Michael Brendan Dougherty. PHOTO BY GINA SIERRA
Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
“It wasn’t homesickness that burdened my mother with the idea of Ireland. It was her unrequited love for a real Irishman, yourself,” Michael Brendan Dougherty writes in “My Father Left Me Ireland.”
He adds a little later, “You left her with a baby and then you continued on in the life you had before us.”
“This rich, poetic book is not only about fathers and sons,” writer Rod Dreher has said, “it’s also about discovering through pain and perseverance, the most profound meaning of patriotism.”
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“The men of the Easter Rising had backgrounds that made them self-conscious and assertive about their Irishness,” Dougherty writes in this, his first book, “Tom Clarke’s father served in the British Army. Patrick Pearse had a slight Birmingham accent, inherited from his father. Éamon de Valera, born in New York City, was ridiculed as a half-Spanish bastard. All on account of their fathers. I’ve come to think that these men have something to tell me in this moment, as I become a father.”
Clarke and Pearse were close to their fathers, while de Valera never knew his. Dougherty, now a senior writer at National Review, was somewhere in between. He had intermittent contact with his father who lived thousands of miles away in Ireland. Brief visits would leave him devastated afterwards and he became resigned to and even consoled by the idea of fatherhood as a check in the mail.
Dougherty as he grew up would reject his Irish-American mother’s nationalism as myth, but he began to rethink that assessment as the circumstances of his life changed. He explored the shift in a series of letters to his father, which have become a book dedicated to his mother.
In one letter, Dougherty says, “My wife is pregnant with your first grandchild. My half sisters just had brunch with us in New York and they relayed your prediction, made upon hearing the news: ‘He’s going to get into his roots.’ You are already right. That very week, a question had fallen on me. What songs should I sing to my daughter when she comes? It occurred to me that in a few months I would have this life wriggling across my lap. I would have to tell her who she is. The question left something in me changed, changed utterly.”
Fellow author Reihan Salam has called Dougherty’s book, “A beautiful ode to the father of a fatherless boy, and to the redemptive power of a sense of history.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty
Date of birth: April 12, 1982
Place of birth: Glenn Ridge, N.J.
Children: Eleanor Louise, 4 years, Owen Felix, 2 years, Thomas Brendan, 4 months
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
The ideal conditions for writing are “under deadline” and “for a paycheck.” The ideal routine is to have three or four hours of relative silence without interruption. I have to be writing at least 1,000 words at a sitting, or I’ll barely have written anything.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write for free first. But as soon as you have published clips, try to network with writers, find out where they party or have happy hours and just crash them.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“The Boat” by Nam Le. It’s a short-story collection that is devastating.
“Twilight Sleep” by Edith Wharton: Easily matches all the other novels about the idiocy of America’s ruling class from its time.
“The Bad Guys Won” by Jeff Pearlman. It’s a very entertaining reported book about the 1986 Mets. There’s no one doing better long-form storytelling about American sports
What book are you currently reading?
“Nations” by Azar Gat. And Julian Jackson’s mammoth biography “De Gaulle.”
Is there a book you wish you had written?
I wish I had written any of the Harry Potter books not just because the author is universally beloved and wealthier than Croesus, but also because it blessed the author with an unchallengeable self-importance.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“The Shadow of the Sword” by Tom Holland. A history book that feels like a literary achievement, not just a scholarly one.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
The above-mentioned Nam Le. I hear he has become a semi-professional poker player. I would bother him for tips on sentence construction and slow-playing a monster hand.
What book changed your life?
“The Everlasting Man” by G.K. Chesterton.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
My Aunt Helen’s kitchen table. I’ve only known it at parties large enough that I blend in.
You’re Irish if…
You have experienced Ireland’s perverse, omnipresent, but rarely discussed class conflict.