“That kid taught me something really important about otherness and empathy,” author Tim O’Brien says of his son Timmy.
Author Tim O’Brien’s is best known for writing the book, “The Things They Carried ,” a historical novel about the Vietnam War. In fact, he’s written several books on that topic. But now, his work is going in a different direction. “ Dad’s Maybe Book, ” out this month, is about fatherhood, and a tribute to the two sons he had, starting at age 58.
“It occurred to me years and years ago, when my first son was born, that when they began to know me, they’d know an old man,” O’Brien says. “Which is life; which is how it happened.”
While O’Brien has stepped away from the topic he’s known for, to write this book, he says he was never strictly a war writer anyway.
“I have written about Vietnam, and written about it extensively,” O’Brien says. “[But] I was not writing about bombs and bullets and military maneuvers and saluting; I was writing about the human heart under stress.” Writing about fatherhood forced O’Brien to deal with his relationship with his own father. His father dealt with alcohol abuse and mental health issues, and was absent for most of O’Brien’s life. O’Brien says he worried he’d repeat those patterns with his own kids.
“I’ve always wished my dad had left for me what I am trying to leave for my kids in this book: some love letters, just to say, ‘I love you. I’m proud of you. I wish you well in your life,’” O’Brien says. “I didn’t receive that, and I want my own children to receive it through this book, if nothing else, to know they were adored by their father.”
O’Brien says his sons have taught him things he didn’t learn elsewhere in life. When his mother died, his son Timmy, who was 6 years old at the time, reacted in a way that surprised O’Brien.
“I took Timmy’s hand and I said to him, ‘Are you thinking about grandma?’ and Timmy said, ‘No, I’m thinking about you thinking about grandma,’” O’Brien says. “That kid taught me something really important about otherness and empathy.”
O’Brien is in his 70s, which means he might not experience much of his kids’ adult lives; this book has helped him face that. But he says he regrets nothing.