Book Review: The Ghost of My Father by Scott Berkun

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When I recommend a book, it may be that I’ve learned something from it that I think others will also find valuable, or maybe it was an enjoyable diversion, or maybe the author’s experience and wisdom offered some insight that helps me become a better person. In nearly every case, I can say, “This was good; you should read it.”

I’ve read Scott Berkun’s books on project management, public speaking, and his year with WordPress (and without pants). I’ve recommended them all. I trust Scott as an author.

This new book, however, is different. I’ve finished it and I’m conflicted.

Here Scott tells the story of his family and his search for acknowledgement and affirmation from a distant father. His experience, sadly, is shared by far too many.

It is a profoundly introspective and painful book. I felt a deep sorrow as I read through the first two chapters, hoping the family would find some resolution and reconciliation. I won’t spoil the conclusion.

If you want a cheerful family story with unexpected quirky and sunny anecdotes, look elsewhere. In this book, Scott Berkun invites the reader into his journey in an honest and vulnerable way. You’ll probably find yourself, as I did, turning the pages and reflecting on your relationship with your own father, and–if you’re a parent–thinking hard about how you relate to your children.

I suspect the process of writing the book, though difficult, proved cathartic for Scott and led to insights that helped him grow. He mentions a couple of moments when his brother Todd offered wise advice that brought clarity and even changed the way he approached his relationship with his father.

So what’s the value of this for those courageous enough to enter into the Berkun family story, and why am I conflicted about recommending it? This is not a book for everyone. For some it may evoke too many unpleasant memories and emotions about family. It’s a very personal and intimate story, and you’ll have an emotional response to it. For this reason, it may simply be too painful to read.

But there’s a good chance you’re trying (or have tried) to understand your own story. The questions and challenges posed in this book may mirror your own. And it may give you the courage to explore those questions within your family. If you see aspects of yourself in the characters presented in the pages, you may also determine you need to make changes for the benefit of those around you.

If you’re interested in more of this sort of writing, but perhaps with a more redemptive outlook consider Donald Miller’s Father Fiction or Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Father and Son: Finding Freedom.

Scott’s written an FAQ on his blog, which gives some helpful background to the book.