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Book Review: Found: A Daughter’s Journey Home by Tatum O’Neal

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I picked up Found: A Daughter’s Journey Home, by Tatum O’Neal, after watching her and father Ryan O’Neal on several talkfests plugging their reality show Ryan & Tatum:The O’Neals, finding myself curiously fascinated by the train wreck of a relationship that’s the basis for both the book and the series on the OWN network.

Though Found is essentially a vehicle to promote its TV counterpart, you can still sense an underlying honesty at the heart of O’Neal’s attempt to find harmony with the man she calls “Ryan” …and rarely, “Dad.” Oscar-winning child actress, ex-wife of John McEnroe, mother of three, and a lifelong struggler with addiction, O’Neal went over some of the same material in her previous A Paper Life (2005), but the hook here is her determination to make amends after a 20-year distancing from her father, precipitated by his relationship with the late Farrah Fawcett.

“Golden Boy” star of such films as Love Story, What’s Up Doc? and Barry Lyndon in his 70s heyday, Tatum recounts that daddy Ryan considered her the apple of his eye until the pivotal time of his involvement with twin “Golden Girl” Fawcett, a relationship that began in 1979, setting off the estrangement that divided them for decades.

”I had been his favorite, his girl, his constant companion,” O’Neal writes. “Then I wasn’t any more.” (Ryan, for his part, claims Tatum forced him to choose between her and Farrah.)

It was in 2007, when Fawcett was seriously ill, that Tatum was able to make peace with the love of her father’s life, in a quiet and heartfelt visit at her bedside in Los Angeles. In a tragicomic twist, this was followed by Tatum’s encounter with O’Neal Sr. at Fawcett’s funeral two years later, where he laid a pick-up line on his daughter, whom he didn’t recognize, as she greeted him outside the church – a story he denies.

The idea to present their lives as a docudrama fits into O’Neal’s larger desire to explore the dysfunctional dimensions of the father/daughter relationship, seeking answers to issues that have plagued her since childhood. But in reality, excuse the pun, it really should have been a family affair. As much the conflicted daughter that Tatum was, brother Griffin (involved in an infamous shooting-related fracas with his father in 2007) and half-brother Redmond (O’Neal’s son with Fawcett) aren’t chump change in the troubled-child department, either.

Tatum’s problems are only the tip of the iceberg where the O’Neals are concerned, witnessed in this paraphrase of a scary exchange between Oprah Winfrey and Redmond O’Neal at a launch party for the reality show early this year:

“She [Oprah] asked him where he went to school.
‘Prison,’ Redmond said.
She asked him where he’d grown up.
‘Betty Ford,’ he said.
Oprah asked, ‘Did you find God in prison?’
Redmond said, ‘No, I found Satan in prison.’”

Found may have been more aptly titled “Foundering” —  if the post-publication interviews I saw with a truculent O’Neal père are any indication — but Tatum remains eternally hopeful that her father will one day confront the truths necessary for the completion of the healing process. (“He has a chance for peace, and, although I’m not going to hold my breath waiting, I’d still do anything to help him find it”).

Looks like there’s a ways to go in what remains of her “Journey Home.”

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About Lidia de Leon

Lidia de Leon is a writer and former magazine editor based in Miami, Florida. Her weblog, Musings -- Creative & Otherwise, covers the arts, film, music, books, and culture.
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