Mysteries of My Father


A son comes of age in a fiercely political world

""Thomas Fleming gives us an unforgettable story about an immigrant family--his family--as it struggles to find a place in the American century. He shares with us the dreams and heartaches of his parents, and, in the end, he reminds us of the mysterious and forgiving power of love.""
--Terry Golway, author of The Irish in America

""A truly moving story of a lifelong duel between father and son, Mysteries of My Father also ...

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A son comes of age in a fiercely political world

""Thomas Fleming gives us an unforgettable story about an immigrant family--his family--as it struggles to find a place in the American century. He shares with us the dreams and heartaches of his parents, and, in the end, he reminds us of the mysterious and forgiving power of love.""
--Terry Golway, author of The Irish in America

""A truly moving story of a lifelong duel between father and son, Mysteries of My Father also vibrates with the great good humor that grows out of ward politics, and pulses with the heartfelt drama of a family just getting by. There were some bad times in the Fleming family story, but Tom Fleming prevails to the good times, and the best time is left to the reader. What a wonderful time I had reading this book.""
--Dennis Smith, author of the Report from Engine Co. 82 and Report from Ground Zero

""A well-written, fascinating political history.""
--Margaret Truman, author of Murder at Union Station

""With a historian's fidelity and a poet's empathy, Tom Fleming has created a textured study of three generations of Irish-Americans, whose clashing spiritual values inform their integration into New Jersey's social and political hierarchy. Mysteries of My Father is an American classic achieved by a master storyteller's talents for exploring the tensions and bonds between a father and his sons. Among the literary wonders of this brisk and moving memoir is the father's emergence as a seminal American character--brusque and pragmatic, yet capable of expected tenderness to his sons.""
--Sidney Offit, author of Memoir of the Bookie's Son

""If you care about what it means to be an Irish-American, or about New Jersey political history, or about the relationships between fathers and sons, or about wonderful writing, run--don't walk--out to buy Tom Fleming's Mysteries of My Father.""
--Nick Acocella, publisher of Politifax

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* "Mysteries of My Father is a rich book. Rich in Fleming’s textured description of Jersey City politics. Rich in wonderful personal anecdotes (Frank Hague’s last hurrah on a platform amid the surging, rebellious voters of the Second Ward is the stuff of epic poetry). Rich in sympathetic understanding of Teddy and Kitty and of their tempestuous marriage. Rich in honest evocation of ‘the morally grey world of Hudson County politics.’ And rich in its power to bring alive the once vital, now vanished world of the big-city Irish-American political machine… A moving, masterly, forgiving remembrance." (Commonwealth Magazine)

Although a paternal portrait may be his primary aim, Thomas Fleming's subtitle promises, more broadly, "an Irish-American memoir." For some of us, that's a worrisome vow, portending crapulous fathers who imbibe paychecks, pious wives who berate husbands for same and hordes of children wailing in squalor. True to form, the late-19th-century Jersey City to which Mr. Fleming's grandparents migrated was home to these auld Gaelic clichés. What adds the American to the Irish in this story, though, is its celebration not merely of stumbling and wallowing but of rebelling and ruling.
Following an eminent career as a writer of both history and fiction, Mr. Fleming has gone rummaging in his own family archives to produce Mysteries of My Father, a memoir of his father's fight to emerge from corrupting poverty with some part of his soul unbruised. And quite a scrap it was.
From his earliest (if never exactly tender) years, Teddy Fleming slugged his way out of obligations and into opportunities. One of his earliest bouts involved menacing a schoolmate into serving as his proxy for mandatory weekday Mass so that Teddy could earn money for his family as a newsie in Manhattan, a situation he had to secure and maintain with yet more hand-to-hand persuasion. As he matured, Fleming the elder punched, shoved and occasionally even boxed his way through the ranks of the 312th Regiment in World War I and the Jersey City Democratic organization during the Depression.
The civilizing influence of the author's mother, Kitty Dolan, went a long way toward keeping the Fleming household free from alcohol, domestic violence and lawless grammar. Eventually, though, her Catholic aspirations to Protestant gentility and heavy-handed elocution lessons failed to soothe her brute of a husband. In fact, the rigorous application of her snobbery to his rough patches wore away only the affection from their marriage, leaving bare an estrangement that was — and continues to be — a source of anguish for the author.
Teddy Fleming enjoyed many decades as the muscle in Mayor Frank Hague's Jersey City machine but, at the end, his triumphs withered. Following Kitty's "unconscious suicide," in which she ignored obvious warnings of breast cancer until she succumbed to it, Teddy Fleming lost his political puissance and, ultimately, all the strength he once possessed to continue his contest with life.
Teddy's son eventually left Jersey City to traverse the broad atlas of American history in more than a dozen books (e.g., "Liberty! The American Revolution," "Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America" and "The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I"). His talent for capturing the details of social and political history shines through in this memoir, particularly in the passages that give context to Teddy Fleming's rise to leader of the Sixth Ward, chairman of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, judge of the Second Criminal Court and sheriff of Hudson County. On these pages, Mr. Fleming evokes Edmund Morris's portrait of Teddy Roosevelt's political apprenticeship in "Theodore Rex."
Occasionally, though, when the focus constricts to the personal, one wonders whether Mr. Fleming labors under an excess of intimacy with his subject. For while the vigor of his father

Library Journal
Inspired by the discovery of a ring once worn by his father during World War I, historian and novelist Fleming (The Officers' Wives) chronicles three generations of his Irish American family in early 20th-century Jersey City, NJ. The narrative alternates between the families of Fleming's father and mother, both of whom had lower-class Irish American beginnings. His father, Teddy, rose to prominence as a sheriff under the reign of corrupt political boss Frank Hague, while his mother, Kitty, raised two sons and remained devoted to her husband, even after their love deteriorated. By uniting these two strands of personal history, Fleming's story transcends traditional memoir and becomes a moving examination of the unique challenges faced by 20th-century Irish Americans as they struggled to integrate into American society. The constant rift between Catholics and Protestants, survival in the midst of crippling poverty, the significance of education, and the deep, persistent bonds of family are key themes here. Recommended for large public and academic collections.-Ben Bruton, Murray, KY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471655152
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 3/25/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 723,315
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

THOMAS FLEMING is the author of more than forty novels and nonfiction books, including bestsellers such as The Officers' Wives, Time and Tide, and Liberty! The American Revolution. He is a frequent guest and contributor to NPR, PBS, A&E, and the History Channel. He was the principal commentator on the award-winning PBS documentary The Irish in America: Long Journey Home. A Fellow of the Society of American Historians, Fleming has served as chairman of the American Revolution Round Table and president of the American Center of P.E.N., the international writer's organization. He lives in New York City.
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Table of Contents

Author’s Note.


1. A Message from the Past.

2. The Bad Old Days.

3. An Uptown World.

4. Three Beauties.

5. My Rosary.

6. The Sporting Life.

7. The Escape Artist.

8. Salesman’s Blues.

9. To Europe with Love.

10. You’re in the Army Now.

11. The Limits of Love.

12. Over There.

13. Argonne.

14. Home Is the Hero.

15. The Man in Charge.

16. The Big Win.

17. Sweethearts.

18. The Birth of the Blues.

19. Leader.

20. Two Circles of Love.

21. Street Angel, House Devil.

22. One True Faith.

23. I Can’t Live with That Man.

24. All I’ve Got.

25. The Guy in the Glass.

26. You’re in the Navy Now.

27. Swabbie.

28. What’s Philosophy?

29. Decline and Fall.

30. Heartbreak House.

31. The Last Lesson.

32. Hail and Farewell.


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