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Understanding Dad ... before it's too late

Posted By Jim Fletcher On 11/20/2012 @ 8:00 pm In Diversions,Front Page,Health,Reviews | No Comments

I have grown to appreciate Larry Elder’s writings and wisdom very much. All the better when he produces a book, and his latest, “Dear Father, Dear Son: Two Lives … Eight Hours” is a particularly worthy effort and one you won’t soon forget.

The book is really a narrative about what happens when a once-shattered relationship is restored in the blink of an eye. For that reason alone, “Dear Father, Dear Son” will resonate with the widest possible audience. Who hasn’t had, or been touched by, a damaged relationship in need of serious mending?

Elder has the courage to walk us through a deeply personal period in which he and his father didn’t speak for 10 years. Astonishingly, the thaw began over a single, eight-hour conversation that altered both lives. Kudos to Larry Elder (and his father!) for having the courage to tell this story.

The opening lines reveal not only a serious, reflective soul, but they also reveal a marvelously gifted writer: “His face was hard. Not just his expression, but his skin. It, too, was hard – sandpaper hard.”

Thus begins Larry Elder’s description of his father, or at least the man he once knew as Father. His insight into small things that illuminated his dad’s coarse nature are fascinating. A hard father was all Larry Elder knew.

Later on, during conversation with Elder … well, Elder … Larry describes some of his own traits to his father. It is a nice bit of self-reflection, and shows readers that it’s often desirable to be open, if one wants to repair a ruptured relationship.

The father listens, props his leg on a stool and says: “You know somethin’? When people mistreat you, you put’em down. You’re a lot like me. Stubborn.”

Ah, a mirror was held up, and Larry discovered that the man he’d hated for a long time was not so different from him. A decade-long freeze in communication unfolded in a miraculous way, with both men discovering each other really for the first time.

Elder describes a (sort of) funny exchange his father had with the famous crew of “60 Minutes,” who interviewed the parents about their son: “Morley Safer sat across from him. Safer talked to Dad about his hard life in the country, during the Depression and Jim Crow.

“‘Mr. Elder,’ said Safer, ‘your son says if you work hard, keep your nose clean, you can make it in life. Is that how you feel?’

“‘Worked for me,’ Dad said. ‘Worked for me.’

“When the piece aired, the only part of Dad’s interview they used was, ‘Worked for me, worked for me.’”

The quiet, practical “Greatest Generation” answer.

Larry Elder, a radio and television personality based in Los Angeles, learned from his father’s hardscrabble beginnings and earned degrees from Brown University and the University of Michigan Law School. No doubt his father, Randolph, was proud (the father died in 2011).

Elder, a self-described libertarian, once gave a speech in which he described a profound principle he learned from his father: He never hated.

Thrown out of an abusive home at 13, Randolph Elder served in the military, held a number of jobs, then got his GED and opened a restaurant. Through it all, Elder the younger said, his father’s moral compass kept him straight: “He was never bitter, he never condemned his circumstances, and he always said there are very few problems that cannot be solved through hard work.”

Is it any wonder the country is in the shape it’s in today, at this moment? If only an entitlement-driven culture could see the better choice exemplified by Randolph Elder …

The remarkable journeys of these two men – and their more remarkable reconciliation – is an extraordinary story. The book is really perfect for withdrawn men who nurse grudges in relationships. Yet it has quite a universal appeal, anchored as it is in a willing spirit that considers the views and perspectives of another.

“Dear Father, Dear Son” is triumphant and brilliant.

An interview with the author can be seen below:


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