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Letters to My Children

av Russell Bittner

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Senast inlagd avJamie_Cawley, RussellBittner

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A touching account of how emotional closeness between father and children is maintained through physical distance and the highs and lows of life.

When I first came across "Letters to My Children", I was not sure what to expect. On the surface it seemed like this book would be something only the author and his family would find relevant. I was most pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case.

"Letters to My Children" is extremely well written and provides a realistic account of how a father endeavors to maintain close emotional ties to his children while struggling with physical distance and self-doubts.

Fathers, sons and daughters could all certainly relate to this book and its overall message of hope, daring to dream and overcoming life's challenges. ( )
  Jamie_Cawley | Jan 25, 2015 |
(Please note that I submitted this review only because the reviewer, Professor Joseph P. Salemi, wasn't able to.)


Russell Bittner's new book Letters to My Children is a labor of love--that is, the love that impels a parent to be deeply concerned for his children in all aspects of their lives. It's also an account of the ways in which a family can break down under the horrific pressures of modern urban existence.

Bittner is a Brooklyn poet, short-story writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in many venues. When his first child Christopher was born in 1991, Bittner resolved to write him a letter on that same day, and to continue doing so on every birthday until his son reached the age of eighteen. He followed the same plan when his daughter Alexandra was born three years later. And he has now collected the bulk of those letters and published them in this remarkable book, which he has offered as a tribute and a gift to both of them.

All the expected things are here: joy at their birth, delight in the phenomenon of their growth and learning, hope and worry for their future, the occasional friction of parent-child misunderstandings. But behind it all is a father's profound sense of awe at the miracle of his children. He is by turns surprised, delighted, dumbfounded, and upset by the ways in which they show themselves to be independent human beings, related to him by blood and affection but distinct from him in temperament and attitudes. Yet his love for them remains unchanged and strong, while his concern for them grows more intense as his marriage dissolves.

For this is also a book about the breakup of Bittner's marriage and the horrors of a modern divorce, where anger and acrimony tear a family apart. Bittner tries his best to explain to his children why this is happening, and he is unsparing in his honesty about himself and the personal failings that led to this nightmare. The book also reveals the terrible psychological and financial consequences of a bitter divorce, and how they punish everyone in a family with merciless force. Through it all, Bittner's words to his children try hard to maintain some degree of fairness, tolerance, moderation, and understanding, even when his dispute with his wife reaches the boiling point.

Despite an array of misfortunes--loss of his property and savings, the end of his well-paid career, near homelessness on occasion--Bittner remains focused on Chris and Alex. They are the lights of his increasingly darkened life. He tries to remain close to them regardless of the unrelenting hostility of his ex-wife and the crushing difficulty of trying to support himself in some meaningful way. And he keeps his sanity, intelligence, and good humor where weaker men would have collapsed under the strain.

Letters to My Children can be painful reading at times. But the book is also an affirmation of the unflagging love that a real parent has for his flesh and blood. It is deeply moving in places, and has the kind of emotional honesty that can wring a reader's heart. Bittner has written the book as a gift to his children, in lieu of the many tangible goods that he is no longer in a position to provide for them. I can think of no greater manifestation of fatherly love than this gripping book of letters. They tell not just of Bittner and his travails, but of the heartbreak and ruin that divorce has brought to far too many Americans.

Joseph P. Salemi
Professor of Classical Studies at both NYU and Hunter College, NYC
( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
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