people who share my heritage, all of whom tend to be somewhat “hardass” in their world views. Finns are proud of their history, their success in war against a much bigger foe, and of who they are. Despite the fact that they carry a lot of pain underneath, many of them are not interested in commentaries on sociology, psychology, spirituality or the various areas of philosophy I touch upon, at least not in this context. I accept that, and am still happy with my accomplishment as a foot in the door not only to the world of writing, but perhaps expounding upon the various threads of the book in more focused ways in future efforts.

Nonetheless, I also firmly believe that the messages of Inger: Father & Son are as relevant as anything out there right now, if not more so. For one thing it documents very well this strange transition from the dominance of real world adventure and activity to this sort of cyberculture where everything is filtered or experienced vicariously through a device. It follows the evolution of warfare and arguably the beginnings of internet information warfare which led to this Cold War 2.0 we’re actually going through today with Russia. It reminds us that in the current political landscape, propaganda comes from multiple directions. It reminds us that it’s not always easy to be objective about positions we hold true and dear, when we are in the middle of it all. It reminds us of the need for balance and perspective, and doing what needs to be done to gain it.

This even applies to that growing gap in perceptions of the male role. Everyone’s talking about how the female role is changing, but men, as it often is, let their anger simmer quietly and reserve sharing their opinions in the confidence of a close friend, or through the anonymous release of online venues. Few are talking about the man’s side of things… and maybe that’s just not “in” anymore… or perhaps yet. In difficult times which threaten to tear our communities apart, more than ever we need to work on communication and understanding. Between coworkers, between neighbors and friends, between the genders… and of course, between fathers and sons.

How well my first edition manages to tie all of this together is up for debate – I’m certainly working on a second edition in between other projects which will get rid of some fluff and elaborate on other ideas more smoothly. But that shouldn’t stop anyone who has had their interest sparked by this read, from checking it out now. It’s available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle reader edition, for any device. Happy Dad’s Day.

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