The Council of Dads by Bruce Feiler tells the journey of a father who discovers he has cancer. And before all of you run away at the potential crying fest this post has invited you to, I would like to point out that I try my best to not read books about cancer. This is because I don’t truly understand it. I am not attached to anybody who has or is suffering from cancer.
So why do I like this book? The premise of this story is that the father gathers a council of dads – a group of men that have shaped his voice so that if the time comes and he is gone, they can collectively be the voice for his two daughters. Bruce brings out a supposedly depressing life turn and ties it with characters all readers have in his or her life: the childhood friend, the mentor, the best friend, and more. All the while relaying the importance of family, The Council of Dads emphasizes life lessons we learn from others and how the little pieces you give away to others is replaced with the little pieces you receive back.
I believe my daughters will have plenty of opportunities in their lives. They’ll have loving families. They’ll have each other. But they may not have me. They may not have their dad.
Will you help be their dad?
Before Bruce begins to create his council, he decides to go back to his own family history to learn more about his grandfather. He describes his grandfather to be a stoic figure, one who was never able to openly communicate with his loved ones in the struggles he faced. His death embodied a depth of sadness and loneliness that made me think of how being a father has changed over the centuries. More and more, fathers and men in general are encouraged to show signs of weakness (i.e. cry), sensitivity (i.e. emotions), and affection to their loved ones and as a society, we have seen how these messages have changed what being a father means in this present time. Fathers are no longer the only “head of the household”, the man with the briefcase who goes to work and returns to a home-cooked meal. Fathers are the men who play with their child on weekdays on top of weekends, who help with chores and are much more in tune with expressing their feelings.
I think we see this shift in fatherhood displayed quite well in the differences between Bruce’s grandfather, his father, and himself. It is a great shift to see.
When Bruce is undergoing chemotherapy and hospital visits, he tries to shield his two daughters from his battles. Little did he know that not openly communicating with them about this process would hinder his relationship with them.
There’s a common perception that children should be protected from the evils of the world. Leave them to believe the world is all good and everything is sunshine and lollipops. However, children are smarter than many people think. They may not understand the full implications of a situation, but they are emotionally intelligent enough to know that something is wrong. Bruce shows us that familial support is essential to anybody facing a personal battle, even if you initially believe they are too little to help.
You are who you choose to be with
The idea of a “Council of Me” is interesting because it implies you are made up of a selection of people in your life. When I was younger, my mom re-iterated the phrase, “Choose your friends wisely.” I often shrugged it off, but as I grew up, I realized that the people you choose to have in your life have significant impacts on who you are or who you become. They shape your opinions and perspectives, your hobbies and actions, regardless of if you previously held those opinions or hobbies before.
Two interesting points Bruce brings up when creating his council is: (1) they must all be male and, (2) it does not matter how long he has known them for. The first point connects to the idea that same-sex friendship shares a particular bond that a different-sex friendship does not. This makes more sense since this council is supposed to act the role of a father, although it is fair to say that a “Council of Me” should be comprised by a mixture of both or more sexes. The second point brings forth a new outlook in how one can look at relationships. Instead of measuring friendship by years, you can measure by depth. A friend you’ve known for 10 years may not be as close to you as a new friend whom you see 5 days a week. Additionally, different friends reflect different versions of you while you go through different periods in your life. The childhood friend may reflect your innermost child and adventurous spirit, but they may not be able to represent your ambitions and passions later on in life as well as your co-worker can.
To sum it up, The Council of Dads is a book about yes, cancer, but it is more about the relationships a single person can have and how these relationships never go away. How beautiful is that?
Who would be on your council?
Please, take a walk for me.