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Fathers and Sons: a look at literary fathers on Fathers Day

It's always interesting to learn about a favorite author and see "the story behind the story."

For example, once one learns about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, his writings take on a deeper meaning.  Mordor wasn't just a place of imagined evil, it existed on earth and Tolkien - along with millions of other soldiers - lived there for a time.

He seems to have been a wonderful father, putting his formidable writing and artistic skills to work to amuse and entertain his children.  Certainly his son Christopher has shown a fanatical devotion to his father's legacy.

Of course not all writers make good fathers.  The Waugh family, for example, seems to have been a mixed bag.  A year or so ago I happened to read Alexander Waugh's "Fathers and Sons."  It's something rather unique - a family autobiography.  Alexander is the son of Auberon Waugh and grandson of Evelyn, who is one of my favorite authors.  The book provides a fascinating glimpse behind what can only be called a literary dynasty.

Alexander lacks the fame and output of his ancestors, but he writes in the same bitingly witty style.

Though he isn't a published author, I owe a tremendous debt to my father.  He introduced me to Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov and lavishly supported my Tolkien reading habit.

More importantly, he taught me how to write a news release, how to edit my own copy and how to take criticism in stride.

That last part is key, and something a lot of my contemporaries can't do.  Too much of today's child-rearing seems to consist of telling kids that what they do is wonderful whether it's good or not.

My father never hesitated to challenge me.  I remember lamenting how a professor marked me down for what I thought was a perfect essay.  Instead of backing me up he read it through again and said:  "It's not as good as you think.  Take another look."

For most of his life he worked as a newspaper copy editor and those guys are ruthless in their work.  You have to have a thick skin to take what they dish out.  My dad gave me that ability and it's been incredibly useful to me.  It is no exaggeration to say that I could not have written what I have without him and the quality of my work would be much lower without his guidance.

I may not amount to much as an author, but I've really enjoyed writing.  It's a great way to pass the time and work through ideas and reflect on life.  I couldn't have done it without my dad, though.



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