On November 28, 1979, squadron commander and Navy pilot Peter Rodrick died when his plane crashed in the Indian Ocean. He was just thirty-six and had been the commanding officer of his squadron for 127 days. Eight thousand miles away on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, he left behind a grief-stricken wife, two daughters, and a thirteenyear-old son who would grow up to be a writer one who was drawn, perhaps inevitably, to write about his father, his family, and the devastating consequences of military service.
In The Magical Stranger, Stephen Rodrick explores the life and death of the man who indelibly shaped his life, even as he remained a mystery: brilliant but unknowable, sacred but absent an apparition gone 200 days of the year for much of his young son's life a born leader who gave his son little direction. Through adolescence and into adulthood, Rodrick struggled to grasp fully the reality of his father's death and its permanence. Peter's picture and memory haunted the family home, but his name was rarely mentioned.
To better understand his father and his own experience growing up without him, Rodrick turned to today's members of his father's former squadron, spending nearly two years with VAQ-135, the "World-Famous Black Ravens." His travels take him around the world, from Okinawa and Hawaii to Bahrain and the Persian Gulf but always back to Whidbey Island, the setting of his family's own story. As he learns more about his father, he also uncovers the layers of these sailors' lives: their brides and girlfriends, friendships, dreams, disappointments and the consequences of their choices on those they leave behind.
A penetrating, thoughtful blend of memoir and reportage, The Magical Stranger is a moving reflection on the meaning of service and the power of a father's legacy.
About the Author
Stephen Rodrick is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and also a contributing editor at Men s Journal. His writing has been anthologized in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Crime Reporting, and The Best American Political Writing. He lives in Los Angeles.