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Book Review - "The Magical Stranger: A Son's Journey into His Father's Life" by Stephen Rodrick

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

9780062004772_p0_v2_s260x420The Magical Stranger: a Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life by reporter Stephen Rodrick explores many issues military families must go through. It is a story about love and sacrifice and what a family must endure after the death of a loved one. This book takes the reader on the same journey as Stephen, struggling to fully grasp the reality of his father’s life and death.

There are four distinct parts to this book: His father’s story, the story of how Stephen grew up, a comparison of the author’s life with Commander James Hunter “Tupper” Ware III, and what it was like to be a part of a military family.  The book begins with a description of the commander of the Black Ravens, Peter Rodrick, who died in a Navy plane crash on November 28th, 1979.  While on the homestretch of a mission that had been extended because of the Iran hostage situation, Rodrick Sr. crashed his Prowler into the Indian Ocean, taking three younger crewmembers with him. The author's mother, newly widowed, packed up the family and moved from Whidbey Island to Detroit, where the author bumbled through junior high and high school as a bit of a sports-nerd misfit, quoting baseball statistics but working far below his potential. After escaping to Chicago for college, the author's real talent as a writer began to surface. The book follows Rodrick’s search for a father he barely knew, to figure out just who was his father.

A powerful part of the book is when Rodrick met with members of his father’s former squadron, the "World-Famous Black Ravens." As he learns about his father, he uncovers the layers of these sailors’ lives: their loves, friendships, dreams, disappointments, and the consequences of their choices. It is here that the reader is introduced to Commander Ware who is struggling to balance his military career with his family obligations.  Getting to know the Black Ravens’ newly commissioned commander, James Hunter Ware III, would help Stephen better understand his own father. The author noted to that his father was a ghost, a parent in absentia that sometimes he saw his father as a stranger in his home.  “I was really sad and lonely while my dad was gone.  I think the resentment and anger came later, after he died.  What I would like any reader to do is sit down with their dad to discuss life, something I did not have an opportunity to do with my dad.”

This leads into a discussion about the other casualties of war, not just the victim, but also the family members, the sacrifices the Navy wife and children made in service to our country. It is a stark reminder that in addition to praising those who serve there are tremendous contributions of the families that must be acknowledged. Rodrick stated to, “As a little boy I was euphoric that my dad flew jets off carriers.  But then after he crashed I always wondered if one or two things had gone another way he might still be with us. One of the great advantages of being a part of a military family is you have such a large extended family.  One of the great memories of my childhood is that we were all tight knit. What was really magical was that my own son was born on November 28th, 2013, thirty-four years almost to the hour of my dad’s accident.  It is nice to have something to celebrate on that day and not associate it with a day of sorrow.”

The Magical Stranger: a Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life mixes the past with the present.  Regarding military families it shows that not much has changed over the decades.  This book is a thoughtful reflection on the meaning of service and the realistic legacy of his father. Readers will understand that the author wrote the book to obtain closure as Stephen struggled to fully grasp the reality of his father’s death and the effect it had on everyone in his family.