By Thomas M. Loarie

BOOK REVIEW: A One-Step Process to Break the Parent-Adult Child Cycle of Abuse and Pain

October 28, 2018
Column: CEO Learnings

A review of Sam and Gifford Keen’s Prodigal Father Wayward Son: A Roadmap to Reconciliation —  Best-selling author, Sam Keen (Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man), and his son, Gifford (Gif), were estranged for many years. Sam’s story is the all too common account of a father working hard, gaining fame and then cashing it all in, leaving his family behind, for a new woman. Gif’s story is the all too common story of a neglected and resentful son who longed for the affection of his father.

After being locked into years of isolation, anger, verbal abuse and guerrilla warfare, Sam and Gif found a path to forgiveness and love. Their story of reconciliation is retold in the letters which form the basis of Prodigal Father Wayward Son.

These letters are a collection of private thoughts and intimate feelings captured in stories each wrote to one another in an effort to break out of their vicious cycle of abuse to one another and hurt that came from repeated rejection.

In Gif’s words, Sam was “always an inadequate, a lousy father.” His unspoken message was “you abandon me, and I’ll never forgive you.”

Sam’s response, “quit whining. The only problem here is that you’re too weak to get over things that happened 30 years ago. And besides I’m a man and you’re just a boy. I’ve been kicking your ass since the day you were born and I’ll keep doing it till the day I die.”
These ghosts kept them from the intimacy they both wanted.

Being together in simple discussions was not possible as words would escalate into angry arguments in seconds. Each felt themselves to be a victim in a struggle that essentially became justification for escalating atrocities. They were caught in “a self-perpetuating, negative feedback loop in which they were both brutally unkind to each other. It was confusing to determine who is more liable or more innocent.”

Neither father nor son could forgive each other, no matter how much they wanted to or how much they tried.

Sam kept his feelings hidden because he felt he did not have a right to be angry with his son. He screwed up because he had been a rotten father. He felt he deserved his scorn. Gif drove “thorns into his father’s flesh and smoked dope as an act of rebellion. He had a gigantic attitude towards the world in general, toward his mother and in particular, to the father.”

The letters allowed them to explore the roots of their conflict and painful memories.
Their stories had become their lenses for wrongly interpreting all their interactions. The letters provided a process for rendering the wall of each other’s internal stories powerless and for opening the doors to understanding, forgiveness and love.

Today, finally at peace with each other, both father and son are grateful that they now have the opportunity to journey together again.

The Keens offer Prodigal Father Wayward Son as a template for a new type of initiation for fathers and sons who are separated in culture the places disproportionate value on financial success. It suggests a process, a new set of rituals, by which we can deconstruct our internalized myths and instead become initiated into an understanding of what it means to be a father to his son and a son to his father. This era in our culture may be scattered and even dark in its self-deception and false illusions, but the relationship between father and son can transcend this world, bring hope and strength to both, especially if an estranged father and son choose to work hard at finding a path to forgiveness and relationship.

This template may also prove useful for ‘Prodigal Mother Rebellious Daughter’.



Thomas M. Loarie is the CEO of BryoLogyx, a rotating host of THE MENTORS RADIO SHOW, and a senior editorial advisor and columnist for Catholic Business Journal. He may be reached at

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