Chasing the Hawk
Looking for My Father, Finding Myself
by Andrew Sheehan
Washington Post Book World
February 17, 2002
by Bella Stander
In Brief: Perils of Running
It's tough being the child of a famous and much-admired man, as Andrew Sheehan reminds us in his memoir Chasing the Hawk: Looking for My Father, Finding Myself (Delacorte, $23.95), particularly when he's a lousy parent. This was George Sheehan, "also known as the Runner's Guru, the Runner's Doc, the Runner's Runner." Along with Jim Fixx, he was one of the first popularizers of running (not jogging!) as a way of life.
The elder Sheehan was a shy, withdrawn "ectomorph" who, following in his Irish-American father's footsteps, became a cardiologist and fathered a huge family. By the time Andrew, the eighth of 12, came along, his parents had long since lost any youthful exuberance they may have had. His father was wrapped up in his work; when he was home, he took his meals alone in the kitchen. Andrew's mother centered her life on what her husband dismissed in his writing as "church, children and kitchen." What else could she do as a devout suburban Catholic with such a huge brood and an uninvolved husband?
As he became famous on the strength of writing newspaper columns and immensely popular books, George shed his shy persona, along with his political and religious beliefs. "Running can break up families, destroy friendships and kill ambition. It can also, of course, rebuild families, create new friendships and inspire ambition," George wrote. Adds Andrew, "Ordering from his own Chinese menu, my father would feed his ambition, reject his old friends and put his family life in peril." He left his long-suffering wife for younger women several times, then moved back in when he was stricken with the cancer that ultimately claimed his life.
Sheehan unflinchingly examines all of the above, as well as his reactions to it, which range from teenage sullenness to raging alcoholism to peaceful acceptance. Refreshingly, he refrains from whining about how mean people were to him, although in the latter part of the narrative he spouts Alcoholics Anonymous doctrine a little too often.
© 2002 Bella Stander