Based on an award-winning essay, Colin McEnroe’s My Father’s Footprints begins its journey at the gravesite of McEnroe’s father, a self-taught playwright and eccentric character. A bicycle ride on a summer evening with his young son has brought McEnroe to the granite gravestone, where they consider life, death, and the similarity of both to video games and movies.
After this brief but enticing preface, the first chapter, "Seal Barks and Whale Songs,” poignantly introduces McEnroe as a man caught between raising his precocious son and coming to terms with the declining health of his aging father. In what he facetiously calls the Sandwich Generation Triathlon, McEnroe finds himself simultaneously pushing his wheelchair-bound father along a 3.6-mile course while tossing a football to his son. We can sense McEnroe’s sheer mental and physical exhaustion as he tries to ford unknown emotional and spiritual territory, his energy drained, his list of caretaking tasks growing, and his own sense of self fading. Responsible for shepherding one generation into adulthood while helplessly watching another decline into an infantile state, McEnroe stares at the night sky and wonders what has become of his life.
Unfortunately, the rest of the memoir doesn't sustain the promise of this first chapter, as narrative gears shift to anecdotes of McEnroe’s father. The elder McEnroe’s eccentricities are both amusing (he is obsessed with collecting pocket calculators and watches and mulling over the William Kennedy Smith case) and touching (in a tender letter, he explains how his playwriting was accomplished without a formal education, through sheer perseverance). We learn of Bob McEnroe's failed suicide attempt, struggles with alcoholism, and efforts to cope when his plays fail to garner the success of The Silver Whistle, his 1948 Broadway production.
He works in real estate sales but spends most of his time daydreaming and filling appointment books with names of actors, characters in his scripts, and scraps of songs. All of this amounts to a sentimental, but not particularly insightful, portrait of a man’s life. McEnroe certainly can recognize a significant moment, but he seems too uncomfortable to explore it (as he does so well in the first chapter), instead opting for the safety of another anecdote, clever wordplay, or facile observation. Colin McEnroe is a columnist and media personality, the author of light-hearted books such as Lose Weight Through Great Sex with Celebrities! (the Elvis Way) and Swimming Chickens, which probably explains the impulse to entertain as well as—or more than—explore beyond the surface.
Still, My Father’s Footprints is an engaging and accessible read about a son's journey to discover, if not completely understand, his relationships with his father and his own son. Reading this book is like flipping through the family photo album of an acquaintance: while not an entirely fulfilling experience, the excursion is pleasant nonetheless.