Reading Bill Eville's "Washed Ashore" has reassured me that my own experience of being a stay-at-home-dad — all the mixed-up feelings, frustrations and screaming matches — were par for the course. As Eville writes, "Over the years, I had learned the words easy and parenting did not really go together."
However, the editor of the Vineyard Gazette's book is not only about fatherhood's ups and downs. It's also about place, home, family, cancer, spirituality, writing, friendship and politics.
Eville writes of how he came to know and marry his wife, Cathlin. They had been friends for years until he realized, after they attended the funeral of a high school friend, that he wanted more. His wife became a minister, and for a long while this embarrassed the not particularly religious Eville.
One night, carrying a box of Cathlin's seminary books on the New York City subway, he encountered some genial drunks. He notes, "Such was my state of mind then that openly hauling around a box full of porn would have caused me less discomfort than if someone saw me with a set of religious books."
When one of the drunks asks about a book he's reading, Eville manages to say something he'd had trouble "saying to even my closest friends," namely that his wife is a minister. This puzzles the drunk, until the drunk smiles and yells to his buddies, "This guy's banging a minister!"
Eville and Cathlin move to Martha's Vineyard, where a church hires her as its minister, and where Eville's family roots are. So it is a coming home. They have two children, a boy named Hardy, and a girl, Eirene, nicknamed Pickle. Eville's stories about his two children are at times hilarious and, at others, heartbreaking.
Cathlin survives a bout with breast cancer, Hardy and Pickles grow up and go off to school. Eville has trouble letting go, just as he's had in the past. But when he does, it helps him: "I became a better father, by letting go of my agenda and embracing the mysteries of my children's minds."
Eville had resisted the call to be a writer until he finally gave in and went back to school. His mentor, novelist Bob Shacochis "wanted me to feel fully — from the hurt to the healing — but he also wanted me to not fall into the trap of earnestness by reporting only the good news."
Cathlin's friendship with Raphael Warnock — they knew each other in seminary — and the family's canvassing for his Senate campaign in Georgia, as well as their participation in other demonstrations and marches, keeps the book from being too parochial. It reminds us that love of family can bear fruit in society as a whole.
In writing about the sweet and bitter particulars of his corner of the world , Eville has written a book about life itself, a book which, as writer Lisa Taddeo comments in her blurb for the book, "will make you appreciate your own life."
Frank Freeman writes from Saco, Maine.
Washed Ashore: Family, Fatherhood, and Finding Home on Martha's Vineyard
By: Bill Eville.
Publisher: Godine, 264 pages, $26.95.