It’s hard for Keggie Carew to process the jarringly different images of her father. There is the present-day Tom Carew, who likes to sleep in the shed with his dogs, mixes Rice Krispies with dog food, and uses his penknife to cut holes in his clothes and shoes. This Tom Carew is an octogenarian who suffers from dementia.
Then there is the Tom Carew of the past, a dashing British soldier who parachuted behind enemy lines during World War II, first during the resistance against Germany, and later against Japan. He was a highly decorated member of the Jedburghs, an elite special operations unit wreaking havoc against the Axis powers during the war.
It is these contrasting portraits that form the basis of Keggie Carew’s moving new book, Dadland, a memoir that describes a daughter’s evolving view of her father.
Like many children, Carew didn’t think too deeply about her father’s past. She knew him as a charming, funny man with an adventurous glint in his eye. Keggie told her teachers her father was a spy.
It wasn’t until years later, when Tom Carew started to falter because of a series of strokes, that his daughter started to dig into his past. She learned that her father’s war heroics earned him the Distinguished Service Order and the nicknames “Lawrence of Burma” and the “Mad Irishman.” An invitation to the 60th anniversary of the Jedburghs prompts Keggie to find out as much about her father’s past as she can before his memory completely disappears. “As dad slowly leaves us,” she writes, “I try to haul him back.”
Dadland is a poignant look at a child’s changing perspective on her father’s life, a journey many children take as their parents grow older. The happy ending to this story is that Keggie Carew always adored her father, and learning more about his storied past only makes her adoration stronger.