Friday Night Lights Author Talks Faith and Fatherhood
Buzz Bissinger on his latest book, Father's Day.
You won’t find Buzz Bissinger dropping to his knees in prayer like his Texas high school football team did before each game. Yet, says the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of the best-selling Friday Night Lights, “More and more, it seems important to me to have faith in something.” S&H caught up with him at the National Writers Series Book Festival in Traverse City, Michigan. “I visited Auschwitz two years ago,” Bissinger explains, shaking his head. “It sounds trite, but I was never bar mitzvahed and now I’m thinking about it. It’s something I can do to honor those people.”
Bissinger’s 2012 memoir, Father’s Day, is another attempt to reconcile loss. It describes a cross-country road trip he took with his 29-year-old, prematurely born son, Zach, who is mentally disabled. (Underscoring Zach’s situation is the inevitable comparison with the more “normal” life of his twin brother, Gerry.) The author’s honesty and introspection about himself as a parent represents the genre at its best.
“Words are very important to me,” Bissinger says. But he admits that he can’t rely on them to reach Zach: “Instead, I watch for his body language, and especially for when he becomes silent. I’ve learned to gauge his moods because he never expresses how he’s feeling. Everything with him is concrete.”
According to Bissinger, pity, self-pity, frustration, and anger have all attended their relationship. “They’re not angels from Heaven,” Bissinger says of special-needs children. “It’s heart-breaking to see that he has an understanding of being different, but I believe that Zach deserves my honesty. He’s owed to be told about himself.” Bissinger also has no illusion about being a hero, confiding, “One reviewer of the book said that Zach seems fine, but his father has a lot of problems.”
The proud father doesn’t hold back on his praise of Zach either. Bissinger is impressed by Zach’s yearning for independence. Watching his son negotiate everyday life from the driver’s seat during their trip convinced Bissinger that Zach will soon be able to leave his mom’s house and live with a roommate.
“I’m also impressed by his empathy,” he says. “He’s very kind. Both of my parents are dead now, so when we lived in California it was the last time we were a family. When we reached California on this trip, Zach took out a photograph of them in the hotel room that he had packed because he thought it would be nice to have them with us there again. It was his way of honoring them.” Like father, like son.
Father’s Day will be released as a paperback in late April.
Julie Eakin is Web Editor of spiritualityhealth.com