"That's all this was, this book, an attempt to share my memory of my father."
Steve McKee is a journalist and a son bereft of a father. He witnessed his father die of a heart attack when he was a teenager. This book walks us through his vale of memories and his current thinking about how to deal with the looming issue of heart health.
John McKee was a typical hard-working father of his times, times when men were men and just shut up about their physical ailments and mental torments. Afflicted by a major heart attack, he didn't do anything that might have helped prevent another, smoking as much as before, pushing himself just as hard, wedding himself to a stressful job he didn't really like. Six years later he was dead.
His sixteen-year-old son tried his best to cope with the whirlwind of activity that death presents to the family and to understand his own right to grieve. He marveled at his mother's strength, now that she had to learn to be a widow instead of a wife: "Mom understood that her moment had arrived. She could choose now to recover, or not." The next Christmas, his mother made sure there was a tree in the house. She would survive.
Putting together this memoir helped Steve organize thoughts about his own medical history, as a son of a man who died of a heart attack who was the son of a man who died of a heart attack. Strong, proud, laboring men, his forebears. And riddled with disease. So McKee researches not just his father's history but his own. He combines his childhood reminiscences with hard, cold facts about heart disease and describes how he decided not to repeat his father's mistakes. He realizes that, in a sorrowful way, his father was "Everyman for his generation," from his 3-pack a day cigarette habit, to his breakfast eggs, to his refusal to tell anyone that he was in pain. All so typical of that generation that went to war and soldiered on afterwards.
Always athletic, Steve McKee will not smoke. He will get all reasonable testing and take his statins. He will embrace a "good" diet that he can stick to instead of a "great" one that he will fail at. He will jog. And he will serve as a gatekeeper for others, hearing their stories: "The man whose father died while putting the toys together for his nine children on Christmas Eve," the man in his thirties who after his father's passing, had to learn to be the head of the household - "I sit at the head of the table. I carve the turkey."
This intricate and emotional book is both praise and warning. It is both a journey into the past and a hard look at the future, at issues of mortality and life management. It can serve as a useful guide to others who may have inherited heart disease and who struggle to comprehend what that means for them.