Excerpted from Buddy by Brian McGrory. Copyright © 2012 by Brian McGrory. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
How did you come to write this book?
One day I woke up and the reality dawned on me that, good God, I’m living with a rooster; how did this happen to me? I knew how it happened. I fell for a woman unlike anyone I had ever met. She lived in the suburbs, while I had spent my adult life in the city. She had two daughters. The older of those daughters incubated eggs at an elementary school science fair, and from one of those eggs came a little chick they called Buddy. The chick grew up watching television in their laps and sleeping in a little cage in the living room. When it got bigger, the kids pleaded with Pam to keep it, so the chicken lived in the yard by day and slept on a perch in Pam’s garage at night. Even when the chicken proved to be a big, white, crowing rooster, it didn’t matter to any of them. He still came inside to watch TV. He pecked at the doors. He doted on the kids, and they on him. When Pam and I bought a house and we all moved in together, the rooster came with the whole package deal.
There was one essential problem with all this, quite apart from the weirdness of a rooster living in a suburban house: This rooster had utterly no use for me and wasn’t shy about demonstrating the sentiment. Amid all these transformations in my life—moving from the city to the proverbial leafy suburbs, from a life of total independence to one with two very outspoken young girls—there was a rooster that was serving as my personal drill sergeant. Maybe it was the tenth time he chased me across my new lawn, maybe it was the fiftieth, but at some point it dawned on me that there might be a book in all this.
What does the book mean to you?
There would be days that I’d be sitting in my little study writing my column for the Boston Globe, the two kids bouncing in and out, one of the cats walking across my keyboard, and the rooster would position himself just underneath the open window and scream his twitching little head off because he heard me talking to people on the phone. Could have been the mayor or the governor or my editor or an everyday person I was writing about. It didn’t matter. My orderly little life had become total bedlam. But as time went on, I started drawing lessons on commitment, on family, on happiness in general, from this bird that was so completely committed to his flock. And sitting down and penning this book, the good and the bad that go with these significant transitions in life, helped me sort it all out. It’s a story about a rooster, yes, but it’s also a story about tremendous change and how we cope with it.
What’s one of the funniest or most surprising lessons Buddy has taught you?
Being there. Buddy showed me that, when it comes to kids, mates, people you love, being there is critical, whether it’s convenient or not. And not just being there in physical presence but investing yourself in the moment. Buddy was always there, watching his flock. He didn’t care about what happened outside of our yard, because everything he ever wanted in his life, everything that mattered, was right there. It was nice to see and important to understand.
How have your relationships with Buddy and Harry differed?
Harry changed everything for me. He taught me how to really feel for someone or something, to open up and give of myself in a way that I never had before. Maybe I should be embarrassed that a dog could so completely change a man, but I’m not, because he was that important to me. He was wise, fun, lively, an ideal friend, and I wanted to be that in return, and what he taught me was that you often get back in life what you give, and even if you don’t get it in return, you still feel better about yourself when you put it on the line.
Buddy, well, that’s different. Where Harry softened me up in many respects, Buddy did the opposite, showing me that you have to be tough and committed and completely devoted to your flock. They were some tough lessons to learn, especially given his methods, but I’m glad I had him as my teacher—mostly.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
That animals play a critical role in our lives, or at least they can. That they make us better people in surprising ways. That transitions are difficult, but so often for the better. That you’re never too old too learn a few new tricks. That thick skin is an asset. That the more you give, the more you’re likely to get in return.
How has your career as a columnist for the Boston Globe influenced your writing?
It is nearly too broad and deep to get into here, but suffice it to say that it has opened me up to a large, complex, meaningful world filled with everyday people encountering, battling, surmounting, often extraordinary situations and circumstances. People invite me into their kitchens, their businesses, their families, and their lives to tell me their stories, some heartwarming, others agonizing. The job has taught me perspective and proportion.
In terms of writing, it has also infused me with economy. I need to tell often unwieldy stories in a short amount of space, which has made for what I think is a more direct writing style than, say, a magazine writer. I always feel the need to get to the point.
A USA Today Weekend Pick
“Brian McGrory has a sure hand for polished storytelling. He is able to wring maximum comic effect from the Terrible Pet genre and also to tell a heartwarming family tale without trying too noticeably to warm the heart…The subsequent bad-rooster stories, family discord and grudging acclimation by Mr. McGrory to life in a menagerie accomplish what is surely the desired end. They put Buddy into the Marley & Me league of winsome books about the hyped-up horrors and tender, unexpected rewards of pet paternity.” —New York Times
“This is a laugh-out-loud read.” —Chicago Tribune
"In this touching tale of how a feisty rooster, who constantly peers at the columnist through the window, made McGrory a better man, the columnist succeeds in telling the story of change with a healthy dose of humor...Lessons are learned here, often the hard way, but McGrory comes out the other side realizing how second acts can succeed if you give everyone enough space, love and respect. Especially the rooster." —USA Today
“Poignant and funny…McGrory takes the pet memoir to a hilarious new place as a crazed rooster competes with him over who will rule his new family’s suburban roost…McGrory vividly explores his frustrations…detailing it all with self-effacing humor and a winning ability to dramatize the ‘man vs. rooster’ conflict with scenes that are self-revelatory and laugh-out-loud funny...It turns out that for McGrory, as it was for Emily Dickinson, hope is a thing with feathers." —Boston Globe
“Can an ornery rooster really help a city-loving divorce adapt to family life in the suburbs? McGrory’s memoir will have you convinced.” —People
"The very best of memoir writing--honest, clear, and so ultimately moving you feel as if you are best friends with Brian McGrory, though it will not make you want to run out and buy yourself a rooster." —W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog's Purpose
"At turns hilarious and heart-breaking, Buddy is a book to crow about.” —Sy Montgomery, author of The Good Good Pig and Birdology
“A book that makes us laugh and cry is precious, and as a man who has a rooster and writes about animals, Brian McGrory hit a home run for me with Buddy: How A Rooster Made Me A Family Man...Anyone who has ever loved an animal will want to go on this journey.” —Jon Katz, author of Going Home, A Dog Year, and Dancing Dogs
"Hilarious and heart-warming, Buddy reminded me of Cheaper by the Dozen, only with animals. I flat-out loved this book." —Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of Paranoia and Buried Secrets
“A moving and funny account of one man’s journey from bachelor to husband and father aided by remarkable pets.” —Publishers Weekly
"A heartwarming and wise tale of finding love in life’s second chapter—and how it means all the more when you have to fight for it." —Library Journal
1. At its heart a story both of incredible loss and the rejuvenation of finding new love, Buddy tells a universal account of some major moments in life. Before he and Pam (and Buddy) found each other, Brian McGrory was utterly heartbroken by the loss of his beloved golden retriever Harry. Were you able to relate to Brian’s devastation? If you’ve lost a pet, how did that experience impact your life?
2. Some believe that when a pet dies, the best way to cope is to get a new one. Do you find that strategy helpful, or does it only exacerbate the loss? Brian didn’t try to replace Harry with anotherdog of his own. Why do you think that was?
3. Brian’s whole life changed when Harry’s health began to decline—notably, that’s how he met Pam. In your opinion, do you think this was good timing? Why or why not?
4. Do you personally believe, in general, that good things can come from bad? Why or why not? Have you ever experienced positivity as a result of something painful? Explain.
5. Establishing and growing into new relationships isn’t always easy, and it can be especially tough when other people, pets, homes, and jobs are involved. With all of this in mind, who do you think felt the most change in those early years: Brian, Pam, or Abigail and Caroline? Please explain.
6. Buddy was just a chick when Brian met him, but he stuck around well past his cute yellowfluff stage and proceeded to torture Brian for quite some time. Should Brian have been more persistent about getting rid of him? Why do you think he ultimately chose to accept Buddy? What would you have done in his situation?
7. A devoted city person for years, the move from Boston to the country wasn’t easy for Brian; it was a change that took quite a bit of patience and sacrifice, and it showed his dedication to Pam and her girls. Would you go to similar lengths for those you love? Do you have a limit? Please explain.
8. Brian often uses humor to recount his story. What do you think is the funniest part of this book? Why?
9. Toward the end of Buddy, Brian notes, “Never in my wildest fears did I ever think I would recall having a rooster in my yard—rather than inside my house—as the good old days.” By this point, he had evolved quite a lot as a person, a man, a husband, a homeowner, and a stepfather. Which part of his story do you think had the biggest influence on his becoming a family man? At what point do you think Buddy was most instrumental to Brian’s change?
10. Since the publication of this memoir, Buddy has unfortunately passed away. Do you think Brian, Pam, and the girls will get a new rooster? Why, or why not? Do you think they should?