Father Joe

Father Joe

The Man Who Saved My Soul

Book - 2004
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A key comic writer of the past three decades has created his most heartfelt and hard-hitting book.Father Joeis Tony Hendra's inspiring true story of finding faith, friendship, and family through the decades-long influence of a surpassingly wise Benedictine monk named Father Joseph Warrillow. Like everything human, it started with sex. In 1955, fourteen-year-old Tony found himself entangled with a married Catholic woman. In Cold War England, where Catholicism was the subject of news stories and Graham Greene bestsellers, Tony was whisked off by the woman's husband to see a priest and be saved. Yet what he found was a far cry from the priests he'd known at Catholic school, where boys were beaten with belts or set upon by dogs. Instead, he met Father Joe, a gentle, stammering, ungainly Benedictine who never used the words "wrong" or "guilt," who believed that God was in everyone and that "the only sin was selfishness." During the next forty years, as his life and career drastically ebbed and flowed, Tony discovered that his visits to Father Joe remained the one constant in his life--the relationship that, in the most serious sense, saved it. From the fifties and his adolescent desire to join an abbey himself; to the sixties, when attending Cambridge and seeing the satire ofBeyond the Fringeconvinced him to change the world with laughter, not prayer; to the seventies and successful stints as an original editor ofNational Lampoonand a writer ofLemmings, the off-Broadway smash that introduced John Belushi and Chevy Chase; to professional disaster after co-creating the legendary English seriesSpitting ℑ from drinking to drugs, from a failed first marriage to a successful second and the miracle of parenthood--the years only deepened Tony's need for the wisdom of his other and more real father, creating a bond that could not be broken, even by death. A startling departure for this acclaimed satirist,Father Joeis a sincere account of how Tony Hendra learned to love. It's the story of a whole generation looking for a way back from mockery and irony, looking for its own Father Joe, and a testament to one of the most charismatic mentors in modern literature.
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2004.
ISBN: 9781400061846
Branch Call Number: 282.092 Hen
Characteristics: 271 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.


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Jun 09, 2010

I decided to get this book out of the library after listening to Hendra's contribution to a MOTH story-telling contest -- a recounting of one of the incidents in this book when he stumbles from the despair of a failed suicide attempt into his first improvisation as the manager in the classic rock doc spoof Spinal Tap.

You know you're in for a strange ride when Hendra begins the book with a monk, then plunges into the farcical yet poignant tale of how he met said monk. Hendra, age 15,
was getting embroiled in an affair with a married woman at the time. Of course, all is not quite as it seems. It was the fifties in Britain and Hendra was a struggling Catholic.

In fact, the whole book is about things not being what they seem, of self-delusion and misplaced ambition. It turns out that Hendra, among many other things, was the man impersonating John Lennon howling "Genius is Pain!" on the infamous National Lampoon's Radio Dinner album in the 1970s, and as Lennon himself put it later: "Life is what happens when you're making other plans."

Derailed time and again by substance abuse, atheism, a disastrous marriage, and ego problems (both his and others'), Hendra returns to the Isle of Wight many times over the years for paternal love and guidance to the monk he calls "Father Joe". It is only after Father Joe's death that Hendra learns how far the monk's influence has reached.

Hendra has just enough humility and humour to make this tale of spiritual struggle palatable. The only time I found myself getting impatient with him is toward the end of the book when he speaks lyrically and lovingly of the children of his second marriage, when he has only mentioned in passing the daughters of his first. This seems sometimes to be the privilege of the multi-marrying male, to leave the previous marriage or marriages aside as mistakes (including the resulting children), and cleave to the progeny of the successful marriage.

The book is, however, a thought-provoking read and an interesting angle on English and American humour and satire in the late twentieth century.


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