Monday, July 15, 2019

“My Father Left Me Ireland” by Michael Brendan Dougherty

Michael Brendan Doughtery is the child of an Irish father and an Irish-American mother. His parents ended their relationship before he was born, and his mother returned to the United States. From that heritage of Ireland, an absent father, the Catholic Church, and a mother who saturated herself and her son in Irishness came a hunger for knowing who he was, where he came from, what had shaped his parents and, by extension, himself, and what it meant for him and his own family.

What Dougherty did was to write a non-fiction romance, My Father Left Me Ireland. In a series of eight, longish letters to his father, Doughtery tells and gradually makes sense of his story. Slowly we see what he knew and what he didn’t know. He overlays his family’s story with that of Ireland, and especially the Ireland since the Easter Rebellion in 1916. And thus a family story becomes a national story. It’s a story that applies to far more than Ireland.

As a child, Dougherty rarely sees his father, except for vary rare “parachuting in and out” type of visits. He first interprets it like any child might – that something is wrong with him that his father doesn’t want to see. Over the years, he comes to understand that the visits were framed by the complex relationship of his parents, and that much of what he understood about his father’s absence had more to do with his mother than his father.

Michael Brendan Dougherty
It’s a moving account. The pain involved is more than only Doughtery’s, which he comes to understand over time. He seeks resolution in learning Ireland’s history, reading its literature and poetry, and trying to understand the events that shaped both of his parents.

Dougherty is a senior writer at National Review and formerly national correspondent at The Week. He’s worked at Business Insider, and he’s been published in such national publications as PoliticoThe New York Times Magazine,, Washington Monthly, and The American Conservative. He lives in Mt. Kisco, New York.

My Father Left Me Ireland is the story of an ache, the ache of an absent parent, the ache of a vague loss of national identity, the ache of a child and a man who belong but don’t belong. That ache is never fully healed, but it is understood and lessened, and terms are reached with it. Doughtery has written what is ultimately an optimistic book about how a positive life can be fashioned from brokenness. 

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