Thirty Days with My Father, by Christal Presley

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MWSA Review

Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD is a stark portrayal of one woman’s struggle with both her father’s and her post traumatic stress disorder. It is one of several recent books that explore war’s effect on children. “We are reminded once again – when one person goes to war, nobody in that person’s circle escapes wounding, either during service or after,” writes Edward Tick, author of War and the Soul in the book’s forward. True words.

Thirty Days will appeal to children of Vietnam Veterans but also to anyone who has had a parent serve in war. They will connect with Presley as she tries to make sense of her childhood and seeks to know her father, and therefore herself, as an adult.

Presley decides to write about her father after a guest speaker at a writing workshop asked the participants to write about what they fear the most. For her it was truly getting to know her father who suffers from PTSD and thereby confronting her own depression and unhappiness. “Although there’s no ‘official’ illness known as intergenerational PTSD, it is well known and acknowledged that the children of veterans with PTSD may develop symptoms of their own that are related to dealing with their parent’s symptoms, and this is sometimes called “secondary traumatization.”

Throughout the work Presley never holds back and she fearlessly writes about her most personal struggle, never shying away from anything that might portray her in a negative light. Presley's writing is raw and though the subject matter is highly charged, she writes with restraint. This gives her memoir greater impact.

Reviewed by: Cathryn J. Prince (2012)

Author's Synopsis

A soldier's return home from war is often just the beginning of another, more internalized battle. In her memoir, Presley recounts 30 days of interviews with her Vietnam veteran father—conversations in which she attempts to understand her father, his PTSD, and her own lifetime of vicarious traumas. Each day is given a chapter, and each chapter concludes with a "Journal" entry that revisits Presley's tumultuous childhood memories. What emerges from this format is a harrowing portrait of the past's ability to haunt the present; Presley's descriptions of the troubled child she was blend all too easily into the confused and searching adult she becomes. In some cases, she is compelled to go to a Veterans Affairs hospital and even to Vietnam. The book's division into 30 days feels increasingly forced and fragmented with the passing of each chapter. Such a story is, by its very nature, fractured, and by the end of the book Presley's father is no less tormented than he was at Day One. Yet Presley has found stability in her father's story, and her willingness to share it—and her own revelations—will be appreciated by readers who deal with any form of wartime PTSD.