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Bob Armstrong's Father's Day Books List
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Bob Armstrong's Father's Day Books List

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Bob Armstrong is a novelist, playwright, book reviewer and freelance writer who lives with his wife and son in Winnipeg. His 2011 comic novel Dadolescence grew out of a Fringe Festival hit about a stay-at-home father and his son, which he performed with his then-twelve-year-old son Sam in 2007. This spring he has written a series on parenting dilemmas for CBC Radio’s Content Factory. He’s currently working on a play about Louis Riel and the United States and a comic novel about sibling rivalry and the prairie ecosystem.
Dadolescence

Dadolescence

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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Why it's on the list ...
Stay-at-home fathers were all over the TV screen and book shelves last year, including in my debut novel, which featured a trio of them. My protagonist, forty-something Bill Angus, doesn’t think of himself as a stay-at-home father. He’s an anthropologist conducting participatory-observer studies of the phenomenon of stay-at-home fathers, and in the process asking “What is a man when he isn’t going out into a hostile environment to wrest a living for his family?”
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The Antagonist
Why it's on the list ...
At the heart of this tragicomic story of a young man drawn into violence is a fraught but loving father-and-son relationship. Lynn Coady’s 2011 novel, shortlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize. is also an exploration of the impact of the mythology of rock-‘em sock-‘em hockey on Canadian masculinity.
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The Fearsome Particles
Excerpt

1
An animal that small, that dextrous, could be anywhere. An animal that silent. There was no defining its limits. What troubled Gerald was not the threat of the threat per se, but his sense of helplessness in the face of it.

In his imagination, in those thoughts that lay just beyond his control, the cat he called Rumsfeld was stalking him. It was an absurd idea, but as he stood in his slippers at the foot of the bed, with the new light of April stealing across a floor of cinnamon cabreuva, Gerald could not quite reach the absurdity and smother it. So he was forced, in the sense that addicts are forced by their addictions, or invalids by their infirmities, to picture the cat mincing through the cavities and recesses (what interior design people liked to call “dead spaces”) of the sprawling turreted house on Breere Crescent. He was obliged to see in his mind’s eye its white whiskery face peering around the pants press and shoe trees of his closet, looking more resolute, more purposeful, than a cat’s face should be capable of looking. He was compelled to imagine it — ludicrous as it might sound to the great majority of people who ­weren’t him and ­didn’t live at 93 Breere — planning.

All Gerald Woodlore could do, and so did with conviction, was curse himself for thinking about the cat. Because this was not the time to be getting cat-­fixated; this morning there were other things of far greater importance to be addressing, mentally. His son, Kyle, was returning home from a hostile territory with an uncertain injury. His wife, Vicki, was edging toward madness. Work entailed its own many, many challenges. For these reasons there was no force in the world worthier of invocation, in Gerald’s view, than the will to ignore the cat’s presence in their lives. And if there had been a way to call forth the will, and impose it on his thoughts the way he imposed plastic wrap on a freshly lopped lemon, to keep its spiky lemoniness contained, of course he would have. But Gerald had to acknowledge, unhappily, that he ­wasn’t built to ignore sneaking threats to normalcy, to order, to the way things were supposed to be. He was much too conscious; he was conscious to the point of affliction. And so to him, the black-­and-­white cat, which a neighbour named Lorie Campeau had brought to the door in a wild panic three weeks before —

LORIE CAMPEAU: It’s my mother. They’ve taken her to the hospital. She fell. She lives in Vancouver and she fell! So I have to fly there today, and of course I have to take my daughter, Jewels. But we just got her this cat. Literally just got it. And we ­can’t give it back because Jewels is completely in love. And I ­don’t know what to do. We haven’t even named it!

— the cat that Vicki had taken in without consultation though he, Gerald, was in the nearby den, listening and perfectly consultable, was a threat. It was a rogue presence. It was their own small, fluffy insurgency.

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Why it's on the list ...
Trevor Cole’s second novel is a story of a father trying to understand what’s wrong with his son, home psychologically scarred from Afghanistan, make contact with his wife, lost in a fantasy of real estate perfection, and keep the company he works for from collapsing in a cut-throat economy. It’s a funny, poignant examination of a father’s need to protect his family and his realization that sometimes he must stop trying.
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Once You Break a Knuckle
Why it's on the list ...
This debut short story collection by an internationally heralded young author is filled with working-class fathers and sons struggling, and sometimes failing, to hold things together in a British Columbia mill town. Beginning with an act of sporting violence that is also an act of love, Wilson’s collection is full of stories that are tense, touching, sometimes darkly comic and always full of truth.
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The Film Club

The Film Club

A True Story of a Father and a Son
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook

From the 2005 winner of the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction and the former national film critic for CBC television comes a delightful and absorbing book about the agonies and joys of home-schooling a beloved son. Written in the spare elegant style he is known for, The Film Club is the true story about David Gilmour’s decision to let his 15-year-old son drop out of high school on the condition that the boy agrees to watch three films a week with him. The book examines how those pivotal y …

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Swing Low

Swing Low

A Life
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

Prologue

"Nothing accomplished."

I don’t know what my father meant when he said it. I had asked him, the day before he took his own life, what he was thinking about, and that was his reply. Two hopeless words, spoken in a whisper by a man who felt he had failed on every level. This book is my attempt to prove my father wrong.

At the age of seventeen, he was diagnosed as suffering from the mental illness known then as manic depression and today as bipolar disorder. His method of self-defence, along with the large amounts of medication he was prescribed, was silence. And maybe, for him, it worked. He managed, against the advice of his psychiatrist, to get married, to rear a family, and to teach elementary school for more than forty years. His psychiatrist warned him, way back in the early 1950s, that the odds of living a normal life were heavily stacked against him. In fact, Dad’s life fell into the typical pattern of our small town of Steinbach, Manitoba: an ordered existence of work, church, and family, with the occasional inevitable upsets along the way. His managing to live an ordinary life was an extraordinary accomplishment. It is a measure of his strength, his high (some would say impossibly high) personal standards, and his extreme self-discipline that he managed to stay sane, organized, and ordinary for so long.

A year or so after his retirement, my parents went out for a drive in the countryside around town. “Well,” said my father after they’d driven in silence for a while, “I did it.” “You’ve done many things, Mel,” said my mom. “What are you referring to?” “I did what they said I would never do,” answered my father.

And he did it exceptionally well. He became a much-loved and respected teacher, known especially for his kindness, exuberance, and booming voice, and at home my mother and my sister and I had everything we could possibly want or need. There was only one thing we missed, and that was hearing him speak. I have often wondered what he would have said about himself, if he had spoken. He never talked about his past, even his childhood, and often he simply didn’t speak at all. His whole world, it seemed, was in the classroom. And when there, he gave it his all. My sister and I, both students of his at one time, used to sit in class in absolute awe. Was this funny, energetic, outspoken man really our father? It must have been teaching, the daily ritual of stepping outside himself and into a vital role, that sustained him all those years.

Had we known then what we know now, we would have understood that the end of his teaching career would, essentially, mean the end of Mel. After his suicide, we were left with many questions. How could this have happened? we asked ourselves over and over. After all, other people have difficulty retiring, but they don’t necessarily kill themselves. I became obsessed with knowing all that I could about his life, searching, I suppose, for clues that would ultimately lead me to the cause of his death. With the help of my mother and my sister and Dad’s friends, colleagues, and relatives, I’ve managed to put a few pieces of the puzzle of his life together. But in spite of many theories and much speculation, there’s really only one answer, and that is depression. A clinical, profoundly inadequate word for deep despair.

At the end of his life, my father, in a rare conversation, asked me to write things down for him, words and sentences that would lead him out of his confusion and sadness to a place and time that he might understand. “You will be well again,” I wrote. “Please write that again,” he’d ask. I wrote many things over and over and over, and he would read each sentence, each declaration and piece of information out loud. Eventually, it stopped making sense to him. “You will be well again?” he’d ask me, and I’d say, “No, Dad, you will be well again.” “I will be well again?” he’d ask. “Yes,” I’d say. “I will be well again,” he’d repeat. “Please write that down.”

Soon I was filling up pages of yellow legal notepads with writing from his own point of view so he could understand it when he read it to himself. After his death, when I began writing this book, I continued to write in the same way. It was a natural extension of the writing I’d done for him in the hospital, and a way, though not a perfect one, of hearing what my father might have talked about if he’d ever allowed himself to. If he’d ever thought it would matter to anybody.

After his death, I read everything I could find on mental illness and suicide, poring over facts and statistics, survivors’ accounts, reasons, clues, anything at all that might help me to understand, or if not to understand then at least to accept, my father’s decision and to live with it. By dragging some of the awful details into the light of day, they became much less frightening. I have to admit, my father didn’t feel the same way, but he found a way to alleviate his pain, and so have I.

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Why it's on the list ...
Readers of Miriam Toews’s novels know that she leavens a comic sensibility with a profound awareness of the sadness of life. This memoir of her father, whose lifelong struggle with depression led to his suicide in 1998, explains why. Told from the perspective of Mel Toews, Swing Low explores love and pain and human fragility.
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