Keggie Carew on discovering the kind of man her father really was

When Dadland author Keggie Carew looked into the stories her father had always told her about his life she was surprised by what she discovered – not just about him, but about what it meant for the whole family.

Keggie Carew on discovering the kind of man her father really was Read

Dadland is a book about my dad, Tom Carew – a very unorthodox character – and life in his wake, with all the jaw droppingly mad episodes that have happened along the way. In the war he was an SOE specialist guerrilla agent who was parachuted at night into occupied territory to arm, train and organise the resistance to sabotage the enemy: blowing up trains, bridges, ambushing convoys, providing intelligence, etc.  First in France, then in the jungles of Burma where Indian newspapers called him ‘Lawrence of Burma’ and ‘the mad Irishman’.

In his eighties Dad began to lose his memory with dementia. So I set off on a mission to retrieve it, and him, and the close relationship I’d once had.  As I got deeper into my research I came across all sorts of extraordinary material, and I soon found myself in a far more surprising and consuming place than I had bargained for.

keggie carew on dadland
keggie carew on dadland

I had been living in ‘Dadland’ all my life.  The story I needed to tell was not just the guerrilla warfare and secret stuff, but the whole thing, the good and bad, our rackety upbringing, my mother’s breakdown, his dementia, my awful relationship with my stepmother; to resonate in a universal way about family, grief, jealousy, madness, love…

‘As Dad slowly leaves us, I try to haul him back – from the bottom of cardboard boxes and forgotten trunks; from letters buried in desks; from books I previously had not known about; from photographs I am unfamiliar with; from diaries never meant for my eyes. I am the manic charity-shop rummager rifling through old clothes. I don’t know why I have taken on this task; as it is, I’ve been under the gravitational pull of his influence far too long. Except that suddenly I need to make some sense of it all. It’s not just Dad I want to stick back together again. This is an exorcism. And a ghost hunt. Rebuild him. Rebuild me.’

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