Need An Extra Father? Bruce Feiler's 'Council of Dads'

Screenshot image of author Bruce Feiler.
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You’re a best-selling author, the only one to have four non-fiction books in a row on the NYT best-seller list. You’ve got a happy marriage and two little girls. Life is good.

Then, as Bruce Feiler found out in 2008 — at the age of 44 — you have a rare bone cancer, that demands a 15-hour surgery and 18 months on crutches.

What if he he didn’t make it? Who would be a father to his little girls? So he formed a “council of Dads”, six male friends he asked to help raise his daughters, offering them their collective, and specifically chosen, guy wisdom. This is the subject of his latest book, an idea I love.

I spent many years not even talking to my own Dad, (and vice versa) and never had (which I’d hoped for) an older brother.

If you don’t spend much time around them (and maybe even if you do,) guys can remain an impenetrable mystery. My only experience of them was professional — as imperious bosses or competitive/friendly co-workers — or romantic, as dates or boyfriends or a (faithless) husband. Not exactly a full set of very positive data.

Years ago, I wrote a column about my many male friends and how knowing each of them added specific bits of their insight to my life. It felt, I wrote, like gazing at a landscape through a series of telescopes. Each would be a little narrow, a slice of reality seen only through each one’s eyes and beliefs. But at least I’d get some notion how men think. And I did.

What I love about Feiler’s idea is the notion that none of us, really, has all the answers and that, even the most feckless of us still has value to offer someone else’s children — through laughter, adventure, a break from the Normal. I don’t have any nephews or nieces and often wish I did; allowing a non-relative the privilege of sharing and enjoying and helping to raise your kids is an honor.

Even the very best Dad can only be the best he can be, seeing the world and transmitting his values, through his own set of filters — and Feiler knew it.


He would reach out to six men from all the passages in his life, and ask them to be present in the passages in his daughters’ lives. And he would call this group “The Council of Dads.”

“I believe my daughters will have plenty of opportunities in their lives,” he wrote to these men. “They’ll have loving families. They’ll have each other. But they may not have me. They may not have their dad. Will you help be their dad?”

The Council of Dads is the inspiring story of what happened next. Feiler introduces the men in his Council and captures the life lesson he wants each to convey to his daughters–how to see, how to travel, how to question, how to dream. He mixes these with an intimate, highly personal chronicle of his experience battling cancer while raising young children, along with vivid portraits of his father, his two grandfathers, and various father figures in his life that explore the changing role of fathers in America.

2 thoughts on “Need An Extra Father? Bruce Feiler's 'Council of Dads'

  1. inmyhumbleopinion

    Great idea. Kind of make that whole “it takes a village” concept come to life. What’s even more inspiring is that this man is obviously secure in his role as a father–whether or not he’s around to see his daughters grow up–to pass the torch onto good friends who he sees as advisers and not replacements. It’s very unselfish and something many people could never do (or be in a position to have such friends that could carry out his wishes). I hope his daughters will someday understand what a thoughtful parent their father was.

  2. Caitlin Kelly


    He said on-air yesterday — which I found inspiring — that many readers are now doing this for their kids as well. One of his points is that many god-parents have little active role in their godchild’s life. Some grandparents as well.

    I love the larger spirit that makes clear, and is very unusual, that some of these people may not be Dads themselves, or Model Parents in some Beaver Cleaver way. Much as I learned some valuable lessons from my Dad, I also learned from family friends, a few male relatives, neighbors. It was all pretty haphazard and this makes clear he’s thought hard about what a well-rounded child might need. None of us has all of it.

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