A father and son’s trial of love and law

Maggie Braun

By A Contributor

Maggie Braun Contributing writer

“The Good Father” is a heartbreaking story involving Dr. Paul Allen, a rheumatologist in New York who turns on the television one night to discover that his 20-year-old son, Daniel, is accused of assassinating a Democratic hopeful for president at a political rally.

Paul is convinced that his son is wrongly accused and has been set up. He hires an attorney friend to help him get some answers. What he finds out is that he really doesn’t know his son as well as he thought he did. When Daniel pleads guilty and won’t talk to Paul about the shooting or his case, Paul begins to dissect his relationship with Daniel as carefully as a specialist would who is called in to treat a patient with an unknown malady. Paul tries to analyze where Daniel went astray and what Paul as a parent could have done differently.

Paul was married for eight years to his first wife, Ellen. Paul initially was attracted to Ellen’s free spirit, but later he realized that he couldn’t live with her flighty behavior — just as she realized she couldn’t live with his long hours as a doctor. They separated when Daniel was 7. The next year, Paul decided to leave his California job and move across the country to New York when the divorce was final. Daniel made cross-country trips yearly to visit Paul, but lived most of the year with his mother.

Paul later married Fran and they have   twin boys, Alex and Wally, now 10. Daniel came and lived with Paul and his new family for a short time when Daniel was in high school and he and his mother weren’t getting along. But, Daniel went back to his mother to live.

Daniel was smart; he went to Vassar. But he dropped out and traveled across the country in his car and did odd jobs to stay afloat. He also changed his name to Carter Allen Cash, and his contact with his dad became more sporadic. Paul bought Daniel a cell phone, but he lost it. This, thought Paul, was the profile of a boy searching for himself, not a cold-blooded killer.

Paul’s first thought of Daniel’s defining moments goes back to the time when Daniel was 6.

The boy was on a flight from his father’s house to his mother’s when the plane’s engine died .The plane went into a free fall and almost crashed. Could this event have caused Daniel to adopt such erratic behavior, to become capable of murder? Paul also begins to read about famous murderers to see if there is some link between their backgrounds and Daniel’s. 

Paul researches John Hinkley, Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan and others. Still, Paul thinks Danny doesn’t fit the profile because he isn’t a psychopath or a radical or a schizophrenic. Paul comes across a diary of Daniel’s that doesn’t give him much insight. But Marvin Hooper, who rode in a boxcar with Daniel not long before Daniel shot the candidate was helpful. As Marvin describes Daniel, “He needed something concrete to believe in…  living free-range, your son was a guided missile.”

The “Good Father” is a unique story of love — the love of a father for his son even in the midst of tragic circumstances. It raises and leaves unanswered questions that are familiar these days, such as: What makes a child go bad and what, if anything, can parents do to prevent it or reverse it? The book shows how the ripple effects of one tragedy wash over other family members.

In “The Good Father,” Noah Hawley, who lives with his family in Austin, Texas, has written a compelling, emotionally wrenching drama that’s well worth reading.

Maggie Braun teaches at Manhattan High School.

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