Christopher Buckley has an excerpt from his memoir about the loss of his parents, Mr. & Mrs. William F. Buckley, in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. It’s affecting but uncomfortable in what I’d regard as the inappropriate detail he goes into about his parents’ faults and their physical decline at the end. How can we know what’s inappropriate? Just imagine if he had written these things when his parents were alive to read them. Does their death and the passage of a year or two make the airing of all this dirty laundry OK.
Not in my view. Your thoughts?
The piece is suffused with religion — or rather, with memories of battling with his father over it. Chris is not a believer — he says this repeatedly — and tells of his directing doctors to pull the plug on his mother. His father was among the most powerful exponents of Catholicism (and incidentally influenced my spiritual evolution)
I’ve never met Chris, though I worked for his father, a great man, at National Review. I don’t have an opinion about the younger Buckley, who is 56 years old and whose humor writing I’ve never been able to appreciate. But something about his memoir does remind me of the pattern you see in the Bible, the books of 1 and 2 Kings, where the greatest kings were often followed by sons who were not so great, to put it mildly. The drop off is often dizzyingly steep.
Among the more notable kings of Judah, Hezekiah (righteous) was followed by Manasseh (spectacularly not righteous), Josiah (very great) was followed by his son Jehoahaz and three successive kings after that who all “did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord.” After which God let Babylonia overrun Jerusalem and burn the Temple.
By point this out, I do NOT mean to imply that Chris Buckley is evil. He may a wonderful, delightful person. I have no idea. But it would be hard to identify a significant way in which he is carrying on his father’s intellectual and spiritual legacy. You may remember his endorsement of Obama
back in the fall.
Yet you would think that something in the greatness of a great father would in all likelihood rub off on his son. In Kings, this expectation is disappointed so dramatically that you have to wonder if the Bible is trying to tell us something by it. I’ll save my theory about that for a later post.