A Father and His Son Story in The Death of Santini

Did you know  bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and his father, the inspiration for The Great Santini, find some common ground at long last?  Pat Conroy’s father, Donald Patrick Conroy, was a towering figure in his son’s life.
The Marine Corps fighter pilot was often brutal, cruel, and violent; as Pat says, “I hated my father long before I knew there was an English word for ‘hate.’” As the oldest of seven children who were dragged from military base to military base across the South, Pat bore witness to the toll his father’s behavior took on his siblings, and especially on his mother, Peg. She was Pat’s lifeline to a better world—that of books and culture. But eventually, despite repeated confrontations with his father, Pat managed to claw his way toward a life he could have only imagined as a child.      Pat’s great success as a writer has always been intimately linked with the exploration of his family history. While the publication of The Great Santini brought Pat much acclaim, the rift it caused with his father brought even more attention. Their long-simmering conflict burst into the open, fracturing an already battered family. But as Pat tenderly chronicles here, even the oldest of wounds can heal. In the final years of Don Conroy’s life, he and his son reached a rapprochement of sorts. Quite unexpectedly, the Santini who had freely doled out physical abuse to his wife and children refocused his ire on those who had turned on Pat over the years. He defended his son’s honor.      The Death of Santini is at once a heart-wrenching account of personal and family struggle and a poignant lesson in how the ties of blood can both strangle and offer succor. It is an act of reckoning, an exorcism of demons, but one whose ultimate conclusion is that love can soften even the meanest of men, lending significance to one of the most-often quoted lines from Pat’s bestselling novel The Prince of Tides: “In families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.”

Best-selling author Pat Conroy has put his heart and soul into his latest memoir, "The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son." In the 35 years since Conroy's "The Great Santini," the author has been a wounded wanderer, still seeking his father's love while desperately trying to put the past behind him.

The truth of a scarred childhood is the theme behind Conroy's best-selling fiction, ranging from mental and physical abuse in "The Great Santini," love-hate relationships of "The Lords of Discipline," broken spirits in "The Prince of Tides" or mourning survivor in "Beach Music."

The years haven't been kind to the now adult children of Donald Patrick Conroy, known as the Great Santini for his extraordinary fighter pilot maneuvers. Suicide, depression, mental illness and the death of mother Peg have left the author and his siblings struggling to create an identity outside of their violent childhood.

While this is non-fiction, if you like The Great Santini, "or The Prince of Tides, this is an invaluable companion to not only those books, but all the Conroy semi-autobiographical fiction. Conroy takes us through a dual recounting, partly his family history,this time non-fictionalized, but also his writing history as it affected his family. He discusses where his books come from, where they match and deviate from the truth, what his families' reactions were to them and how those disclosures affected further family relations and his future writing. He doesn't leave out the affect of the movie adaptations of his books either.

The title of this book was taken from the title of a novel by Pat Conroy, The Great Santini, the title character of which was modeled after the author's father, The book describes Col. Conroy's abuse of his wife and children with examples of his terrible and unpredictable mistreatment of them, the resulting tension-filled family life when he was with them (he was often away on military assignments), apparent by consequent episodes and long periods of emotional illness among the children (leading to one child's suicide as an adult), the author's animosity towards his father, the rapprochement as Col. Conroy aged, and their genuine affection for each other changing into true love during Col. Conroy's last illness, culminating in Pat Conroy's masterful eulogy for his father at his father's funeral.

Primarily, this is supposed to be a history of his father, i.e., "Santini's" life and death, but Conroy goes almost as much into his unique relationship with his mother, describing how he sees her very differently from his other siblings (or they saw a different side of her than he did). We see the roots of the world traveling Grandmother in the Prince of Tides, the cross carrying elder, some of Santini's religious brothers and sisters. All these were fodder for his work.

Perhaps newer or less publicized previously is his recounting of relationships with his siblings. In particular his troubled sister Carol Ann who was inspiration for Mary Ann in The Great Santini and as Savannah in The Prince of Tides. Conroy's admiration for her, concern over her obvious troubles and sorrow for their estrangement is painful to read. He also discusses his youngest brother's untimely end. There's a bit of discussion of his marriages and children, but mostly related to how his own mental troubles have resulted in problems in those relationships.