In 2010, Don Waters set out to write a magazine story about a surfing icon who had known his absentee father. It was an attempt to find a way of connecting to a man he never knew. He didn’t imagine that the story would become a years-long quest to understand a man who left behind almost nothing except for a self-absorbed autobiography for his abandoned son.
These Boys and Their Fathers touches on Waters’s early life with his single mother—and her string of dysfunctional men—and his later search for and encounters with his father, but it quickly expands into a gripping account of the life of a 1930s pulp writer, also named Don Waters, with whom Waters becomes obsessed. This wildly original book blends memoir, investigative reporting, and fiction to sort out difficult aspects of family, masculinity, and what it means to be a father.
“Generous, scrupulously honest, and gorgeously original in its telling, Don Waters’s These Boys and Their Fathers is an absolute knockout of a memoir. Waters shape-shifts among genres, voices, and eras to get at the heart of the matter, which happens to be the hardest human matter of all: how to live at peace with ourselves and our family, both the family we’re born into and the family we make for ourselves. This book is one of the wisest, most searching explorations of an individual life I have ever encountered, one whose humanity and heart offer universal appeal.”—Ben Fountain, author, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
“There is an empty space on the bookshelf where a search for a father belongs, and Don Waters has written it. As with most fathers, it is a story of filling in the gaps, reliving memories and imagined memories, and heading to the edge of experience and truth. Heartbreaking, ambiguous, funny, and wise, These Boys and Their Fathers is the book so many of us have been waiting for.”—Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize–winning author, Less
“An extraordinarily powerful, moving, and urgent exploration of the crossroads between masculinity, paternity, fantasy, ‘truth,’ and howling sadness.”—David Shields, author, Reality Hunger
“Don Waters’ latest book opens with a gut punch: a letter introducing himself, as a high school senior, to the father who left when he was a toddler. These Boys and Their Fathers blends memoir, reportage and fiction in a disquieting yet absorbing, bare-it-all plunge into manhood, family and fatherhood.”—The Oregonian
“These Boys is a powerfully candid story of discovering ‘closure’ through accepting and living alongside the pain and truth.”—Shelf Awareness