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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2008
Don't get me wrong. I think the author is in many ways an entirely estimable fellow He had personal problems that he worked hard to overcome. He has a degree in theology. He helps prisoners
But after I read this memoir I couldn't help thinking that he had to diminish his family in order to feel better about his own life.
He grew up believing that Bill Patten, who remains something of a dim presence in this volume, was his father.
In the mid 1990s while his mother was being treated for alcoholism, she reveals to him that he is the son of Duff Cooper, a British diplomat. His stepfather is Joe Alsop, a closeted homosexual, who was a major opinion maker in Washington in the 1940s-1960s
All of these folks drank and none were models of marital rectitude Mr Patten congratulates himself on how much finer in these regards he is than those who came before him
What he doesn't dwell much on is the fact that Duff Cooper showed great courage in resigning from Neville Chamberlain's cabinet when Chamberlain came back from his talks with Hitler declaring that he had achieved "peace in our time." Duff Cooper also jollied along Charles DeGaulle following the end of the war and was the first British ambassador to Paris. Mr Patten reduces him to a sad alcoholic and notes that in his diaries Cooper determines to quit drinking and never mentions it again. That's not really true I finished the diaries about 3 weeks before I read this book and Cooper does make more of an effort to quit drinking than Mr Patten gives him credit for.
His stepfather made every effortt to provide his stepson with opportunities to learn and get ahead and the story of his career in Washington and the willingness of journalists and official Washington to ignore his sexual orientation harks back to a time when privacy was respected.
Mr Patten's mother, Susan Mary Alsop, was perhaps a wretched parent but she was a noted Washington hostess who derived her power through men which was the way one did it in her time and she did write some very fine books indeed. Her biography of Lady Sackville is riveting and well worth reading.
Did the adults in Mr Patten's life let him down? Yes. But they are being held to a standard of self-awareness that did not exist when they lived.
None of them should be writen off because they were more at ease at embassy parties than AA meetings.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
read the same book I did. I thought Bill Patten did a wonderful job in bringing his interesting family to life by concentrating on his three "fathers". His "real" father, Duff Cooper, his "assumed" father, Bill Patten, and his "step" father, Joe Alsop. All three men were members of the WASP aristocracy, either in the US or in England, and all played important roles in both the US government or the British government in the first fifty or so years of the 20th Century.

But between all these men was one woman, Susan Mary, herself a product of the same background as the men, who married two of them and bore a child - Bill the author - to the third. Susan Mary, a seemingly cold woman, certainly nicer to her friends than her children, a rather calculating woman, more at home in London and Paris society than with her children. Maybe the coldness came from having lost a beloved older sister when she was a child. Whatever caused it, the reticence and distance she imposed on her older child was partially to blame for what seems like a life-time "search" for identity by her son.

Patten writes well and the reader can tell that he certainly seems to have gotten his life together. Maybe it took his mother's death in 2004 to put the pieces together.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2009
Born to a life of privilege? If you were packed off to boarding schools while your mother sported around Europe with her cronies from the diplomatic corps in London and Paris you might not agree. I felt very sorry for the author but he doesn't come across as resentful for the way he was treated, rather he was in awe of his mother Susan Mary Patten (nee' Jay). I bought the book to learn more about her and the circle of aristocrats with whom she was associated both here in the Eastern Establishment of Bar Harbor and those on "the Continent". Some people may consider her a "bad girl", having young Patten out of wedlock but I can't help admiring her for devoting her life to surrounding herself with powerful men. I never had the impression of her having any maternal instincts; her pregnancy may have been an unfortunate mistake. Such drive, such passion isn't often exhibited except perhaps for lust. Susan Mary wasn't lustful; she could take it or leave it. She was beautiful and elegant even in her later years. She must have been a dress designer's delight, everything she put on flattered the dress but relative to the author, she was just plain cold. Read the book; he loved her but suffered for the lack of her love as he grew into manhood. Though, after reading this, you may want to be a diplomat. Do we still have those?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2012
Book is an interesting look at the sadness and destructive effect of self-indulgence.

The author's mother, Susan Mary, spends her time having extra marital flings. While these provide cocktail party chatter, they are also tremendously destructive on the most important part of the family - the children.

The narrative recalled to me the old saying that it's a "wise father who knows his own son". Unexplored topics include, did Duff Cooper have any other male children (if the author was indeed his son) and the havoc DNA testing could have on the upper classes of the time. What if the author is in fact Duff Coopers only actual offspring?

The observation that "bastard's are always pathetic" rung a cord - my eldest brother was the result of a dalliance of my mother - and my eldest brother had such a hard childhood that his grandfather tried to adopt him away from the family.
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on March 7, 2014
A sad book. Oh my, what gets revealed when any of us feels threatened! I feel sorry for Bill Patten: a privileged upbringing doesn't make up for a basic falsehood of your existence: your father isn't your father. Also the one who WASN'T was twice the man of the one who WAS. Such a buncha baggage: Susan Mary with hers, and her children with theirs. One cautionary tale here: if your parent is an alcoholic just LET THEM BE. They're aging and God knows what their past has done to their souls. Don't try to "save" people who do not want to be saved. Anger and defense know no bounds.
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on February 4, 2013
My Three Fathers: And the elegant Deceptions of My Mother Susan Mary Alsop is beautifully insightful with agile prose. I also admire the the choices that the author has made.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2008
This book is a fascinating look at the world's elite and the very small circle they traveled in during the mid 20th century. The prose is excellent and the story compelling. I heartily recommend it as a great read.
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on October 30, 2015
Overall, I enjoyed the book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2014
Smooth transaction on an interesting book
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