This is a true story of intense love matched by intense hatred and fear, of growing up Irish Catholic in a family of eight children in the era of the Kennedys, where families of this magnitude were looked upon as a grand achievement, a joyous celebration of fertility, fellowship and life. It was also an era where some fathers maintained order with a slap in the face or the slash of the belt.
Journey back in time with the ten O’Herns as they make their frightening but darkly hilarious annual “hell on wheels” holiday trek from Albany, New York to Falmouth, Mass on Cape Cod. From his father driving down the Mass Pike insanely swinging a belt over the front seat at his terrified brood huddled in the back of the blue Ford Town and Country station wagon—the snapping leather underscored by Lawrence Welk’s polka music blaring out of the AM radio and the whimpering of the family German Shepherd cringing at their feet—to Mom, working her way through a pack of cigarettes and a third glass of sherry, laughing and crying about her life as a scullery maid, a far cry from the Cinderella life she envisioned when she hitched herself to a surgeon.
It’s the era of the Kennedys, where sprawling families were looked upon as a grand achievement, a joyous celebration of fertility, fellowship and life. It was also an era where father’s like John’s, a thoracic surgeon and respected member of the community, ruled with total impunity, maintaining control with a vicious crack of the belt or a slap in the face, and always followed up with his most potent weapon, a humiliating swipe of savage sarcasm.
The darkest memories of an anguished baby boomer childhood are woven in contrast to the magical healing experience of a stay-at-home dad who finds during a year of therapy combined with the companionship of two loving children and a the support of a bedrock-stable wife, an escape route from the inherited rage of his father as well as the generational cycle of learned violence, bigotry, fear and intimidation. Given this second chance to re-learn life’s most profound lessons John creates a life for his children based on love, nurturing, empathy, honesty and most of all, laughter. It’s a roller coaster ride that starts in hell and ends in…well, if not heaven, somewhere close.
John's wonderful ability as writer and storyteller made reading this book an experience that brought me a mixture of both smiles and tears. The collection of stories presented here, as told through his sessions with his psychiatrist, that skillfully interweaves John's struggles as both a son growing up in a big family and as an adult facing the challenges of being a husband and father, are written in a very colorful and sensitive way. This is a highly recommended read for all who have experienced or known someone who has experienced the trials of growing up not only in a very large family, but under the thumb of a strict father.
Couldn’t put it down. A disturbing, yet often lighthearted memoir of growing up with a father who was angry and violent, beyond belief. It is hard to comprehend for those of us who grew up in such a different environment. I can only imagine what life was like for John, his brothers and sisters, and his mom. Family life in the O’Hern household was often unbearably sad and frightening, but also heartwarming. A reminder that we should be kind to everyone, because you never know what battles they are fighting.
In this gripping memoir, John O’Hern recounts, through a series of visits to his psychiatrist, two contrasting tales. This is not just a fascinating memoir; it's a wonderful story about being a child and being a parent and how deeply intertwined the two experiences are.
“John not only has a magical ability to make people laugh but is also a skilled and generous teacher. In just a short session he taught me how to distill bland public speaking into a punchy tale that would grab an audience by the lapels and dare them to look away. I am so grateful.”
-Wendy Kann, author Casting with a Fragile Thread:
A Story of Sisters and Africa
"John is the consummate storyteller, who can make people laugh and cry almost in the same breath. I have benefited from his insightful coaching, as well as appeared on the same stage. As a performer, what I can tell you is this: Heed his advice, but do not follow his performance!"
“As cliché as it sounds, taking this course was on my bucket list and changed my life. John is a master at teaching a fledgling storyteller how to take a choppy story with very little structure and give it a backbone. In five sessions my story went from blah to on stage in front of an audience. He not only has sharp wit and a great sense of humour, but he also knows how to build and deliver a memorable story.”
"Many of John's stories performed at Write Yourself Free Storytelling series were funny-scary-true tales of growing up in a huge family. Listening to John's wonderful coming-of-age stories---sometimes bawdy, often tragic, but always hilarious---it was clear that his wit and charm were survival skills, and that despite a bizarre, sometimes terrifying upbringing, finding the humor was how John created his own personal power and how he---and we---could humanize and understand life's difficulties."
"With an outreach of more than 2000 writers, Write Yourself Free member John O'Hern, a heartbreaking writer and storyteller, starred in our Moth-like monthly storytelling events. His work is among the most moving….he knows how to find the funny in the pain."
-Tish Fried, Director
"I remember first meeting John at a storytelling event and finding him so instantly likable. His take on human behavior - mostly his own - is hilarious and scathing, but also touching, often moving. He tells great stories no matter who he's with. When he speaks to an audience it's like he's talking to a room full of his closest friends."
-Betsy Bowen, WYF Storyteller
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"John was fabulous! His presentation was as informative as it was entertaining. What was particularly telling, is that our group, accustomed to making short presentations about their respective businesses, did an especially effective job that evening. Many took his suggestions to heart, and it was fun to see how many of the "same" presentations now seemed fresh, interesting and powerful."
-Alex Vivro, Stamford Innovation Center
"Engaging and humorous! Thoughtful and practical tips on shaking up your networking confidence and crafting a pitch people want to hear. John's approach to coaching is the entrepreneur's secret weapon!
-Christina Kane, Director of Culture The Grove New Haven"II'm a
During a decade in New York City as an actor which
included off-Broadway roles, television commercials and
print ads, John married his corporately employed wife
and soon became the stay-at-home-father of Max,
their first born.
Almost simultaneously John the writer was born. His
initial foray into writing was A Rooster in the Henhouse,
an acerbic memoir based on his wife’s pregnancy
experience seen through a man’s eyes. It was this
attempt at memoir that evolved into his highly praised
one-man off-Broadway show of the same name.
John’s next writing project was his two person play, Sweetspot Confessions of a Golfaholic, which was performed before packed house in Connecticut. Sweetspot Confessions of a Golfaholic, the novel the is the offspring of that play.
When not writing, teaching The Art of Storytelling, or sneaking out for a quick nine holes, John is a regular on the local storytelling circuit using his natural comedic gifts to entertain. He co-founded Know Your Story to support rising storytellers learn the craft of creating and telling a compelling personal story or convey a business vision.
"...throughout it's the voice of John O'Hern that keeps the play humming - he's a sterling craftsman and a very likeable actor. A Rooster in the Henhouse proves an enjoyable and sharp surprise."
-Donald Lyons, New York Post
"This comedy of recognition serves best as a showcase for the appealing versatility of Mr. O'Hern who plays among other characters, a little girl, his wife, an eccentric Irish Barfly full of sexual advice, a birthing coach, women in labor, a cool obstetrician, an Indian anesthesiologist, a Jamaican nurse, squeamish fathers-to-be and an infant in the process of being born."
- Lawrence VanGelder, New York Times