My Father’s Son: A Memoir by John Davis is the harrowing yet riveting story Davis’ tumultuous and abusive childhood at the hands of his father, who was a high-powered cocaine dealer in Brooklyn, and a complete tyrant with Davis at home. Even after his father left the house, he gets replaced with a series of other tyrants, so Davis never had it easy, but still managed to come out ahead with an amazing strength and warmth of spirit. My Father’s Son is at once heartbreaking and uplifting with a dramatic climax that you’ll never see coming.
What makes the book such a fascinating read is that his father’s behavior unfolds gradually like a work of fiction. His father goes from being an impatient butcher to running numbers to selling marijuana and finally cocaine, where it’s like Davis is being raised by the Argentinian Tony Montana. It’s fairly obvious throughout that Davis’ father has mob connections of some kind, though there’s no real proof of that. And, actually, the lack of proof is what makes the memoir particularly engaging – it’s the life of a mobster through a child’s eyes. Davis never had all the details about what his father was doing, all he knew was what he was like at home, and he was a monster. The use of capital letters in dialogue is particularly effective in displaying his father’s uncontrollable rage.
It’s tough to write a review of this book without giving spoilers, but it makes the book so much more effective to not know the big reveal in the second half of the memoir, so I’ll refrain from saying anything except this: in the second half the book goes from merely riveting to completely jaw-dropping. The first half of the book was interesting enough, but then…wow. Given that Davis himself doesn’t make clear what happens in the second half of the book, it would be a disservice to do otherwise. He merely writes in the blurb, “But it was much later, as an adult, that he learned the most shocking thing of all about his father, his past, and himself.” Shocking it is, and completely unexpected.
As the title is My Father’s Son, you might be led to think it’s a memoir about how his father’s behavior influenced his treatment of his own kids later in life. I kept waiting for that to happen, and it never really coalesced, aside from a brief aside about how he has chosen to act exactly the opposite as his father. So the title is a weak point for the book, as it would be interesting for Davis to examine how ingrained his father’s abuse is in his own behavior. As child abuse is often handed down from one generation to the other, how hard does Davis need to fight against impulses he learned as a child? As this also ties together with the big reveal in the second half, it would have added an extra layer to Davis’ narrative.
As it stands, there’s very little reflection about Davis’ own life, and the book could have used more. There’s a passing mention of his wife, but nothing about who she is and how they met, or if she got along with his mom. Of course, this is a book about his father, but I was so engrossed in the book and Davis’ story that I wanted even more to the story – which is a high praise sort of criticism.
What’s on the page is more than enough, however. I read the book in one sitting, glued to the pages of Davis’ amazing story. He’s led an incredible life, and he tells his story with great empathy and clarity. Do yourself a favor: read this book, and read it without knowing the full synopsis going in, so you find out the truth along with Davis himself.