Sunday Reading: Fathers and Fatherhood

A few years ago, Michael Chabon, the author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and many other astonishing novels, published an unforgettable Personal History in The New Yorker about his relationship with his father and their ongoing conversations about childhood, adolescence, and memory. “He told me about the Elevated trains of Brooklyn, about the all-day programs at his local movie theatre,” Chabon writes. “He talked about comic books, radio dramas, Astounding magazine, and the stories they’d all told.” A half century later, the younger Chabon was still, as he puts it, pursuing “a recipe for life,” continuing to visit his father as he approached the end. At one point, Chabon describes his interactions with his father as weightless, yet those exchanges not only nourished their extraordinary relationship but helped the young writer find his way.

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This week, for Father’s Day, we’re bringing you not a necktie but a collection of memorable pieces about the holiday’s honorees. In “Happy-Go-Lucky,” David Sedaris writes about his more-than-a-little-complicated relationship with his father and how it transformed as time ran out. In “Waugh Stories,” Joan Acocella considers the serio-comic, sometimes acidulous relationships among the novelist Evelyn Waugh, his brother Alec, and their father, Arthur. Finally, in “Dead Man Laughing,” Zadie Smith recalls her father’s wit in the face of some of the hardest challenges that life can present. “It’s a relief to be able to laugh at these things,” she writes. “In British comedy, the painful class dividers of real life are neutralized and exposed. In my family, at least, it was a way of talking about things we didn’t want to talk about.”

David Remnick

Some quirk in me enabled me to ride the bare rails of my father’s memory into the past.

A father, a son, and their secret superpowers.

Illustration by David Hughes

Jokes run through a family.

David, Amy, and Hugh laugh with Sedaris' father.

“Who are you?” I want to ask the gentle gnome in front of me. “And what have you done with Lou Sedaris?”

Three generations, from left: Auberon, Alexander, and Evelyn Waugh, at Combe Florey, the family home, in 1965.

Life in a literary dynasty.

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