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A Little Happier: Actor Andrew McCarthy Faces the Question of How, as a Parent, to Acknowledge a Child’s Pain


Because my sister Elizabeth was reading—or rather, listening to—actor Andrew McCarthy’s new memoir Brat: An 80's Story (AmazonBookshop), I read it too. I found it very thought-provoking, so I wanted to read Andrew McCarthy’s earlier memoir, The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down(AmazonBookshop).

A central theme in both memoirs is his feeling of being pulled between competing desires: for independence, solitude, and separation, and connection, presence, and belonging. He wants to be alone, and he wants to engage deeply with others, and this paradox creates a real tension in his life.

In The Longest Way Home, he describes how he arranged to travel all over the world—in many cases, on assignment as a travel writer—while he and his longtime sweetheart plan their wedding, which will be his second marriage. He has fantasies of escape, of walking away and not looking back—and at the same time, he yearns to commit completely to the life of his family.

Andrew McCarthy writes about an evening when he was tucking his nine-year-old son into bed.

His son said:

“Dad, I feel like there’s a distance between me and the rest of the world.” His clear insight and simple articulateness shocked me, then saddened me and made me fear for him.

When I read this passage, I thought, “What would I say, as a parent?” It would be so easy to give some quick, facile response, or to laugh off the remark as something that wasn’t serious, or to present this feeling as something that his son would outgrow or overcome.

The fact that Andrew McCarthy himself knew that feeling well might have made it easier, but it also might have made it harder. He might have wanted to spare his son any pain, or spare himself a father’s pain. So what did he do? He continued:

When my reflexive reactions subsided, I relaxed and identified with him.

“I’ve always felt the same way,” I told him. I wasn’t sure what else to say. “But it’s part of what makes me me, so it’s okay. You know what I mean?” I said.

My son was quiet for a moment. “Yeah,” he said, and then surprised me by reaching out and hugging me close.

Actor and writer Andrew McCarthy identified deeply with his son’s pain, and rather than deny or dismiss that pain, he decided to acknowledge it.

Sometimes, we can make people happier by acknowledging that they're not feeling happy.

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