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My Father Left Me Ireland

An American Son's Search for Home
Length: 3 hrs and 45 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (55 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The perfect gift for parents this Father’s Day: a beautiful, gut-wrenching memoir of Irish identity, fatherhood, and what we owe to the past.  

“A heartbreaking and redemptive book, written with courage and grace.” (J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy “...a lovely little book.” (Ross Douthat, The New York Times)

The child of an Irish man and an Irish American woman who split up before he was born, Michael Brendan Dougherty grew up with an acute sense of absence. He was raised in New Jersey by his hardworking single mother, who gave him a passion for Ireland, the land of her roots and the home of Michael's father. She put him to bed using little phrases in the Irish language, sang traditional songs, and filled their home with a romantic vision of a homeland over the horizon. 

Every few years, his father returned from Dublin for a visit, but those encounters were never long enough. Devastated by his father's departures, Michael eventually consoled himself by believing that fatherhood was best understood as a check in the mail. Wearied by the Irish kitsch of the 1990s, he began to reject his mother's Irish nationalism as a romantic myth.

Years later, when Michael found out that he would soon be a father himself, he could no longer afford to be jaded; he would need to tell his daughter who she is and from where she comes. He immediately reimmersed himself in the biographies of firebrands like Patrick Pearse and studied the Irish language. He decided to reconnect with the man who had left him behind and the nation just over the horizon. He began writing letters to his father about what he remembered, missed, and longed for. Those letters would become this audiobook.

Along the way, Michael realized that his longings were shared by many Americans of every ethnicity and background. So many of us these days lack a clear sense of our cultural origins or even a vocabulary for expressing this lack - so we avoid talking about our roots altogether. As a result, the traditional sense of pride has started to feel foreign and dangerous; we've become great consumers of cultural kitsch but useless conservators of our true history. 

In these deeply felt and fascinating letters, Dougherty goes beyond his family's story to share a fascinating meditation on the meaning of identity in America.

©2019 Michael Brendan Dougherty (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“A heartbreaking and redemptive book, written with courage and grace. It is fascinating reading for anyone who has ever wondered about the pain caused by that increasingly common American problem: sons growing up without their fathers. For those who have endured that pain, it is essential.” (J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy)

"This rich, poetic book is not only about fathers and sons; it's also about discovering, through pain and perseverance, the most profound meaning of patriotism." (Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option

“A beautiful ode to the father of a fatherless boy, and to the redemptive power of a sense of history.” (Reihan Salam, author of Melting Pot or Civil War?

What members say

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  • Jonathan
  • Sherborn, MA, United States
  • 07-25-19

Short on True Insights and Originality

I found this book disappointing as it never says much past the quick summary of the book ("man finds meaning in his Irish heritage after growing up without father.") Much of the non-personal content feels based on gross oversimplifications or just lazy rehashing of conventional wisdom (e.g., his take on current cultural trends or his clear but unnamed reference to the Jordan Peterson phenomenon). Another example is his rehashing of conventional wisdom on comparing revival of Irish language to revival of Hebrew (a quick google search will show you recent articles by Irish writers telling you why what this book relays is wrong.)
Finally, this intellectual laziness is also reflected in the structure of the book--organizing it as a series of letters to his father doesn't really work with the material. and feels more like the author just borrowed it from some recent best-selling non-fiction books.

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Get this book

I was not expecting this book to be one of my favorites. It was so meaningful and moving, I plan to listen to it again. I might even buy in book form just to have.

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good exposition on an absent father

Although the evidence is everywhere in the world around us, this Memoir is further proof of the discarded truth that children need their fathers, and that the absence of a father leaves a gaping wound. In this case the author filled that wound by studying the homeland of his absent father and thereby came to a deep and interesting understanding of its culture and history. And yet, he dismisses his legal right to return to Ireland as a citizen, as a “technical and bureaucratic” right, one that, if he exercised it, would reveal his shallowness and status as a mere tourist. This right could be dismissed so cavalierly only if the author is settled and comfortable in his present home, one from which he has no reason to even imagine having to flee from an arbitrary or malicious State, or from grinding poverty or lack of opportunity. And for this he is gloriously lucky, even as he purports at the end of the book to boringly chide our current culture for the alleged consumerism which enables him to live a life of peace and comfort. In this most important sense, his father truly left him as an American.

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Wonderful

Nicely done in every regard. An unusual story but a welcome antidote to our lives without history