Father’s Day is approaching fast! It’s a time to celebrate the dads in your life along with all of the advice, mentoring, tough yet unconditional love, and horribly cheesy jokes they bring to the table.
A father is someone who cares for you, looks after you, and helps to guide you along your way. They can be biological, adoptive, or not even your technical “father” at all. A father can come in the form of a close teacher, an uncle, or even a reliable and trustworthy family friend. A “father-figure” doesn’t have to be a man at all because that’s not what any of this is about. Your “father-figure” is simply the one who protects you, leads you, and helps you to find your way through this wild, incredible, difficult life. The parents you are raised by sort of feel like a luck of the draw, in a way. We don’t get to choose the ones who raise us or the childhoods we’re given. And, some of us wind up luckier than others.
In the words of famed memoirist Augusten Burroughs:
If you have one parent who loves you, even if they can’t buy you clothes, they’re so poor and they make all kinds of mistakes and maybe sometimes they even give you awful advice, but never for one moment do you doubt their love for you–if you have this, you have incredibly good fortune.
If you have two parents who love you? You have won life’s Lotto.
If you do not have parents, or if the parents you have are so broken and so, frankly, terrible that they are no improvement over nothing, this is fine.
It’s not ideal because it’s harder without adults who love you more than they love themselves. But harder is just harder, that’s all.
This Father’s Day, take the time to thank the mentors and the fathers in your life, in whatever forms they may have come. Take the time to reach out to the people in your life who you know are fatherless or have strained relationships with their fathers.
Let’s also take a look at some memoirs penned by the children who were raised in the spotlight alongside their superstar dads. Some of it is as beautiful and enviable as you could possibly imagine, a life of wealth, love, and fame that anyone would feel so lucky to have. However, some of it is sadly graver and much, much more dark. Growing up can be harder for some than it is for others. Whether your dad is a small town guy working a normal nine-to-five or the biggest star in Hollywood, none of it can really determine the sort of childhood you’ve been dealt. Still, it just goes to show that people have always been and will always be resilient, empathetic, forgiving, and so, insanely strong.
So, whether your dad is the Danny Tanner of dads, or whether he’s more of the Frank Gallagher, it all worked out okay because you’re still here, reading this! And, who knows, maybe some of these famed fathers will closely resemble your own?
Happy Father’s Day!
1. Reading my Father by Alexandra Stryon
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PART MEMOIR AND PART ELEGY, Reading My Father is the story of a daughter coming to know her father at last. “A natural writer, fluid, and engaging” (The Boston Globe), Alexandra Styron grew up in Connecticut and on Martha’s Vineyard, where her family’s vibrant social life included writers, presidents, and entertainers. She was raised under both the halo of her father’s brilliance and the long shadow of his troubled mind. William Styron, a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist, was a fascinating and difficult man whose own memoir, Darkness Visible, searingly chronicled his midlife battle with major depression. “By turns brilliant and shocking” (The New York Times Book Review), Reading My Father is a tale of a daughter’s love and her own coming-of-age, beautifully written, with humor, understanding, and grace.
2. Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein by Jamie Bernstein
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The composer of On the Town and West Side Story, chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic, television star, humanitarian, friend of the powerful and influential, and the life of every party, Leonard Bernstein was an enormous celebrity during one of the headiest periods of American cultural life, as well as the most protean musician in twentieth century America.
But to his eldest daughter, Jamie, he was above all the man in the scratchy brown bathrobe who smelled of cigarettes; the jokester and compulsive teacher who enthused about Beethoven and the Beatles; the insomniac whose 4 a.m. composing breaks involved spooning baby food out of the jar. He taught his daughter to love the world in all its beauty and complexity. In public and private, Lenny was larger than life.
In Famous Father Girl, Bernstein mines the emotional depths of her childhood and invites us into her family’s private world. A fantastic set of characters populates the Bernsteins’ lives, including: the Kennedys, Mike Nichols, John Lennon, Richard Avedon, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, and Betty (Lauren) Bacall.
An intoxicating tale, Famous Father Girl is an intimate meditation on a complex and sometimes troubled man, the family he raised, and the music he composed that became the soundtrack to their entwined lives. Deeply moving and often hilarious, Bernstein’s beautifully written memoir is a great American story about one of the greatest Americans of the modern age.
3. John Wayne: My Father by Aissa Wayne
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In John Wayne: My Father, Aissa Wayne delves into her father’s childhood, his film career, and his life off the screen. The result is an affecting portrait that offers a new perspective on one of America’s most enduring hero’s humanity.
4. Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez
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In this remarkable dual memoir, film legend Martin Sheen and accomplished actor/filmmaker Emilio Estevez recount their lives as father and son. In alternating chapters—and in voices that are as eloquent as they are different—they tell stories spanning more than fifty years of family history, and reflect on their journeys into two different kinds of faith.
At twenty-one, still a struggling actor living hand to mouth, Martin and his wife, Janet, welcomed their firstborn, Emilio, an experience of profound joy for the young couple, who soon had three more children: Ramon, Charlie, and Renée. As Martin’s career moved from stage to screen, the family moved from New York City to Malibu, while traveling together to film locations around the world, from Mexico for Catch-22 to Colorado for Badlands to the Philippines for the legendary Apocalypse Now shoot. As the firstborn, Emilio had a special relationship with Martin: They often mirrored each other’s passions and sometimes clashed in their differences. After Martin and Emilio traveled together to India for the movie Gandhi, each felt the beginnings of a spiritual awakening that soon led Martin back to his Catholic roots, and eventually led both men to Spain, from where Martin’s father had emigrated to the United States. Along the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage path, Emilio directed Martin in their acclaimed film, The Way, bringing three generations of Estevez men together in the region of Spain where Martin’s father was born, and near where Emilio’s own son had moved to marry and live.
With vivid, behind-the-scenes anecdotes of this multitalented father’s and son’s work with other notable actors and directors, Along the Way is a striking, stirring, funny story—a family saga that readers will recognize as universal in its rebellions and regrets, aspirations and triumphs. Strikingly candid, searchingly honest, this heartfelt portrait reveals two strong-minded, admirable men of many important roles, perhaps the greatest of which are as fathers and sons.
5. Daughter of the King: Growing Up in Gangland by Sandra Lansky and William Stadiem
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Sandi Lansky Lombardo grew up the only daughter of mob boss Meyer Lansky. Raised in upper-class Jewish splendor, first at the Majestic Hotel and then at the Beresford, at finishing schools and fancy stables, Sandi was the wild child of the late 40’s, the 50’s, and the early 60’s. She was the Paris Hilton of her day, partying till dawn at El Morocco and the Stork Club, dating the biggest celebrities of the era. Her life was not without heartbreak and tragedy, including the insanity of her mother, and the crippling handicap of her baby brother – not to mention his drug addiction.
Sandi was privy to her father’s secrets as well as his unexpected tenderness. She always stuck closely to the strict code of omerta. In Daughter of the King, Sandi teams up with Nick Pileggi (author of the seminal Wise Guy, perhaps the best-selling mob book ever) and multiple time New York Times Bestselling writer Bill Stadiem. Nick has made a career in books and films chronicling the mob, and Bill has emerged as a master of recreating the glamour and romance of the golden era of American culture with bestsellers like Mr. S and George Hamilton’s Don’t Mind if I Do.
6. Haywire by Brooke Hayward
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From the moment of its publication in 1977, Haywire was a national sensation and a #1 bestseller, a celebrated Hollywood memoir of a glittering family and the stunning darkness that lurked just beneath the surface.
Brooke Hayward was born into the most enviable of circumstances. The daughter of a famous actress and a successful Hollywood agent, she was beautiful, wealthy, and living at the very center of the most privileged life America had to offer. Yet at twenty-three her family was ripped apart. Who could have imagined that this magical life could shatter, so conclusively, so destructively? Brooke Hayward tells the riveting story of how her family went haywire.
7. High On Arrival: A Memoir by Mackenzie Phillips
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Mackenzie Phillips shares “a raw glimpse” (Entertainment Weekly) into her lifelong battle with personal demons and near-fatal addictions—and reveals the shattering truth behind her complex, secretive, and damaging history with her father, the legendary John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas.
Not long before her fiftieth birthday, Mackenzie Phillips made headlines with her arrest for drug possession at Los Angeles International Airport; the actor-musician-mother had been on her way to a reunion of One Day at a Time, the hugely popular ’70s sitcom on which she once starred as the lovable rebel Julie Cooper.
Born into rock-and-roll royalty, flying in Learjets to the Virgin Islands at five, making pot brownies with Donovan at eleven, Mackenzie grew up in an all-access kingdom of hippie freedom and heroin cool. As a rising Hollywood star herself, she joined the nonstop party in the hedonistic pleasure dome of her father’s making, and a rapt TV audience watched as Julie Cooper wasted away before their eyes. By the time Mackenzie discovered how deep and dark her father’s trip was going, it was too late.
As an adult, she has paid dearly for a lifetime of excess, working tirelessly to reconcile her wonderful, terrible past and the pull of her magnetic father. By sharing her journey toward redemption and peace, the star who turned up High on Arrival has finally come back down to earth—to stay.
8. Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming
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In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.
A beloved star of stage, television, and film—“one of the most fun people in show business” (Timemagazine)—Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.
When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.
With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Sonwill make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.
9. My Father’s Daughter: A Memoir by Tina Sinatra
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Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Sinatra’s birth, a startling, compelling, yet affectionate portrait of an American entertainment legend by his youngest daughter, who writes about the man, his life, the accusations, and about the many people who surrounded him—wives, friends, lovers, users, and sycophants—from his Hoboken childhood through the notorious “Rat Pack,” and beyond.
Frank Sinatra seemed to have it all: genius, wealth, the love of beautiful women, glamorous friends from Las Vegas to the White House. But in this startling and remarkably outspoken memoir, his youngest daughter reveals an acutely restless, lonely and conflicted man. Through his marriages and front-page romances and the melancholy gaps between, Frank Sinatra searched for a contentment that eluded him. Tina writes candidly about the wedge his manipulative fourth wife, Barbara Marx, drove between father and daughter.
My Father’s Daughter, with its unflinching account of Sinatra’s flaws and foibles, will shock many of his fans. At the same time, it is a deeply affectionate portrait written with love and warmth, a celebration of a daughter’s fond esteem for her father and a respect for his great legacy. Even now, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth, the world remembers Frank Sinatra as one of the giants of the show business. In this book from someone inside the legend, Tina Sinatra remembers him as something more: a father, and a man.
10. Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant by Jennifer Grant
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Jennifer Grant is the only child of Cary Grant, who was, and continues to be, the epitome of all that is elegant, sophisticated, and deft. Almost half a century after Cary Grant’s retirement from the screen, he remains the quintessential romantic comic movie star. He stopped making movies when his daughter was born so that he could be with her and raise her, which is just what he did.
Good Stuff is an enchanting portrait of the profound and loving relationship between a daughter and her father, who just happens to be one of America’s most iconic male movie stars.
Cary Grant’s own personal childhood archives were burned in World War I, and he took painstaking care to ensure that his daughter would have an accurate record of her early life. In Good Stuff, Jennifer Grant writes of their life together through her high school and college years until Grant’s death at the age of eighty-two.
Cary Grant had a happy way of living, and he gave that to his daughter. He invented the phrase “good stuff” to mean happiness. For the last twenty years of his life, his daughter experienced the full vital passion of her father’s heart, and she now—delightfully—gives us a taste of it.
11. Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott
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After his wife dies in a car accident, bisexual writer and activist Steve Abbott moves with his two-year-old daughter to San Francisco. There they discover a city in the midst of revolution, bustling with gay men in search of liberation―few of whom are raising a child.
Steve throws himself into San Francisco’s vibrant cultural scene. He takes Alysia to raucous parties, pushes her in front of the microphone at poetry readings, and introduces her to a world of artists, thinkers, and writers. But the pair live like nomads, moving from apartment to apartment, with a revolving cast of roommates and little structure. As a child Alysia views her father as a loving playmate who can transform the ordinary into magic, but as she gets older Alysia wants more than anything to fit in. The world, she learns, is hostile to difference.
In Alysia’s teens, Steve’s friends―several of whom she has befriended―fall ill as AIDS starts its rampage through their community. While Alysia is studying in New York and then in France, her father tells her it’s time to come home; he’s sick with AIDS. Alysia must choose whether to take on the responsibility of caring for her father or continue the independent life she has worked so hard to create.
Reconstructing their life together from a remarkable cache of her father’s journals, letters, and writings, Alysia Abbott gives us an unforgettable portrait of a tumultuous, historic time in San Francisco as well as an exquisitely moving account of a father’s legacy and a daughter’s love.
12. Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
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Finally, after four hit novels, Carrie Fisher comes clean (well, sort of ) with the crazy truth that is her life in her first-ever memoir.
In Wishful Drinking, adapted from her one-woman stage show, Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of “Hollywood in-breeding,” come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen.
Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It’s an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty — Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher — homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.
Wishful Drinking, the show, has been a runaway success. Entertainment Weekly declared it “drolly hysterical” and the Los Angeles Times called it a “Beverly Hills yard sale of juicy anecdotes.” This is Carrie Fisher at her best — revealing her worst. She tells her true and outrageous story of her bizarre reality with her inimitable wit, unabashed self-deprecation, and buoyant, infectious humor.
13. One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life — A Story of Race and Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard
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Two months before he died, renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard called his grown son and daughter to his side to impart a secret he had kept all their lives and most of his own: he was black. Born in the French Quarter in 1920, Anatole had begun to conceal his racial identity after his family moved to Brooklyn and his parents resorted to “passing” in order to get work. As he grew older and entered the ranks of the New York literary elite, he maintained the façade.
Now his daughter Bliss tries to make sense of his choices. Seeking out unknown relatives in New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, Bliss uncovers the 250-year history of her family in America and chronicles her own evolution from privilged WASP to a woman of mixed-race ancestry.
Featured Image via Vanity Fair
Synopsis via Amazon