Synopses & Reviews
A key comic writer of the past three decades has created his most heartfelt and hard-hitting book. Father Joe
is Tony Hendra's inspiring true story of finding faith, friendship, and family through the decades-long influence of a surpassingly wise Benedictine monk named Father Joseph Warrillow.
Like everything human, it started with sex. In 1955, fourteen-year-old Tony found himself entangled with a married Catholic woman. In Cold War England, where Catholicism was the subject of news stories and Graham Greene bestsellers, Tony was whisked off by the woman's husband to see a priest and be saved.
Yet what he found was a far cry from the priests he'd known at Catholic school, where boys were beaten with belts or set upon by dogs. Instead, he met Father Joe, a gentle, stammering, ungainly Benedictine who never used the words "wrong" or "guilt," who believed that God was in everyone and that "the only sin was selfishness." During the next forty years, as his life and career drastically ebbed and flowed, Tony discovered that his visits to Father Joe remained the one constant in his life the relationship that, in the most serious sense, saved it.
From the fifties and his adolescent desire to join an abbey himself; to the sixties, when attending Cambridge and seeing the satire of Beyond the Fringe convinced him to change the world with laughter, not prayer; to the seventies and successful stints as an original editor of National Lampoon and a writer of Lemmings, the off-Broadway smash that introduced John Belushi and Chevy Chase; to professional disaster after co-creating the legendary English series Spitting Image; from drinking to drugs, from a failed first marriage to a successful second and the miracle of parenthood the years only deepened Tony's need for the wisdom of his other and more real father, creating a bond that could not be broken, even by death.
A startling departure for this acclaimed satirist, Father Joe is a sincere account of how Tony Hendra learned to love. It's the story of a whole generation looking for a way back from mockery and irony, looking for its own Father Joe, and a testament to one of the most charismatic mentors in modern literature.
"[A] graceful, humorous tale....Hendra writes well...chronicling the failure of his first marriage, his descent into substance abuse, his self-hatred and his incessant search for meaning in compelling prose and with clear-eyed honesty." Publishers Weekly
"[An] inspirational saga....The writing is certainly quite smart....Heartfelt tribute to a kind and wise teacher, though the author seems to have kept the best words of wisdom for himself." Kirkus Reviews
"Tony Hendra has accomplished one hell of a lot in his life, and doubtless has many achievements ahead of him, but this memoir of his spiritual journey, and the monk who guided it, will almost certainly be his masterpiece." Christopher Buckley, author of No Way to Treat a First Lady
"I picked up Father Joe intending to read just a couple of pages before bed and found that I couldn't put it down until I'd finished it. The nature of a wise man, and the true nature of what wisdom feels like in action, is beautifully captured in Tony Hendra's portrait of Father Joe, who is one of the few convincing saints in recent writing. The book's last episode, when Hendra brings his son to meet Father Joe, brought unexpected tears to my weary eyes." Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon
"[T]here is something in this book that speaks particularly to our contemporary spiritual desert and to the kind of faith that 'like clear water from solid rock' can help us grow and heal again." Andrew Sullivan, The New York Times Book Review
At the age of fourteen, in England, Tony Hendra crossed the line with a married woman who lived nearby. The woman's husband, a rigid Roman Catholic, caught them and arranged with Tony's parents to take him to Quarr, a Benedictine monastery, to receive counseling from a monk known simply as Father Joe. He turns out not to be what Tony, the husband, or the reader expects. Ungainly, unprepossessing, unconventional, and unjudgemental, Father Joe and his thoughtful questioning and guidance have an impact on the young man so profound that he tries to join the monastery himself. Father Joe gently leads Tony in another, more secular direction, and for the following forty years, as Tony the humorist goes from one worldly triumph to another and from one dissipation and dysfunction to another the two men maintain their connection. Even when Tony finds his visits to Quarr growing desultory and perfunctory, the bond never quite breaks. Then, as Father Joe's life begins to ebb and Tony looks into the abyss of marital and professional despair, the relationship between the two men strengthens once again, ending simultaneously in the deepest kind of loss and the most heartening redemption imaginable.
Hendra tells of meeting his friend and mentor Father Joe in a monastery after getting into trouble as a teen. Toward the end of Father Joe's life, the relationship strengthens once again, ending simultaneously in the deepest kind of loss and the most heartening redemption imaginable.
About the Author
Tony Hendra attended Cambridge University, where he performed frequently with friends and future Monty Pythons John Cleese and Graham Chapman. He is the author of Going Too Far, a classic history of modern American satire. He was editor in chief of Spy magazine, an original editor of the National Lampoon, and he played Ian Faith in the movie This Is Spinal Tap. He has written frequently for New York, Harper's, GQ, Vanity Fair, Men's Journal, and Esquire, among other magazines. He is married to Carla Hendra; they have three young children, Lucy, Sebastian, and Nicholas.