The "Friday Night Lights" bestseller describes "Father's Day," out next week, as a "love letter to my son."
Larry Platt, friend and editor of the Daily News, recalls Bissinger talking about the idea for the book over lunch in the summer of 2010. Bissinger was brooding. After their meeting, Platt sent him an email, as a friend and fellow journalist, urging him to just do it already.
“It would be good for readers,” Platt wrote in an email. “Macho, angry Buzz Bissinger writing a heartfelt (but not sentimental) relationship book is instructive … It’s the literary equivalent of Nixon going to China. You can reach people because you’re who you are. You’ve got the street cred to be sensitive.”
Meanwhile, Bissinger had written 100 pages and threw them out. (“They sucked.”) Finally, his editor threatened to cancel the project if he didn’t submit a manuscript in six months.
Under the gun, he finally finished sifting through the shards of his own dreams that had shattered when his ex-wife’s water broke more than three months early. Feeling along the painful edges, he began painstakingly assembling the pieces to form a portrait that transforms what he calls the most terrible pain of his life into a celebration of his son.
True to Bissinger’s oeuvre, Father’s Day is an epic tale of tragedy and triumph, rendered with crisp, vibrant prose. Also true to his style, his pen remains a scalpel. He is nothing if not an equal-opportunity eviscerator, flaying himself open and letting all the bile, the tears, the dark shameful goo of his guts hang out there for the world to see. When he’s done, he’s as guileless as a biology classroom skeleton.
While parents of children with disabilities may appreciate his brutal honesty, he knows he’ll be savaged by people sitting in the cheap seats.
“The way the world is, every day someone is saying something about me. Often it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, you’re fat, you’re short, you’re pink, you’re this, you’re that, you’re an idiot, you can’t write, you’re a one-hit wonder. I mean, who gives a shit?
“And I criticize people, so I don’t worry about that. People can say about me what they want. And most people have said wonderful things about me, but some don’t like me because I’m very outspoken and say what I feel, and that’s just the way I am.”
So, would Zach take the road trip again?
“I probably would.”
“Would you fly? asks Bissinger. “Be honest.”
Zach sheepishly admits he’d rather fly.
“Fly!” Bissinger exclaims with embellished exasperation. “What’s the point?”
It’s absurd and ironic, of course, and Bissinger laughs—really laughs—and his whole face changes.
“It’d be nice to say I solved everything, but I haven’t. I’m still on many pharmaceuticals for depression and anxiety and I still see a therapist every week,” he says. “The general sense of the book seems to be that Zach is terrific and I’m the one who needs a lot of work.”
Bissinger’s not at all certain that the book will be a big seller. Certainly, it’s not the book anyone was expecting. “But I’m glad I did something different. It’s good when writers do something different. And it’s a love letter to my son, and he deserves it.”
Zach’s been quiet for a while. Bissinger turns to him.
“Don’t you, Zach?”
“What did I just say?”
PW's Summer Guide 2015