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Timeless: Love, Morgenthau, and Me
Sarah Crichton Books, 2014
400 pp., 28.00
Andrea Palpant Dilley
Pain and Yearning
My grandfather passed away recently. A few weeks before his death, I spoke with him on the phone and found myself caught between the trivialities of small talk and the significance of knowing that I would never speak to him again. His voice was gravelly, distant. My five-year-old huddled next to me. "What are you studying in school?" he asked her. "Math," she said. "What did she say? What did she say?" he kept asking. "Maybe he's already dead," she whispered.
During the conversation, I found myself remembering a man whose greatness as a veteran, entrepreneur, and civic leader was contradicted by his intermittent cruelty. He took me out for Dunkin Donuts and taught me how to drive a tractor, but he also chastised me for changing the radio station without his permission, belittled my grandmother (and other women) in such a way that I credit him in part for my feminist sympathies, and ruled my father and his siblings with enough severity that as adults they vowed: We will not parent the way our father did. And yet in that moment on the phone, I found myself choking up. "May the Lord bless you," he said. I felt grief welling at the back of my throat, overwhelmed by the prospect of his death, the power of our shared lineage, and the simple realization that, flawed as he was, I needed his love. I needed him.
In Timeless, a memoir of her marriage, journalist Lucinda Franks writes about family pain and the deep spiritual and psychological needs—unmet by a parent (or grandparent)—that persist past childhood into the full arc of a person's life. "We look inside our partners for our fathers, our mothers," she writes, "for the chance to complete what was started but never finished." Franks seeks completion through her marriage to a man named Robert Morgenthau, district attorney of New York County. He is "Methuselah marrying Little Bo Peep," if Methuselah were a fiftysomething ...