Dad's Maybe Book

Dad's Maybe Book

By:  Tim O'Brien

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Best-selling author Tim O’Brien shares wisdom from a life in letters, lessons learned in wartime, and the challenges, humor, and rewards of raising two sons.

“We are all writing our maybe books full of maybe tomorrows, and each maybe tomorrow brings another maybe tomorrow, and then another, until the last line of the last page receives its period.”

In 2003, already an older father, National Book Award–winning novelist Tim O’Brien resolved to give his young sons what he wished his own father had given to him—a few scraps of paper signed “Love, Dad.” Maybe a word of advice. Maybe a sentence or two about some long-ago Christmas Eve. Maybe some scattered glimpses of their rapidly aging father, a man they might never really know. For the next fifteen years, the author talked to his sons on paper, as if they were adults, imagining what they might want to hear from a father who was no longer among the living.

O’Brien traverses the great variety of human experience and emotion, moving from soccer games to warfare to risqué lullabies, from alcoholism to magic shows to history lessons to bittersweet bedtime stories, but always returning to a father’s soul-saving love for his sons.

The result is Dad’s Maybe Book, a funny, tender, wise, and enduring literary achievement that will squeeze the reader’s heart with joy and recognition.

Tim O’Brien and the writing of Dad’s Maybe Book are now the subject of the documentary film The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien available to watch at

Available Resources

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358116714

  • ISBN-10: 0358116716

  • Pages: 400

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 10/14/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

TIM O'BRIEN received the 1979 National Book Award for Going After Cacciato. Among his other books are The Things They Carried, Pulitzer Finalist and a New York Times Book of the Century, and In the Lake of the Woods, winner of the James Fenimore Cooper Prize. He was awarded the Pritzker Literature Award for lifetime achievement in military writing in 2013.
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  • reviews

    “If this does, in fact, prove to be the last thing he writes, it is a touching conclusion to a literary career that has left us with a shelf of enduring novels, memoirs and short stories. Mr. O’Brien, like Hemingway, didn’t necessarily write about war as much as something larger: our shared humanity.” 

    Wall Street Journal  


    “[A] stirring blend of memoir, letters to his young sons, and meditations on the humbling nature of parenthood . . . It’s a work that’s the spiritual inheritor of John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley and Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country. Like those, Dad’s Maybe Book dwells on the state of America and American life. He takes absolutism to task, finds qualifications for his own pacifism and considers the paradox of a moral society that allows for forever war.”  

    TIME Magazine 


    “Brilliant . . . To say the book is about ‘fatherhood’ is akin to saying that Catch-22  is about World War II.” 

    VVA Veteran (Vietnam Veterans of America) 


    “This moving, heart-wrenching book, so raw in the best of all senses, will make you weep after exulting in life’s energies and 'maybes.' It is genuinely human at every level." 

    Providence Journal 


    “[A] poignant, resolute meditation on parenthood and on life.”  

    The Oregonian 


    “Tim O’Brien is back in top form . . . Rather than as a war writer, O’Brien might also object to being thought of as a spiritual writer, the way one thinks of Camus, Hemingway, or Tolstoy. But there he is. One of the essentials.” 

    —DeWitt Henry,Woven Tale Press 


    “This book should resonate with any parent who lies awake at night pondering the meaning of existence and what sort of legacy should be left behind . . . a satisfying finale to O’Brien’s illustrious career.” 

    Lincoln Journal Star   


    “A bountiful treasury of fatherly advice, memoir, literary criticism, history, political commentary, and a dash of magic and miracles . . . There are smiles and tears awaiting the reader on every page of this often emotionally charged book, and enough wisdom in it about what it means to be a parent, and a decent human being, to fuel many hours of personal recollection and reflection.” 



    “A gorgeous book, a love letter and legacy.” 

    Psychology Today’s “One True Thing” blog 


    “This loving gift to [O’Brien’s] now-teenage sons is sprinkled with literary criticism, writing tips, thoughts on his relationship with his father and philosophy on aging and mortality . . . Tender and hilarious.” 

    Minneapolis Star Tribune 


    “[O'Brien] poignantly captures the trials of parenthood... Interspersed throughout are memoiristic chapters sharing his fears and political awakening during his military service in Vietnam and passionately articulating his antiwar beliefs. Like most dads, O'Brien carries the hopes, fears, and dreams of his children in his own heart.”  



    “A warm account of life as an older dad with two growing sons.” 

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 


    “A collection of—among other things—briefly noted moments that would have most likely been forgotten: letters from a father to his sons, detailed chapters about a Purple Heart recipient’s experiences in Vietnam and O’Brien’s fondness for Ernest Hemingway.” 

    The Arts Fuse 


    “A candid, vulnerable, and honest portraitof the challenges, humor, and rewards of raising two sons, as well as the lessons learned trying to survive in wartime, trying to find internal peace in peacetime, and trying to get your kids to fall asleep at bedtime.” 

    —American Writers Museum blog 


    “A moving meditation on fatherhood.” 

    The National, Amtrak’s magazine 


    “Touching . . . A dazzling dedication to life, love, and fatherhood.” 

    Austin Monthly 


    “Tim O’Brien has written amazingly powerful novels. Now he’s gifting us with a terrific book of personal essays. His every just-the-right word about family, history, war, literature, and love dispatched tears and laughter and contemplation into my brain and heart.” 

    Orange County Register 


    “Is this a book? Maybe. Actually, it’s at least three . . . Ultimately, it is a book about those boys and his unbounded love for them.” 

    New York Times Book Review 


    “O'Brien uses his deft skill of wordplay throughout this latest book . . . Fans of parenting books, memoirs, and stories of Vietnam War veterans will find enjoyment in these heartfelt words.” 

    Library Journal 


    “[A] tender memoir . . . With great candor, O’Brien succeeds in conveying the urgency parents may feel at any age, as they ready their children for life without them.” 

    Publishers Weekly 


    “O’Brien writes of the bitter irony of being known as a war writer, ‘despite my hatred for war, despite my ineptitude at war, despite my abiding shame at having participated in war.’” 

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • excerpts
    A Letter to My Son 


    Dear Timmy, 


    A little more than a year ago, on June 20, 2003, you dropped into the world, my son, my first and only child—a surprise, a gift, an eater of electrical cords, a fertilizer factory, a pain in the ass, and a thrill in the heart. 


    Here’s the truth, Timmy. Boy, oh, boy, do I love you. And, boy, do I wish I could spend the next fifty or sixty years with my lips to your cheek, my eyes warming in yours. 


    But as you wobble into your sixteenth month, it occurs to me that you may never really know your dad. The actuarial stuff looks grim. Even now, I’m what they call an “older father,” and in ten years, should I have the good luck to turn sixty-eight, I’ll almost certainly have trouble keeping up with you. Basketball will be a problem. And twenty years from now . . . well, it’s sad, isn’t it? 


    When you begin to know me, you will know an old man. 


    Sadder yet, that’s the very best scenario. Life is fragile. Hearts go still. So now, just in case, I want to tell you about your father, the man I think I am. And by that I mean not just the graying old coot you may vaguely remember, but the guy who shares your name and your blood and half your DNA, the Tim who himself was once a Timmy. 


    Above all, I am this: I am in love with you. Pinwheeling, bedazzled, aching love. If you know nothing else, know that you were adored by your dad. 


    In many ways, a man is what he yearns for, and while it may never happen, I yearn to walk a golf course at your side. I yearn for a golden afternoon in late August when you will sink a tough twelve-footer to beat me by a stroke or two. I yearn to shake your hand and say, “Nine more holes?” 


    I yearn to tell you, man to man, about my time as a soldier in a faraway war. I want to tell you what I saw and what I did. I yearn to hear you say, “It’s okay, Dad. All that’s over.” 


    So many other things, too. Right now, as I watch you sleep, I imagine scattering good books around the house—in the bathrooms, on the kitchen counter, on the floor beside your bed—and I imagine being there to see you pick one up and turn that first precious page. I long to see the rapture on your face. (Right now, you eat books.) 


    I yearn to learn from you. I want to be your teacher, yes, but I also want to be your student. I want to be taught, again and again, what I’ve already started to know: that a grown man can find pleasure in the sound of a happy squeal, in the miraculous sound of approaching feet. 


    I yearn to watch you perform simple acts of kindness and generosity. I yearn to witness your first act of moral courage. I yearn to hear you mutter, however awkwardly, “Yeah, yeah, I love you, too,” and I yearn to believe you will mean it. 


    It’s hard to accept as I watch you now, so lighthearted and purely good, so ignorant of gravestones, but, Timmy, you are in for a world of hurt and heartache and sin and doubt and frustration and despair. Which is to say you are in for being alive. You will do fine things, I know, but you will also do bad things, because you are wholly human, and I wish I could be there, always, to offer forgiveness. 


    More than that, I long for the day when you might also forgive me. I waited too long, Timmy. Until the late afternoon of June 20, 2003, I had defined myself, for better and for worse, by the novels and stories I had written. I had sought myself in sentences. I had loved myself only insofar as I loved a chapter or a scene or a scrap of dialogue. This is not to demean my life or my writing. I do hope you will someday read the books and stories; I hope you will find my ghost in those pages, my best self, the man I would wish to be for you. Call it pride, call it love, but I dare to hope that you will commit a line or two to memory, for in the dream-space between those vowels and consonants is the sound of your father’s voice, the kid I once was, the man I now am, the old man I will soon become.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358116714

  • ISBN-10: 0358116716

  • Pages: 400

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 10/14/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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