Score: 95+/100 (9.5+ out of 10)
Every Other Weekend: Coming of Age with Two Different Dads is a compelling, fascinating, and emotionally gripping memoir by Judge Anthony Mohr. It explores themes like love, fairness, growing up, relationships, keeping promises, and what it means to be a family. This book spans several decades that defined our country (and our world), providing us with a glimpse of what it's like to be a boy in a world evolving and changing as rapidly as he is.
Anthony Mohr, who served as a judge in the Superior Court of California (Los Angeles County) for nearly three decades, came of age in the middle of the 20th century—a time rife with sociopolitical change and the looming threat of a nuclear disaster in the middle of the Cold War.
The 1950s and 60s saw the rapid transition from radio as the primary form of media and information transmission (from which Mohr's biological dad made a career) to the television. It also saw the escalation of a nuclear arms race between the USA and USSR, leading directly into the space race—humankind reaching heights that the ancients had only dreamed of.
However, in the midst of all of this, Mohr was facing more personal and immediate issues. He grew up with two dads—one a biological father and the other a step-father—both of whom would go on to greatly impact him, shape his character, and influence the course of his life.
Both of Mohr's fathers were fascinating and unique people, and we're not just being hyperbolic when we saw that. Gerald Mohr, Mohr's biological father, was a Hollywood actor known for his Westerns and TV shows. He was named “Best Radio Actor” by one of the leading media magazines of the time. Mohr's step-dad, Stanley Dashew, is considered the father of plastic credit cards and a founding father of the credit card industry.
These are two very different people—one a boisterous, playful actor, the other a stoic, no-nonsense businessman.
But before you write this off and assume that it's going to be like every other “evil step-parent” story, stop. It's far from that. In fact, this book surprised us with its innocence, naivety, sense of wonder, and humanity. The author skillfully and powerfully brings us into the mind of a child of the time—confused, bewildered, curious, and searching.
Mohr, a powerful voice of authority in his community for three decades, is still able to capture the youthful and vulnerable spirit of a boy in a unique and challenging situation. It's really sobering and eye-opening!
Something we really loved about this book is how it focuses on these relationships and how they differed. You can really tell that Mohr made a powerful emotional connection with both men, but in different ways. Furthermore, the book never takes the perspective that one of these men is bad, abusive, neglectful, or evil (something we often read in memoirs, sadly). No, neither is perfect, and there is at least one incidence which could be considered abuse, but the author always gives these men the benefit of the doubt. Remember, these were very different times. Children were to be seen not heard. Corporal punishment was normalized. That doesn't make it good or right, but it does provide a different perspective for a modern audience.
The relationship between Mohr and his biological dad (the actor) is particularly touching and powerful, setting up the audience for the heartbreak that is to come in the form of the inevitable divorce. Gerald Mohr's personality is infectious. His sense of humor is contagious. Even though he is rough around the edges, you can tell why people love and are attracted to him. He is the life of the party, and a joker with perfect dramatic timing. He is also incredibly friendly and playful. In fact, Anthony Mohr often considers him a friend or a “pal.” One precious, sentimental memory of Gerald, involving soap, stands out in the author's mind, reverberating later in the book.
In contrast to Gerald is Stan or Stanley, the step-dad. Stanley seems to be a cold, stoic, cutthroat businessman at first, but it quickly becomes evident that he isn't an “evil step-parent” or a bad guy. In fact, rather than pushing Anthony away or displaying jealousy, Stan seems to genuinely accept, care for, and even love Anthony, the son of his beloved. This was a breath of fresh air to read.
Stan demonstrates interest in Anthony's schooling and wants to see him do well. He also invites him to do things with him like sailing. For the most part, he supports Anthony and proves that you don't need to be blood-related to care for someone.
With that said, Anthony shares at least one troubling incident with his step-dad, suffering a series of blows. This is an incident that haunts Anthony and does continue to affect their relationship long after it happens.
What we thought was the most interesting thing about this book is how moments like these (and various other moments in the book) helped to shape the author's character and even what he went on to do as a judge.
One of our favorite lines in the book is:
“Maybe that’s why I like the law. The law lags progress. It trails behind everything, as do most judges.”
In context, this is referring to the slowness of some things to change in comparison to others—a way of holding on to the past. This is a consideration for “Best Quote.”
You also really get immersed into the spirit of the times from the culture, the technology, the conflicts, the music, and even the TV shows (like the now-obscure 50s TV show Half Pint Panel on which Anthony Mohr appeared).
We couldn't help but think about what other autobiographical authors like Richard Saillant and R.C. Larlham were going through and experiencing while Mohr was living out his own story around the same time.
Speaking of time, this book does an excellent job at putting forward the idea that our time with people is precious and finite. Treasure every moment you get to spend with your loved ones because you never know when it might end. Lastly, there's something very special about the weight that the author gives the words of his fathers. For example, both fathers make statements about giving the author something (like a book) or teaching them something (like how to tie a tie). However, there's a weight and power to the fact that they sometimes weren't able to fulfill their promises because of the circumstances and the relentless passage of time.
This is a really fascinating glimpse into a child's life in the middle of the 20th century!
Check it out on Amazon!