Angry-Man Author Buzz Bissinger Turns Himself Inside Out for Heartwrenching Memoir

The "Friday Night Lights" bestseller describes "Father's Day," out next week, as a "love letter to my son."

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted May. 9, 2012

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Family matters: Author Buzz Bissinger with his 28-year-old twin sons, Gerry (left) and Zach. Bissinger calls his latest novel a “love letter” to Zach.

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Bissinger has three sons: Zach and Gerry from his first marriage and Caleb, 19, from his second marriage. He doesn’t share any biological children with his current wife, Lisa Smith (or “wife number three” as he charmingly refers to her on Twitter).

Zach’s disability can’t be tidily diagnosed but can be easily seen. “Why sugarcoat it? My son is mentally retarded. Because of three fucking minutes,” writes Bissinger. He also exhibits some aspects of autism. His body sometimes jerks with fidgety ticks and he makes involuntary noises. He has the comprehension skills of a second- or third-grader but is a savant who can tell you the day of the week of any date in history and can memorize all the maps he loves to collect. He’s a handsome, friendly guy who immediately makes you hope that he likes you and fear that he doesn’t.

The waitress drops off the dinner plates. “Looks good, Zach!” Bissinger enthuses.

Talk turns to Bill Marimow’s return. Zach loves Marimow, maybe even more than the journalists at 400 N. Broad St. who eagerly await his return. To them, the rehiring of Marimow symbolizes the paper’s commitment to tough, investigative journalism despite industry meltdown. To Zach, it means he’ll soon get to see one of his good friends at work the two days a week he delivers mail and water jugs at the Daily News, which shares a building with the Inky. The other three days, he works bagging groceries. Zach lights up when talking about life at the Daily News. He loves it, he says, because he always wanted to work there.

“Are you excited Marimow is coming back?” asks Buzz.

“Yes. Dad, you know him. You’ll see him when he comes back.”

“Yeah, he and I are good buds,” responds Buzz. “He’s a nice man.”

“He’s driving back today,” says Zach. “Today he starts driving.”

Buzz looks at his son quizzically. “How do you know all this?”

“He told me in an email.”

“I sent him an email, and he never answered me. And he answered you?”

“Yeah.”

“How often do you email him?”

Zach plays it cool. “Not much.”

“How often?” Pause. “Zach. Every day?” Pause.

Smiling, Bissinger reaches across the table, curls a finger into Zach’s hand and playfully wags it back and forth. “Zaaaaaaaaaaaach?”

“A couple.”

“A couple! A couple times a day?”

“No, not a couple. Maybe once a week.”

“Starting in 2006, I would hear from Zach almost every single day,” clarifies Marimow in a call from a pit stop on his way back to Philadelphia. “Usually it was a cordial email that would usually pose a question. The question might be, ‘When is your anniversary?’ … It might be, ‘Today, where are you now?’ Literally, I hear from Zach every day, and I welcome it.”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Kate O'Neill said... on May 9, 2012 at 03:31PM

“Buzz is familiar to me as a community guy who generously helped us with our book festival in its first year. He is friendly and open. His presentation about this book while he was still in the process of writing it was tender and moving. I am eager to read it. He is a gifted writer and a remarkable father.”

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2. He knows me said... on May 9, 2012 at 07:52PM

“I never called him an asshole but I agree with those who did.”

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3. Tim Weiner said... on May 9, 2012 at 09:54PM

“I know Buzz. I worked with him at the Inquirer back in the 20th century. He is an honest man, a great writer, and a good father. Trifecta. Read him at any cost; it'll be good for your soul. Take it from me. I know. Trust me. You can look me up. Yours, Tim Weiner.”

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4. Anonymous said... on May 10, 2012 at 09:26AM

“Tara put together a wonderful story about a loving father, an author whose books and articles I enjoy. Buzz's ability to get the truth down on a page is amazing.”

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5. Rick Lyman said... on May 10, 2012 at 11:17AM

“What will be great about the release of this book is not that it will let people get to know Buzz better, not that there's anything wrong with that, but because it'll let them get to know Zach, a truly wonderful person. And if you think Buzz is passionate on the subject of sports, get him talking about journalism and the ethics of non-fiction writing. I have never had a conversation with him on that topic that didn't end up stiffening my own spine.”

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6. finnjc said... on May 16, 2012 at 09:20AM

“Buzz is one of those people who create a great conflict inside me. He oscillates between ireedemable jerk and insightful writer whose work fascinates me. I'm about halfway through the book and it's riveting to explore the conflict within Buzz about whether he wants his son to be more "normal" versus appreciating the small joys in how he is now.”

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7. lori said... on May 30, 2012 at 01:53PM

“Have loved Buzz's stuff for years. This newest book is both heartwarming and heartwrenching. The story just seems to flow from his heart and soul.”

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8. biffula said... on Jun 7, 2012 at 07:10PM

“Buzz is an a-hole and nuttier than squirrel turds.”

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