book reviews, celebrities

Repost: A review of Going My Own Way by Gary Crosby…

Here’s a repost of a review I wrote on January 2, 2015 about Gary Crosby’s tell all book on growing up as Bing Crosby’s son, Going My Own Way. It appears here as/is.

For years, I heard about the controversial book the late Gary Crosby, eldest son of the late Bing Crosby, wrote about his parents.  The book, entitled Going My Own Way, was published in 1983 and was considered a “scathing” account of the reality of what it was like to grow up the son of a big Hollywood star who portrayed himself as the consummate family man.  I am a little too young for Bing Crosby, though I do remember the duet he did with David Bowie back in the 70s…

A classic Christmas duet circa 1977…

I didn’t actually see the Christmas special that spawned this version of “The Little Drummer Boy”, but over the years, the video has been replayed during the holiday season.  I also remember Mary Crosby, Bing’s daughter, who played Kristin Shepard on Dallas and was credited with shooting J.R. Ewing.  Aside from that, I only heard about Bing… and Bill has told me that a few years after Gary Crosby’s book came out, the late Phil Hartman, who was then on Saturday Night Live, did a spoof about how when Bing’s sons misbehaved, they needed to go have a “talk” in the library.

I was curious about the book and the cultural references to it, so I decided to purchase a used copy.  I recently finished reading Going My Own Way and, I must admit, it was very interesting.  As “scathing” memoirs go, I didn’t think it was all that bad.  Gary Crosby was Bing Crosby’s eldest son with his first wife, Dixie Lee.  He grew up in a huge house in Hollywood, surrounded by servants, many of whom were black.  Crosby’s mother was a strict disciplinarian and a serious alcoholic who relied on an Irish nurse named Georgie to keep Gary and his brothers, Phil, Denny, and Lindsay, in line. 

Like his wife, Bing Crosby was also a very strict disciplinarian who strongly believed in employing corporal punishment, strict rules, and verbal abuse to control his sons.  Crosby writes that it was difficult for him to have friends because his parents were so strict.  It wasn’t often that he was allowed to bring friends over or go to friends’ houses.  Crosby’s parents were quick to remind their sons that they were not special simply because they were Bing Crosby’s sons.  Though they were educated at private schools, they were not treated differently and didn’t hang out with Hollywood types.  Indeed,  from the time the boys were eleven until they were adults, each summer Bing Crosby sent them to work at a ranch he owned.  They learned how to herd cattle and make hay bales alongside men of much more modest means.  Crosby writes that he hated the ranch work because his father forced him to do it, though he might have enjoyed it a lot more if he’d been the one who chose to go. 

Gary Crosby had a weight problem when he was growing up.  His backside was wide, which caused his father to refer to him as “bucket butt” or “satchel ass”.  According to Gary, Bing would even call his son these names in public, particularly in front of Bing’s friends.  Bing Crosby ordered his son to lose weight and would force him to endure weigh ins.  If he didn’t lose weight, Gary would get a whipping.   Bing used a belt that had metal studs in it and would beat his boys until they bled.  At the first drop of blood, the beating would stop.  Gary writes that he used to hope he’d bleed early.  

Bing Crosby and Gary Crosby perform together…

When Gary became a teenager, he had a strict curfew and would often have to leave social events early in order to appease his father, who would not hesitate to use a belt and verbal abuse to get his point across.  It wasn’t until Gary was 18 years old and had finally had enough that the whippings stopped.  By that time, his father had traded the belt for a cane.  I must admit, reading that part of the book resonated with me.  I had a similar experience with my own father, who was also a proponent of physical punishment and last struck me when I was almost 21 years old.  My father was also one to use verbal abuse…  indeed, reading about some of Crosby’s experiences rang very true to me, since my dad did a lot of the same things to a milder extent.  Crosby also writes about his father’s penchant for womanizing and drinking, as well as holding gifts over his sons’ heads in order to control them.  Gary Crosby had his own issues with alcohol and drugs, which he writes about in the book.  He also was one to get in fist fights when the mood struck.

Crosby uses a lot of slang and filthy language in his memoir.  Personally, I wasn’t offended by it.  In fact, the slang sort of gave the book a 50s nuance, which makes sense, since Crosby was born in the 30s and would have been a young person in the 50s.  I liked that he included photos, which helped me put faces to his stories.  I also got the sense that despite the abuse, he did love his parents, especially his mother.  He even writes a message to his other siblings, products of Bing Crosby’s second marriage to Kathryn Crosby, that the father he knew was not the same man as the father who raised them.  And Crosby even admits that his father passed along musical talent to him and the ranch work gave him useful skills outside of show business.  As one who has a perverse interest in Pat Boone’s career, I liked that Gary Crosby also writes about what it was like to work with Boone.  Apparently, Crosby thought Boone was a nice guy and easy to work with, despite his love of “clean livin’.”  Pat Boone, as we all know, is also a big believer in spankings.

Gary and Bing sing with Frank Jr.

Gary Crosby’s mother died in 1952 of ovarian cancer.  At the time of Dixie Lee’s passing, Gary was studying at Stanford University, where he wasn’t a particularly good student.  I was moved by how he described his father’s pained reaction to his mother’s deteriorating condition.  Yes, he writes a lot about how “the old man” abused him and his brothers, but he also somehow manages to give his father a human face.  That’s why I say the memoir wasn’t that scathing.  Yes, it was probably shocking to those who grew up with Bing Crosby and loved his music, but as someone who also grew up with an alcoholic and occasionally abusive father, I thought Gary Crosby was just being honest.  I think back in the 80s, when this book was originally published, corporal punishment and verbal abuse were much more accepted as normal parenting than they are now.  While I think sometimes Americans are going a little too far in the other direction with how they are parenting their children, as someone who experienced growing up with an alcoholic, I feel like Gary Crosby was very truthful in his account.  He was not just a whiner.   

Gary Crosby died in 1995 of lung cancer. He was 62 at the time of his death and had married three times. You can read a chapter of Going My Own Way here. Here is an article from a 1983 issue of People magazine about Gary’s book.

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book reviews, celebrities, movies

A review of Brat: An 80s Story, by Andrew McCarthy

As a child of the 70s and 80s, I grew up watching films made by the mythical Brat Pack, a group of young actors of the 1980s who made wildly popular films and had reputations for bad behavior. As a twelve year old, who was also a fan of the hit sitcom, The Facts of Life, I had watched Molly Ringwald go from her adolescent feminist character on TV to a huge movie star in John Hughes’ hilarious coming of age films. I had also seen St. Elmo’s Fire, which starred Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Mare Winningham, Rob Lowe, and of course, Andrew McCarthy. Andrew McCarthy then went on to star with Molly Ringwald in the 1987 Hughes film, Pretty in Pink, which was a hugely successful movie in terms of money made, even if the reviews were kind of lukewarm.

My teen years were in the 1980s, so I was a big fan of the so-called Brat Pack actors. They seemed to be friends, always starring in movies together. Many of the movies made by “Brat Packers” were John Hughes vehicles, but St. Elmo’s Fire was a Joel Schumacher film. I had loved that movie, too… and being a big music fan, I also loved the soundtracks that came from 80s era films like The Breakfast Club, which Andrew McCarthy was not in, and St. Elmo’s Fire, of which Andrew McCarthy was a cast member. It was a no-brainer that I would read Andrew’s 2021 book, Brat: An 80s Story. I knew I would enjoy it because of the subject matter, but I also knew that Andrew McCarthy is an excellent writer, having read and reviewed his travel book The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest For the Courage to Settle Down back in 2014. I remember how I had devoured Andrew’s fascinating travel stories and marveled at how good of a writer he is. To be honest, I much prefer his writing to his acting.

Brat: An 80s Story is a look at how Andrew McCarthy broke into acting and almost killed himself with an addiction to alcohol. The book also sheds some light on Andrew’s middle class upbringing on the East Coast, one of four brothers. He had a difficult relationship with his father, who disdained Andrew’s chosen career path of acting, yet never missed a chance to ask for money once Andrew hit the big time. In fact, a number of Andrew’s friends and relatives hit him up for cash, and he says that most of them resented him for giving them the money. Having seen Andrew McCarthy in several films, I had this image of him as a posh New Yorker type. But the truth is, he grew up much like a lot of people do, and he got terrible grades in high school. He barely got into New York University’s acting program and never intended to graduate, having set his sights on a career in theater. He ended up with a movie career instead.

I enjoyed reading about Andrew McCarthy’s experiences making movies in the 80s. He definitely strips some of the glamour and mystique from the movie business, describing how he would meet legendary stars like Jaqueline Bisset (he starred with her in Class, which was his debut)– driven to a meeting in a fancy car. Then, afterwards, someone would give him cab fare or he’d bum a ride from an assistant. He mentions the conditions of working on The Beniker Gang, a movie he did in 1984, about a group of orphans who want to be a family. He clued me into some things I’d never noticed about his films, like Pretty in Pink. For instance, I never noticed at the end of the film that Andrew was wearing a badly fitted hairpiece, even though I’ve seen that movie dozens of times. The ending of Pretty in Pink had to be reshot and, at the time, Andrew was in a play in New York that had required him to shave his head.

He’s wearing a wig! I never knew! Take a close look at the “parking lot” at the end… I also loved reading about how Molly helped Andrew get cast in Pretty in Pink.

Interspersed within his stories about making famous and infamous movies of the 80s, Andrew McCarthy includes some stories about how he fell into alcoholism and drug abuse. I get the sense that Andrew was more of a drunk than a druggie, but drinking to excess had led McCarthy to ruin. He made several forgettable and terrible films in 1987, and he made some devastating mistakes squandering opportunities that could have propelled his movie career into the stratosphere. Some readers may not like this aspect of McCarthy’s story. Looking at Amazon’s reviews, I notice that some people were hoping for more of a tell all about Hollywood life and making films. But I think Andrew’s confessions about his drinking habits are helpful and insightful. Andrew drank to excess because he was struggling with insecurities. The drinking helped, until it didn’t anymore. McCarthy’s stories about his booze habit explain why he made 80s era turkeys like Fresh Horses and Mannequin, and turned down an opportunity to work with Robert Redford.

I haven’t seen many of the movies done by Andrew McCarthy after Pretty in Pink. I did like him in that movie, as well as a few others he’s done. I enjoyed Weekend At Bernie’s, for instance, and even saw it in the theater. I almost never go to the movies, especially nowadays! But I did memorably see that flick at a theater with an ex boyfriend. It’s important to note that this book really only focuses on the 1980s and McCarthy’s work during that decade. Don’t expect to learn anything about what he’s done since then. Also, he only mentions his wife and children in passing in this book, although he does include some stories about his relationships with members of his family of origin, especially his dad. I could relate to his issues with his father, which is another reason I liked this book.

There’s something about McCarthy’s “sensitive” schtick that has always kind of turned me off a little bit, even as I thought he was kind of cute in an East Coast sort of way. I really do like him better as a writer. Brat: An 80s Story has some candid, self-deprecating moments in it that are endearing and relatable. He never comes off as cocky. Instead, it’s almost like he can’t believe the surreal circumstances that put him where he is today. He really has had some extraordinary experiences. He was actually in Germany at the Berlin Wall when it fell, and was recognized by a German soldier for being in the movie Heaven Help Us (known as Catholic Boys in Europe, where it was very successful). He also made friends with Claude Chabrol, a legendary French director who gave him the sage advice– “What is true today may not be true tomorrow”.

McCarthy comes across as someone who’s real, and I liked his anecdotes about what life as a star was like for him in his heyday. It sounds like he’s a lot happier and more grounded now, since he’s branched into writing. And he definitely dispels the myth of the “Brat Pack”. Even though it seemed like that cohort of actors were all buddies who did everything together, the truth is, the Brat Pack never really existed as anything more than a concept put out by a journalist who happened to hang out with Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, and Emilio Estevez one raucous night. After the filming stopped, so did the relationships. Andrew says he’s never seen Judd or Emilio again in the years since St. Elmo’s Fire, and he’s only run into the other actors sporadically.

In some ways, Brat: An 80s Story also reminds me a little bit of Justine Bateman’s book, Fame, in which she describes how “reality” was hijacked by becoming a famous 80s era actress. Much of what McCarthy writes about his experiences during that era echo Justine Bateman’s experiences as a famous sitcom star who grew up on TV. But I think I enjoyed McCarthy’s book more than I did Bateman’s. He has a gift for storytelling, making it seem more as if he’s a friend sharing a tale in a room, rather than a celebrity. He also includes photos, including an adorable one of him as a child, riding a bike.

I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to those who want to know more about Andrew McCarthy’s acting career, as well as a few tidbits about show business itself. However, for those hoping for a dishy tell all, it might be a disappointment. Personally, I liked Brat: An 80s Story. I appreciated the look at McCarthy’s past and how he’s become the person he is today. I think he did a good job marrying the juicy Hollywood dishing with insights about who he is as a person. If that sounds good to you, I recommend reading Andrew McCarthy’s book, Brat: An 80s Tale.

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book reviews, celebrities, homosexuality

Repost: A review of Meredith Baxter’s Untied

I originally wrote this review for Epinions.com in March 2011. I am reposting it here, as/is.

As a child of the 1980s, I would have had to have been living under a rock not to know who Meredith Baxter is. The beautiful blonde actress had made her mark back in the 70s with television shows like Bridget Loves Bernieand Family, but I knew her as Elyse Keaton, feminist matriarch of the Keaton family on NBC’s hit sit-com, Family Ties. In those days, she was known as Meredith Baxter-Birney, having married her Bridget Loves Bernieco-star, David Birney. Baxter and Birney later divorced; recently, Baxter made headlines by coming out as a lesbian. I learned about all of this and more by reading Baxter’s brand new memoir, Untied: A Memory of Family, Fame, and Floundering (2011). I purchased this book for my Kindle last week and found it a quick and interesting read. 

Meredith Baxter’s beginnings

After a brief introduction, explaining how she came out as a lesbian, Baxter begins describing her childhood. Meredith Baxter’s mother was an actress named Nancy Ann Whitney, who later came up with the stage name Whitney Blake. From a very early age, Baxter was required to call her mother Whitney, because Whitney didn’t want people thinking she was a mother. Baxter’s father, Tom Baxter, was a sound engineer specializing in live television and radio. Though her parents were married for ten years and had three children, their union ended when Baxter was just five years old. After the divorce, Tom Baxter remained a very small part of his children’s lives. Meanwhile, Whitney remarried twice.  

Baxter grew up in southern California on the fringes of show business. Her first stepfather, Jack Fields, was an agent who helped Whitney Blake get parts that later blossomed into a successful career on television. Baxter describes Fields as cruel, manipulative, and strict, but it was Fields who helped Baxter with her own foray into show business when she was a child.  

A complicated life

Though Meredith Baxter grew up to be a beautiful young woman, she comes across as a bit mixed up. In confessional prose, she admits to dabbling in drugs and alcohol, half-heartedly attempting suicide, and getting married for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, she was both lucky and talented and eventually started working as an actress. She had two children with her first husband, Robert Bush, and three with her second husband, David Birney.

Bitterness toward Birney

Meredith Baxter has a lot to say about her second marriage to David Birney. Baxter was married to Birney for about 16 years. Their union lasted three times longer than her marriages to Robert Bush and Michael Blodgett. However, the added length of the marriage seems to have tripled Baxter’s pain. She makes some very unflattering comments about David Birney and basically describes him as an abusive narcissist.  

A book about Meredith Baxter, not Family Ties… 

Though Meredith Baxter does dish quite a bit about being on Bridget Loves BernieFamily, and Family Ties, as well as a few of her better known made for television movies, I want to make it clear that this book is really about her life. And she has led a very complicated but interesting life, fraught with struggles, including alcoholism, breast cancer, and coming to terms with her homosexuality. But while there were times I kind of cringed while reading this book, I do think that ultimately, Baxter has put out a very positive memoir.  

Toward the end of the book, Baxter writes about what it was like to meet and fall in love with her current partner, Nancy Locke. Though she is “out of the closet”, I still get the feeling that being out is kind of hard for her. She very candidly explains how difficult it was for her to admit and accept her feelings for women. She also explains how hard it was for her to come out to people she loves… and how their reactions to her big news were surprisingly low key.  Untied also includes plenty of pictures.

Overall

I enjoyed reading this book, mainly because I’m a child of the 80s and I love biographies. I think Meredith Baxter did a fairly good job writing her life story. She really comes across as extremely human and somewhat down-to-earth. I do think she’s still in some real pain over her relationship with David Birney, but she seems to have learned from the relationship as well. I think Untied is worthy reading for those who are interested in Baxter’s life story.

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book reviews, Military

Repost: A review of Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress

I originally posted this review on Epinions.com on June 16, 2005. It appears here as/is.

About two weeks ago, I was in the Fort Belvoir thrift shop with my husband and my mother-in-law, looking for assorted junk/treasures. My house is mostly appointed in dorm/Kmart decor and I’m trying to gussy it up a bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any home furnishing treasures on that day, but I did find a buttload of interesting books. One of the books that I found was Mary Edwards Wertsch’s 1991 book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress. Well, I happen to be a military brat twice over. I was born into Air Force bratdom almost 33 years ago and then I married into Army bratdom almost three years ago. I figured this book was aimed at an audience consisting of people like me, and at $2.00, it was a steal. I took it home.

The first thing I noticed when I first ran across Military Brats is that it’s a sizable book. Right off the bat, I got the idea that Mary Edwards Wertsch had a lot to say to people like me… and people like her. Wertsch is herself a military brat, as well as an investigative journalist. Military Brats was her first book; since it was written fifteen years ago, I couldn’t tell you if she’s written others.

The next thing I noticed was the introduction, written by one of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy. Some of you may know that Conroy is himself a military brat. Those of you who have read his fiction also know that Conroy’s military upbringing affected him profoundly. Born the son of a Marine fighter pilot, Pat Conroy’s childhood was fraught with moves to new towns, and that meant that he had to constantly learn to fit in with an ever changing peer group. Conroy was also a victim of child abuse. He never lets his readers forget it, not that I fault him for that. In fact, one of the reasons why I love Pat Conroy’s writing so much is because it really speaks to me. I can identify very much with his stories. The Great Santini, a novel about growing up as a military brat, was perhaps Conroy’s breakthrough novel. Mary Edwards Wertsch includes snippets from The Great Santini throughout her book, Military Brats, for it was the film version of The Great Santini that gave her the idea for this book.

Next, I started to read this massive book. It consists of twelve long chapters, each taking on an aspect of growing up a military brat. At the beginning of the book, Mary Edwards Wertsch writes

Warrior society is characterized by a rigid authoritarian structure, frequently mirrored inside its families; extreme mobility; a great deal of father absence; isolation and alienation from the civilian community; an exceedingly strict class system; a very high incidence of alcoholism. which also suggests possibly high rates of family violence; a deeply felt sense of mission; and, not least, an atmosphere of constant preparation for war, with the accompanying implication for every family that on a moment’s notice the father can be sent to war, perhaps never to be seen again. p. xiii

And then in Military Brats, Wertsch goes on to address each of the points she lists about the experience of being a military brat. For this book, Wertsch interviewed eighty military brats, five of whom were siblings of other interviewees, and all of whom were well into adulthood. She also interviewed social workers, teachers, military parents, physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, historians other scholars (p. xii). After reading this book, I could tell that Wertsch had indeed done her homework and tried to get many different perspectives on the military brat phenomenon.

Edwards also explains why she uses the term “military brat”,

…a word about the term military brat. Of the eighty military brats interviewed for this book, only five objected to the term– two because they disliked a characterization they felt was imposed on them by the military, one because she did not like the implications of “brat,” and two because they had always been told to say “Navy junior” instead. The rest all said they identified with military brat and used it themselves; to them it is a term of affectionate humor as well as identification. p. xv

I really appreciated Wertsch’s preface. She did a good job of explaining the premise behind writing Military Brats. The fact that she is herself a military brat certainly gave her credibility and a wealth of personal stories to share about her own experiences as a military brat. I also thought the passages from The Great Santini were a nice touch, although they made me want to re-read the novel for the hundredth time. Wertsch also took pains in individually addressing the experiences of both the sons and daughters of military men; and yes, she does explain why she focused on the children of men in the military. Again, this book was written in 1990 and published in 1991, and the brats that Wertsch interviewed were all well into adulthood. The fact that Wertsch addressed only the issue of being the child of a military man made sense because most people who choose to serve in the military are men; that was especially true when Wertsch was growing up, even if it’s less true nowadays. If Wertsch had addressed the plight of children growing up with moms in the military, this book would have no doubt been even larger and more comprehensive than it is now. It’s already a formidable book.

Anyone who is familiar with military life knows there’s a class system in place that is different from the ones most civilians know; that is, the enlisted man’s world versus the officer’s world. Wertsch addresses the differences between someone growing up the child of an officer and an enlisted man. She also addresses how military families view the different branches. Again, Military Brats is a very well-written, comprehensive book that will no doubt offer food for thought for anyone who grew up a military brat.

That said, let me offer a few other insights. Wertsch has certainly tackled an interesting and important topic. It’s also a very complex subject and although I got the sense that Wertsch tried very hard to speak to all military brats, I’m afraid that she doesn’t in some cases. At times, this book is a bit stereotypical as Wertsch describes fathers who are overly strict, abusive, alcoholic, apathetic, and demanding. Let me state for the record that I am married to an Army officer who has yet to show me any of the aforementioned negative qualities.

Moreover, Wertsch seems to focus only on the bad things about being a military brat, only occasionally offering insights as to why being a military brat might be an advantage for someone. And, it seemed to me, that the few times Wertsch offered positives about being a military brat, it was almost always purely by accident. As I read this book, it made me feel sad for my unborn children, although they will likely have an atypical military brat upbringing similar to mine. I agree that being a military brat has its negatives, but it also has its positives. I don’t think that Wertsch really addressed many of the good parts about being a military brat; however, she did address most of the bad aspects. Unfortunately, that makes Military Brats seem very negative and it may make some readers think that all military brats are damaged specifically by their experiences growing up surrounded by the military. Certainly, the military brat lifestyle is not always easy, but I don’t believe that it’s always damaging. I can certainly think of worse environments outside the military in which a person might spend their formative years.

The fact that I am a military brat who had an “atypical” military upbringing brings up another point. I was born late in my father’s Air Force career, the youngest of four daughters. After almost 22 years of service, my dad retired a Lieutenant Colonel when I was almost six years old. He had traveled many times throughout his career and went to Vietnam a couple of times. I never knew this aspect of being a military brat, although my three older sisters did. My father, like so many other military men, is an alcoholic and he does suffer from some post traumatic stress disorder. At times, he was abusive to me. I can relate to military brats who have dealt with being a child of an alcoholic. But when I was eight years old, my parents moved to where they live now– the Tidewater area of Virginia, an area that is steeped in military culture and surrounded by military installations. I stayed in the same school system from third grade until I graduated high school. Because I was born late in my dad’s career, I missed out on some of the trademark experiences of being a military brat– moving around frequently and living without my father. My father was ALWAYS home when I was growing up because he owned his own business and worked out of his house. But he is most definitely a military man and I am most definitely his brat.

Perhaps when I was a child, there weren’t so many thirty-nine year olds becoming fathers, but nowadays it’s becoming a lot more common. Consider the fact that I am now married to an Army Lieutenant Colonel. He has children from his first marriage. They have to deal with his absence, but it’s not because he’s in the military. Instead, it’s because my husband divorced his children’s mother and she chose to move them to Arizona, a state with only one Army post located many miles from their home. Wertsch didn’t really address the plight of the brats who grew up without their fathers not because of the military, but because of divorce; but again, I guess that would have made Military Brats entirely too long.

My husband is about to turn forty-one and we are trying to start our own family against all odds. If I manage to get pregnant, our child or children will probably grow up much the same way I did– military brats, but without the trademark military experience of moving around constantly or living without their father. My husband expects to retire in a few short years. I suspect that with as much divorce as we have in the United States, a lot of children will experience being military brats in so-called “second families”, separated from their siblings. Even if they don’t end up growing up in “second families”, they may simply grow up like I did, the product of a pregnancy that occurred later in their parents’ lives. I think it would be interesting to see a book written about military brats like me and my husband’s children, kids who have always been steeped in military culture, but for one reason or another, never had the globe trotting, country crossing experience of the stereotypical military brat.

Alas, Wertsch didn’t speak to military brats like me. And, while this book offers some truisms about what life was like for older military brats, it doesn’t offer insight into what military life is like now. Of course, this book is fifteen years old, but even in 1990, things were starting to change from the way they were back when Wertsch’s father and my father were in the military. I do think it would be great to see an updated version of this book, because it is an interesting subject that affects a lot of people.

Despite my minor criticisms, I would certainly recommend this book to any military brat. I found this book fascinating and I could relate to a lot of it. Even though I think that Mary Edwards Wertsch neglected to discuss a few types of military brats, she does manage to write about most of us. This book is well-written, well-researched, and written by someone who knows her subject personally. Unfortunately, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress may be hard to find because it was written so long ago.

ETA: I wrote this review in 2005 and we had expected Bill to retire in 2010.  Thanks to making the O6 list, he got four extra years and finished in 2014.  

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book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: Review of Scouts Dishonor: A Personal story of God, Abuse, Recovery and Truth

This book review appeared on my original blog on December 10, 2016. I am reposting it as/is. This topic comes up because the Boy Scouts are in the news again because of rampant sexual abuse.

It’s time once again for another exmo lit book review.  It’s been awhile since I reviewed any books about the LDS church, but I decided I had to read this book when I saw it referenced on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site.  Written by Tommy Womeldorf and published in June 2015, Scouts Dishonor is Womeldorf’s true story of getting involved with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America.  Although many boys grow up Mormon and enjoy Scouting, Womeldorf’s experiences as a Boy Scout were extremely traumatizing.  Although he’d been a promising athlete who had dreams of playing sports professionally, what happened to Tommy Womeldorf would cause him to abandon athletics and turn to alcohol and drugs.

In 2012, Womeldorf decided he wanted to seek justice against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America.  He was living in Arizona at the time, along with his wife Arlene, and daughters Sophia, Julia, Fiona and Lola.  Sophia was Arlene’s daughter from another relationship, but Womeldorf treated her as his own.  The family had been attending the LDS church for awhile, although Womeldorf had fallen away from Mormonism for about twenty years. 

One summer day, Womeldorf was working as a laborer for a job at a Marriott Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.  His job was to unload a truck.  On the side of the truck were the words “Boy Scouts of America”.  Twenty-nine years earlier, Womeldorf had been a Boy Scout, where his nightmare began.  Unloading the truck had apparently awakened something inside of Womeldorf that made him want to seek justice for what had happened to him when he was a thirteen year old boy.  He was in the care of Craig Mathias, a Mormon Boy Scoutmaster who happened to be a pervert. 

Tommy Womeldorf’s parents had both been raised in alcoholic households.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had seemed like a wholesome and stable environment for their family.  Womeldorf’s father was especially impressed by the church, though his mother seemed less interested in it.  She eventually came around and the family became regular attendees. 

Like many young male Mormons, Womeldorf joined the Boy Scouts, where he first met his abuser.  Mathias was a methodical, meticulous man who easily spotted the vulnerable and exploited them.  Womeldorf’s father had had to take on extra work and gave up his position as Boy Scoutmaster, giving Mathias more opportunity to groom his victims.  As he was growing older, Tommy was less interested in scouting.  He and his parents had been fighting about it.  His parents finally said he could skip church if he would go to Boy Scouts.  He relented when they also threatened to take away his Ozzy Osborne and Motley Crue posters.  It’s my guess that the tension at home, along with Womeldorf’s father’s extra work hours, had made a perfect storm for Mathias to strike.

Just a warning.  Womeldorf goes into graphic detail about what happened to him when he was alone with his abuser.  I had to stop reading a couple of times because it was sickening to read.  Womeldorf’s mother was totally trusting of Mathias and never had a problem with letting her son visit him alone.  She figured he was a Mormon who was divinely called by God to be a Boy Scout leader.  He had to be safe, right? 

Although Womeldorf and his father reported Mathias to Bishop Brent Griffiths, Griffiths discounted Womeldorf’s story.  Instead of being helpful and supportive, Griffiths changed the direction of the meeting by bringing up Womeldorf’s sins.  Five years later, Craig Mathias was convicted of sexually abusing five Boy Scouts.  However, Womeldorf did not get justice, since his claims were unacknowledged.  Womeldorf writes that had the bishop taken him seriously, those boys would not have had the experiences they did.

In the wake of the abuse, Womeldorf descended into drug addiction, drug dealing, and alcoholism.  His life began to turn around when he met Arlene Ryan, a single mother of an infant daughter.  They eventually started attending the LDS church again and were even profiled in a 2012 issue of the Ensign.  But Tommy soon started feeling very uncomfortable in the church and went inactive.  Two church members came over to his house to assign him a calling…  assistant Boy Scoutmaster.  It was at that point that Womeldorf told the two members that he was pursuing legal action against the church due to their negligence when he was himself a Boy Scout.  And then he sat down to write his book.

I paid 99 cents for the Kindle version of this book and I think it was money well spent.  I noticed a few minor editing glitches.  For instance, sometimes Womeldorf mixes up words like council versus counsel and prey versus pray.  Overall, though, Scouts Dishonor is a remarkably coherent account, especially given that Womeldorf abused many drugs and drank a lot of booze in the years after his abuse.  It appears that although he’s given up on Mormonism, Womeldorf is now living a clean and sober life with his wife and daughters.  I recommend his book.

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