After War And Fame, Dad Is Author's Challenge

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Seven years ago, writer and former U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford had the success of a lifetime when his 2003 memoir Jarhead was turned into a high-budget Hollywood movie.

Swofford, then 35, had hit it big. But flush with cash and still grappling with post-war life, he suddenly found himself in the throes of a self-destructive rampage replete with drugs, alcohol and infidelity.

He recounts the battle to become himself in a new memoir, Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails. Swofford spoke to NPR's Jacki Lyden about why so many battle the men who raised them, and how he won his own fight with the help of a Winnebago and the open road.

Interview Highlights

On his father's parenting:

"My father was a philanderer — philanderer in chief, I guess, certainly of our family. He ran our home a bit like we were his little platoon. One of my duties was to pick up the dog waste in the backyard. I was always afraid of missing something. And one Saturday morning, I did. And my father became physical with me. Dragged me by the back of my neck across the yard and essentially pushed my face down toward this mistake of mine. It's something that haunts me now."

On acting out after the success of Jarhead:

"I was after this thing that I'd experienced when I was 20, which was combat. And this high and this exhilaration of having lived. And then coming back — like John Berryman says, 'Life, friends, is boring. But we must not say so.' And I think for me it was especially boring. I think for a lot of combat veterans — you come back, you look around. It's not quite as exciting."

On why so many men battle not to become their fathers:

"I think the fathers of my [father's] generation made mistakes. And we realize that those are models we don't want to repeat. We want to break the mold and become our own men and become our own fathers. You know, you walk into a room with your dad and you're 12 years old. I don't know that that ever changes. For me, what really changed was becoming a father myself and making that shift."

On driving across the country with his father in an RV:

"He made the effort. He asked me to jump in this Winnebago with him. We're on our way up to Aspen, [Colo.], and I'm a husband now, and my wife is five months pregnant. I really want to break out of this thing with father — me being the son. I realize I can't just be that anymore. My father, to his credit, said, 'Get your venom out, son. I'm not going to be here much longer, but you'll still be here and you don't want this hanging your life when I'm gone.' And he was right. I have to give him credit. He took it. He didn't always answer the way I wanted, but he answered for his sins."

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