Cover Image: These Boys and Their Fathers

These Boys and Their Fathers

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Member Reviews

I absolutely adored this book. Don Waters examines his relationship with his father by immersing himself in what his father loved to do. The prose was wonderful, detailed and emotional. I kept coming back to his surfing experiences since they were described so beautifully. This book will make you laugh, cry, and shake with shock, but at every turn of the story, you feel what Waters felt. The memoir is honest and courageous, and I would love to go back and read it again.
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A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Robert Waters was part of the 1950s surfing crew on the Southern California coastline that spurred the sport after its arrival from Hawaii. Don Waters (Desert Gothic) learned this from belongings his father left behind when Robert abandoned him. In 2010, Waters wrote about surfing history for Outside magazine, hoping to confront his feelings about his father. Armed with "a paper-clipped copy of his [father's] unpublished autobiography, as well as a small plastic baggie of his ashes," Waters headed for Manhattan Beach, California, and his father's past.

These Boys and Their Fathers is a son's lyrical and sorrowful memoir of lifelong efforts to deal with the emptiness and fury connected to his father. When building a custom surfboard with legend Greg Noll (who made Robert's first board) didn't create the expected touchstone, Waters's quest took a fascinating turn--he discovered another writer who shared his name. The other Don Waters, a prolific pulp author starting in the 1920s, lived aboard a sailboat with his family, doting on his daughter, and became yet another older man Waters collected as a father figure to emulate and admire.

His decades of researching the lives of Robert and the other Don Waters provided the basis the author needed to complete the memoir he'd given up on three times. After 20 years seeking clarity by writing stories about faulty fictional men, Waters found it in complicated real men, his very human father and his historically tight-lipped mother. These Boys is a powerfully candid story of discovering "closure" through accepting and living alongside the pain and truth.

STREET SENSE: Surfing fans will love the board-building details and surf history Waters recounts. His father and the other Don Waters are fascinating and flawed men, and the author's road to peace is an interesting and curious one, impacted by his own impending fatherhood.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: This same photo was part of my childhood landscape, only I remember it differently because my father was scissored out. There were other photographs like this one, each visited by scissors, each bearing a ghostly, uneven outline. In Mom's photo albums my father was gone, cut out, vanished. Everything was gone but his hand. Mom would have had to cut part of my tiny body from the picture to remove his hand. So there was his hand. The only image I had of him him was a hand. For seventeen years, a hand.

COVER NERD SAYS: Surfing and waves, I dig it. I like the colors and the images. It doesn't tell me a lot about what's inside, but the title helps a little (though I also admittedly find it a tad confusing, since the other Don Waters, who is such a big part of the memoir, was focused on his daughter). But I would, no doubt, pick this up from a book store table or shelf, so it's a win.
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