Review: Bissinger finds his son on the open road

ROB MERRILL Associated Press Published:

"Father's Day: A Journey Into the Mind & Heart of My Extraordinary Son" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Buzz Bissinger

This is not a book that's going to generate negative reviews. It took courage to write. Any parent reading it will feel blessed that they cannot empathize.

It's the story of a road trip from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Buzz Bissinger, the author of "Friday Night Lights," is driving. His 24-year-old son, Zach, is the co-pilot. But they aren't your typical cross-country tourists.

Zach Bissinger was born three minutes later than his twin brother and 13½ weeks premature. "You can boil an egg in three minutes," writes his dad, and "you can determine the very course of a life in three minutes."

In those three minutes, Zach's brain was deprived of enough oxygen to cause permanent damage. He'll never drive or live alone or have kids. What he does have is an astounding memory for facts and dates, few social inhibitions and a savant's knack for navigation.

So off father and son go to revisit the places they've lived together. They visit the Chicago Tribune building where dad worked from 1989-1992, the school outside Milwaukee where Zach attempted to attend public kindergarten and Odessa, Texas, for a reunion with tragic football star Boobie Miles. "Friday Night Lights" fans may be surprised to learn just how dysfunctional the relationship between Bissinger and Miles has become.

The tone throughout "Father's Day: A Journey Into the Mind & Heart of My Extraordinary Son" is unflinchingly honest. Bissinger isn't fishing for sympathy. "He is not the child I wanted," he writes. But as the miles unroll and the shared experiences mount, Bissinger comes to appreciate his son's always-in-the-moment approach to life, the "failure to forget" that allows him to forge connections and stay grounded.

A little more than midway through the book, there's a touching scene at Six Flags near St. Louis. Father and son agree to ride something called Dragon's Wing, a tandem bungee jump from a crane hoisted 153 feet in the air. Bissinger describes the free fall: "Zach and I merge into one, arm around arm, shoulder against shoulder, the press of his body against mine. I never had that when he was an infant in the hospital. He was almost always attached to the tube of that ventilator. ... But now he is my lifeline, and I am his. If we let go of each other, both of us will surely shatter."

That's as good a description of paternal love as you'll ever read and reason enough to pick up this book for the father or son in your life.

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Online:

http://www.buzzbissinger.com/