“Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son” (Free Press), by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez with Hope Edelman: First see their movie, then read their book.
Their movie is “The Way,” a crowd-pleasing indie production starring actor Martin Sheen and written and directed by his son Emilio Estevez. In the film, a father tries to connect with a deceased son by taking up his spiritual pilgrimage to northern Spain.
Their book is “Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son,” an equally engaging dual memoir by Sheen and Estevez that explores their lives and their intense relationship. Punctuated with humor and unusual frankness, the emotional highs and lows they share will resonate with fathers and sons.
One of 10 children raised in a blue-collar neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio, young Ramon Estevez found lots of love at home but little support for his ambition to perform for a living. With a loan from a priest, he moved to New York City and took the stage name Martin Sheen. He was just 21 when Emilio, the first of his four children, was born in 1962. Immature as a father and as an actor, Sheen would struggle in both roles.
A starring part in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Subject Was Roses” in 1964 was Sheen’s big break. More film and television roles came over time — “Badlands” (1973) and “The Execution of Private Slovik” (1974) were particular standouts. Selfishly, he brought his family to film locations, whether in Colorado or Italy or Mexico. He admits he needed them as he coped with the frustrations and insecurities that fueled a drinking problem. For years they coped with his drunken rages until he embraced sobriety.
For a teenage Emilio Estevez, being separated from school and friends was no longer a welcome adventure. After months and months in the Philippines while his father worked on “Apocalypse Now” (1979), he’d had enough and wanted to go home. One night they came to blows, the fracas loud enough to draw Marlon Brando to their door. Building on that low moment, they would come to a new understanding — not for the first time and not for the last.
Estevez found himself taking on the role of father as unexpectedly as Sheen had — and at 21, just like his dad. His acting career was taking off with the filming of “The Breakfast Club” (1985) when his girlfriend had their baby. Now he, too, would face the conflicts of being an actor and being a parent.
Sheen and Estevez write as much about family and spiritual matters — the recent antics of son and brother Charlie Sheen are not included — as they do about their work. “Along the Way” offers the promise that our differences don’t have to divide us if we keep love, respect and forgiveness in our hearts. That would be a comfort on any journey.
Douglass K. Daniel is the author of “Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks” (University of Wisconsin Press).