I know from experience that boys will brag to other boys about their fathers. It was always a big deal to one-up the other guys about your dad’s job, car, coin collection or curveball. It almost didn’t matter what. In my case, for a brief time in the late 1970s, it was my dad’s book — that is, the book he was writing.
So while playing army or riding bikes along trails long since displaced by a shopping mall, I’d boast about my dad, the author. Most people might have been impressed that he was raising seven kids, had a good job with IBM and had a seemingly endless knowledge of history, classical music and religion. Not my grade-school friends.
A book, though, that was pretty cool.
Fast forward three decades, and “The Tribe” was just a memory, something I knew my dad had written once but never knew what came of it. It hadn’t been published, which I imagine is the fate of many, if not most, stabs at book writing.
It was some time in late 2008, or maybe early last year, that mom showed it to me. She’d come across the yellowed manuscript, still in its original box, up in the attic. My immediate instinct was to ask if I could take it — to read, of course, but also for safekeeping. This was a one-of-a-kind thing. There were no other copies, certainly not digital copies. It was written on crinkly typing paper fed through one of two manual typewriters in dad’s office that really was just a corner of our living room.
Fire, flood or plain old humidity could have claimed it. And if it had ever been lost, it would have been lost forever. I was surprised by the sense of urgency I felt to preserve it.
None of us had ever read the book that I knew of. I knew it was about Irish people —immigrants, maybe. I didn’t know much else. Mom said she’d read a few chapters back when it was a work in progress. Turns out, dad did try to market the book. Sample chapters, separately bound, accompanied the manuscript and revealed tough but constructive criticism from what appears to have been a Manhattan book agent.
At some point, the idea of publishing it myself hit me. I did some online research, asked co-workers and friends and ultimately settled on a publisher that I later ditched in favor of Lulu. I decided to publish the book in hardcover form and give it to dad at my parent’s 50th anniversary party last June, or, if not then, on Father’s Day that same month.
The process of placing the single pages on my Canon scanner, capturing it on my Dell PC and saving it in Microsoft Word was tedious. I could tell from the original text the times when my dad’s typewriter must have been running low on ribbon because the text was lighter and only about half-readable by the scanning software. Scanning, saving and editing pages, then comparing each one line-by-line to the original took hours at time.
The process did have a benefit: I got to read the book as I went along. It’s the story of friends growing up in Irish neighborhoods in the Bronx of New York during and after World War II. “The Tribe” parallels my dad’s own Bronx upbringing.
My Father’s Day deadline passed, giving gave way to dad’s 77th birthday in October. It came and went as well with less than a third of the job done. So I committed to making this a Christmas present, knowing there’d be no occasion for another six months when all us kids, our spouses and dad’s 18 grandkids would all be together. Over the course of three weeks, I buckled down and finished the job. Lulu handled the publishing and earned my recommendation for its excellent user interface and fast delivery.
On Christmas Eve, with my family gathered at my sister’s house, I asked for everyone’s attention so I could say a few words. Public speaking is not my thing, and the impromptu speech I wrote in my head on the drive down didn’t come easily. The enormity of what I’d undertaken hit me and put a lump in my throat. I pressed on and told my dad he’d done something we were all proud of but for which I wasn’t sure he was proud enough.