Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2017, 432 pages
Book Review published on: December 28, 2018
The servant-leader is servant first, it begins with a natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first, as opposed to, wanting power, influence, fame, or wealth.
—Robert K. Greenleaf
Dadland is a biography of a physically “indestructible” Special Forces soldier, Thomas (Tom) Carew, who spent his early years serving others by equipping them to raise resistance during World War II. Little did he know that his personal journals would become essential later in life as dementia overcame his mind.
Tom’s daughter, Keggie, emulated her father’s dedication to service as she came to his rescue, wading through journals and military archives to reconstruct many of his memories—memories of lost people, a lost past, and loss of himself. Tom continued his commitment to service throughout his lifetime, forever asking for something to do.
The book is written from the perspective of both Tom and Keggie. Fundamental to the biography is a family tree showing Tom was the son of a stable boy. The family tree goes through his second wife, Jane, up to William, the Duke of Cumberland. Keggie describes Jane’s loss of her two previous husbands to war and her acceptance of Tom’s marriage proposal as her third husband. Afterward, Jane is disturbed by the economic disaster that the war has brought and consequently finds herself hiding her medication under her tongue as she fights her way out of the hospital. By the time she recovers, her family has moved on and Tom is married to Keggie’s stepmother. Keggie’s vivid descriptions transport the reader into Tom’s youth, his missions, the devastation of war, their family life, their failing battle with dementia, and Keggie’s standoff with her stepmother.
Dementia takes Tom’s least reviewed memories first. To support her father’s memory loss, Keggie must wade through mountains of information to reconstruct a biography of her father’s life to help him keep his mind intact. During the search, she discovers her father’s missions included supporting the resistance during World War II, operating against the Japanese occupation of Burma, and maintaining high-level insider connections with the CIA that saved her life. The search is documented in the book and emulates Tom’s battle with dementia by flashing back and forth in time between his wartime events, garrison life, ex-soldier Tom, elder Tom, and Keggie’s memories. The book’s descriptions and pictures take the reader through many of the events of Tom’s life—at home with his family, in a shepherd’s shelter, during garrison ceremonies, and arming and training people in foreign lands. It soon becomes clear that Tom was most at home wearing a sarong in the woods of a foreign land.
Toward the end of the book, Keggie elaborates on the strategies she and her father employed to mitigate the progress of his dementia. Creating new journal entries, reviewing old journals, and searching out old military records were the key to keeping his memories intact.
At eighty-five, Tom can do a parachute landing fall down a flight of stairs and jump up refreshed as though he just took a nap. He likes sleeping in the shed with the dogs and is always asking for helpful things to do, but he cannot remember what his own face looks like. He’s using his notes to remember, talking to people as though he knows them, but he cannot remember what he’s doing long enough to complete the simplest task. The younger Tom would say to let him go, but Keggie just doesn’t know how to do that.
Keggie demonstrates many of the servant leadership traits of her father as she grows older. The younger Keggie does not understand much of what is going on, but the older Keggie resolves much of her internal conflict as she searches for her father’s memories. I highly recommend this for individuals interested in servant leadership, war, history, or conflict. The book is chock-full of vivid details.
Book Review written by: Kathy Kim Strand, MEd, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas