Memoir Recreates a Father the Son Never Knew

Dr. George H. Jensen Jr., professor of writing at UALR, will be in Springfield, Mo., this week to lecture, lead workshops, and discuss his new book, “Some of the Words are Theirs: A Memoir of an Alcoholic Family.”

somewordsJensen, chair of UALR’s Department of Rhetoric and Writing, grew up thinking his family’s history was simple and straightforward: father drank, mother asks father to leave, children hurt by father’s drinking and departure.

After 10 years of deeply personal research, Jensen brings his father back to life and in the process learns to love the man he dismissed from his life. The memoir also explores the effects of alcoholism on his entire family and how the family was able to move past its moment of crisis.

“Before my research, I had thought my family’s story was simple, fixed in a moment of crisis – the evening my mother asked him to leave,” Jensen said. “I remembered how my mother raised two boys on a schoolteacher’s salary and how deeply wounded my older brother and I were by our father’s drinking.”

After leaving the family, the father became a drifter, settled in New Orleans, and finally drank himself to death. But through his research and personal interviews, Jensen came to respect a man he once hated.

His father, a petty officer in the Navy, had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and served in virtually every major naval campaign in the Pacific during World War II. He learned his father had been respected by fellow sailors, that his parents had once been in love, and that his family had moments of happiness despite his father’s disease of alcoholism.

In the book’s forward, William L. White, a senior research consultant at Chestnut Health Systems/Lighthouse Institute and a renowned addiction expert, said members of Alcoholics Anonymous will be particularly moved by Jensen’s book.

“Those whose lives have been touched by alcoholism will … find clues on how to give up life-shaping family myths,” White said. “They will discover how one man forged his own healing narrative. There is a sense of liberation at the end that most readers will find very comforting and personally empowering.”

Jenson, who taught for years at Missouri State University before coming to UALR, will be in Springfield from Feb. 28 to March 2 for book signings and workshops. For a schedule of events, contact jbaumlin@missouristate.edu.

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