Walking With Sam: A Moving Father-Son Story

Shattered by 100-degree weather, a tired body, and the frustration of trying to break through to a 19-year-old, Andrew McCarthy yells at this son to stop walking in the middle of the road, then wishes he could be more patient.

In Walking With Sam, the actor and best-selling author writes that he is annoyed with himself for falling into the role of parent too often. But, what’s a father to do when your kid is ignoring common sense on a road in Spain?

Earlier, at home in New York City in 2021, McCarthy, hungry for time with Sam, asks his son if he will go for a walk with him–in Spain, on the 500-mile Camino de Santiago. In a moment of weakness, or perhaps strength, Sam agrees, and his dad books tickets before the kid/adult changes his mind. Two days later, they are in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, the starting point for many who walk the pilgrimage path over the Pyrenees Mountains and across northern Spain to Santiago de Compestella.

McCarthy, who doesn’t want to be known primarily as one of the Brat Pack actors of the 1980s, writes with raw emotion, honesty, and simple eloquence. Walking With Sam is a personal story, but it is also a Camino book, sprinkled with history and descriptions of life on the Camino. They carry their stuff in backpacks and stay in private rooms rather than albergue dormitories.

I wanted even more depth from the father-son dialogue, but I expect that they may have felt the same way during the trek. There are melt downs as well as laughs. They form relationships with fellow pilgrims and, most of the time Andrew McCarthy can be a regular guy, not recognized in Spain for his acting fame. (Sam has also acted professionally, most notably in the TV series, Dead to Me.)

Andrew McCarthy is fortunate that his son was willing to spend so much time with him. Conversely, Sam benefits from a father who values his son so much that he will drop everything for weeks to go on a trip with him. Although it will probably take time for the experience to settle with both men, Sam blurts out his evaluation at the end of the Camino.

It was Andrew’s second time on the Camino, the first coming 25 years earlier. He wrote about that walk and several other adventures in The Longest Way Home, published in 2013. It is an engrossing story.

Homer Hickam: What Happened to the Rocket Boy?

Homer Hickam and five high school buddies created the Big Creek Missile Agency in the late 1950s as the world’s space race was heating up. They designed, built, and launched increasingly sophisticated and high-flying missiles, capturing the hearts of the residents of their hometown, Coalwood, West Virginia. They gained a wider spotlight in 1960 when they won two medals in the National Science Fair.

But that was just the beginning for Homer Hickam.

He brilliantly described his coming-of-age adventures in his book, Rocket Boys, which became October Sky, an endearing motion picture. Jake Gyllenhaal, then 17, played Homer.

I loved the book and the film, but they left me wondering: Did Homer Hickam realize his dream to work for NASA?

My son Chris, who lives in Charleston, West Virginia, with his fiancée Gail, are big Homer Hickam and October Sky fans. Just a few weeks ago, Chris reminded me Hickam had written more memoirs that answered my question and many more.

I just finished reading all three followup books and the story about how he pursued his dream is as captivating as his high-school antics with rockets. His path includes Virginia Tech University, work in his father’s coal mine, and the Vietnam War. He lives through (barely) experiences as a scuba diver that put him on NASA’s radar. And there is so much more.

The three books that follow Rocket Boys, in order, are The Coalwood Way, Sky of Stone, and Don’t Blow Yourself Up.

But Homer Hickam, now 80, is not finished. He acquired the film rights to his story and has begun work on December Sky, a motion picture he says will not be a sequel, nor a prequel. He calls it an “equal.”

(Click here to see my review of Rocket Boys.)