Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: Man Shoes by Tom Watson

The "village" system of extended family seems to be more frayed than ever. In days past a network of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and God-fathers served to diffuse some of the land-mines littering the paths of boyhood and adolescence. A lad knew what the boundaries were, which ones could be stretched, and which ones could not. I'm convinced that our "modern" society lacks a critical element for the health and well being of all: the passage of life-knowledge, man-truths and wisdom down the fraternal line. Similar to surviving childhood, a guy is going to do much better with some pointers along the way through fatherhood. It can be a tricky business at the best of times, but those of us who have run the gauntlet after suffering through failure of our own fathers are acutely aware of the fallout.

One such story comes from Tom Watson, in his book Man Shoes. His tale reads like a litany of cultural failure: an absent father, maternal abandonment, and a torturous early childhood as he was passed through a chain of brutal fostering environments. But his story takes an unexpected turn when an elderly couple rescue him through good old-fashioned kindness, perseverance, patience and love. The gulf of abandonment is bridged, slowly and steadily, until little Tommy is ready for adulthood. It's a remarkable redemptive story, one that would be complete in the telling itself. But it gets better, and much, much, worse. In the end, as his own parental disasters and triumphs are detailed, the circle begins to close and you are left with the first glimpses of "why".

Why would a child be abandoned, neglected, abused, redeemed, restored, released, renewed, destroyed and rebuilt? The answer, in some small part, was to pen this book. It fills a niche that is only going to get bigger over the coming decades: a survival tale for lost men. If this child can be plucked from oblivion, and given a new foundation that does not crumble when his world does, then there is hope for the millions of the fatherless generation.

Other concerns have bumped this review months from when I first intended, but Man Shoes remains fresh in my mind. I've left it out on the coffee table as a conversation starter, and recommend it in particular to any guy struggling with fatherhood issues or marital loss. It's a great read.

The copy of Man Shoes I reviewed was a gift from the author.
Tom is on Facebook at: TomWatson.YourBetterLife and tweets @yourbetterlife

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