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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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?”

“Yes.”

“What did I just say?”

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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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