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.

‘From the First Page I Had Tears’

“I’ve never wanted to reach out to a stranger more in my life.”

Those words came from a reader’s e-mail I received last week.

The woman explained that “crippling anxiety” had kept her home for years while she dreamed about visiting the redwoods and the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California.

Finally, after compelling encouragement from an acquaintance, she and her mother booked flights, hotels, and a rental car, still wondering if they “can really do this?”

“We did it. It was absolutely the most memorable experience.”

Waiting for a flight home in Medford, Oregon, she was drawn to Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows in a Barnes and Noble store. My wife Sue’s painting on the cover caught her attention, “but the ‘reluctant pilgrim’ made me take it off the shelf and investigate.”

“We had seven hours before our flight…I sat on the floor next to my mom…and from the first page I had tears. Not so much from sadness but from camaraderie. I know those feelings. To read them was like therapy. Your book was found at the EXACT moment in my life I needed it. Thank you for your gift. I’m inspired for planning our next trip!”

It was difficult. but cathartic for me to write in the book how my Camino de Santiago trekking experience brought me face-to-face with my own lifetime of battling anxiety. More than anything, I hoped my story would resonate with readers as an optimistic message.

Now it is my turn to be grateful. For this woman and other readers who have taken the time to write to me.