Teaching the Pig to Dance

Bruce Walker
I am an unabashed Fred Thompson fan.  He has been my choice as the "Next Reagan" for some time.  Principled without being prissy, smart without being snooty, famous without being phony, Thompson has been at the center of political and cultural power - Washington and Hollywood - without moving far at all from his hometown of Lawrenceberg, Tennessee.

His new book, Teaching Pigs to Fly, is an autobiography -- sort of.  As a star of film and television and as a respected United States Senator, Fred Thompson has led a glamorous life surrounded by the rich, the famous, and the powerful.  Thompson began to write a book that told us about that celebrity life.  But a funny thing happened on the road to that book.  He discovered that, like an iceberg, ninety percent of what made Fred Thompson happened growing up in middle Tennessee.

His parents, his grandparents, his church, his schools, his childhood sweetheart (and later wife), the decent and ordinary people he grew up with - these folks provided the sturdy moral framework and the powerful example which molded Fred Thompson's life.  Teaching Pigs to Dance is a smooth, easy read.   The chapters talk with humor, but also respect, about teachers, friends, jobs, sports, pastors, and parents.  Thompson uses self-deprecating and arid wit to paint pictures of these powerful influences.  Here are examples from school and church:

 "Yes, life for me in his school was pretty good.  The only cloud on the horizon was provided by narrow-minded teachers who insisted that I show up on time and not talk in class." 

"My eyes were usually firmly fixed on the clock on the wall.  For example, in Sunday school I learned that the gospel meant ‘good news.'  I kept waiting for it."

The most touching life Thompson describes is his father, Fletch.  Too many lives today lack the quiet, strong influence of a dad, but not Fred Thompson.  Fletch is everywhere in Thompson's childhood and youth.  Thompson records how Fletch faced work, family, life, and finally death with a bone dry wit and a sort of quiet, melancholy courage.  Fred needed the anchor of a good father growing up.  When he had to marry Sarah, his childhood sweetheart, and get a job, when he had to work his way through college, when he needed grit, his father was always there in Thompson's life. 

Fletch, like all the other people in Thompson's young life, are imperfect creatures.  They have weaknesses and they make mistakes.  But without fanciness or flourishes, these everyday people lived lives which explained the sorts of virtues which Aesop or Ben Franklin would have understood and valued. 

Fred Thompson is a great man.  The roots of that greatness are grounded in the quiet goodness of middle Tennessee.  Family, church, school, sports, work, friends combined to set his life on a path that led not only to "success" as the world would define it, but also a good life in every sense of the word.  Teaching Pigs to Dance is a book, most of all, about authentic people, including its author, Fred Thompson.
I am an unabashed Fred Thompson fan.  He has been my choice as the "Next Reagan" for some time.  Principled without being prissy, smart without being snooty, famous without being phony, Thompson has been at the center of political and cultural power - Washington and Hollywood - without moving far at all from his hometown of Lawrenceberg, Tennessee.

His new book, Teaching Pigs to Fly, is an autobiography -- sort of.  As a star of film and television and as a respected United States Senator, Fred Thompson has led a glamorous life surrounded by the rich, the famous, and the powerful.  Thompson began to write a book that told us about that celebrity life.  But a funny thing happened on the road to that book.  He discovered that, like an iceberg, ninety percent of what made Fred Thompson happened growing up in middle Tennessee.

His parents, his grandparents, his church, his schools, his childhood sweetheart (and later wife), the decent and ordinary people he grew up with - these folks provided the sturdy moral framework and the powerful example which molded Fred Thompson's life.  Teaching Pigs to Dance is a smooth, easy read.   The chapters talk with humor, but also respect, about teachers, friends, jobs, sports, pastors, and parents.  Thompson uses self-deprecating and arid wit to paint pictures of these powerful influences.  Here are examples from school and church:

 "Yes, life for me in his school was pretty good.  The only cloud on the horizon was provided by narrow-minded teachers who insisted that I show up on time and not talk in class." 

"My eyes were usually firmly fixed on the clock on the wall.  For example, in Sunday school I learned that the gospel meant ‘good news.'  I kept waiting for it."

The most touching life Thompson describes is his father, Fletch.  Too many lives today lack the quiet, strong influence of a dad, but not Fred Thompson.  Fletch is everywhere in Thompson's childhood and youth.  Thompson records how Fletch faced work, family, life, and finally death with a bone dry wit and a sort of quiet, melancholy courage.  Fred needed the anchor of a good father growing up.  When he had to marry Sarah, his childhood sweetheart, and get a job, when he had to work his way through college, when he needed grit, his father was always there in Thompson's life. 

Fletch, like all the other people in Thompson's young life, are imperfect creatures.  They have weaknesses and they make mistakes.  But without fanciness or flourishes, these everyday people lived lives which explained the sorts of virtues which Aesop or Ben Franklin would have understood and valued. 

Fred Thompson is a great man.  The roots of that greatness are grounded in the quiet goodness of middle Tennessee.  Family, church, school, sports, work, friends combined to set his life on a path that led not only to "success" as the world would define it, but also a good life in every sense of the word.  Teaching Pigs to Dance is a book, most of all, about authentic people, including its author, Fred Thompson.