It's refreshing to find a dual memoir between a father and son from the same profession that's so honest and cathartic. Veteran actor Martin Sheen and his eldest son, Emilio Estevez, the accomplished actor/filmmaker, reveal eerie, often ironic parallel journeys, both personally and professionally.
They've struggled as artists and fathers, and we come away with a deeper understanding of the sacrifices and compromises they've made in balancing craft and family. In many ways, they've actually grown up together during their remarkable relationship.
PHOTOS: Martin and Emilio's father-son 'journey'
Why, Sheen, 71, even remarks that he's known his son all of his life — that's how close they are. Even so, they differ in temperament and approach: Sheen throws caution to the wind and lives in the moment while Estevez is more cautious and takes the longer view.
This is exemplified in the beginning of the memoir when Estevez directs his father in The Way in 2009: a Spanish pilgrimage along the famed Camino de Santiago path, where Sheen's father grew up and near where Estevez's son has settled. The experience represents a culmination; the memoir then backtracks to tell each of their stories, alternating chapters and points of view.
Sheen grew up in Ohio as Estevez (his father was Spanish and mother Irish), but later changed his name in order to find work as a struggling New York actor. His first great success on stage was co-starring with Jack Albertson in The Subject Was Roses: a powerful father-son drama that Sheen still believes remains the best performance of his life. In fact, one of the highlights of the memoir occurs when Sheen recalls playing the climax squarely for his father in the audience. "I love you, Pop. I love you," he uncontrollably weeps.
Another revelation is when Estevez (who turns 50 on May 12) describes his father's drinking: "He acted as though alcohol gave him license to misbehave, when instead it made him unreasonable. It didn't make him stronger in my eyes. It made him look weak." In the subsequent chapter, Sheen concurs: "When I drank, I was an angry, terrible bore."
What's so fascinating about Along the Way is this insightful back and forth. Sheen confesses what a horrible father he was during the making of Francis Ford Coppola's legendary Apocalypse Now. He was at his most self-destructive during this Vietnam opus, which eventually led to a near-fatal heart attack. And Estevez admits how much he needed his father's attention when they were on location together in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Estevez relates his own vices on the way to becoming part of the '80s "Brat Pack" generation (a gross misnomer, it turns out). Yet he overcomes his share of obstacles, too, in attaining satisfaction and enlightenment. Both father and son found inspiration in the life of Robert Kennedy, with Estevez writing, directing and co-starring with Sheen in Bobby, an ode to the charismatic and compassionate political figure in the wake of his assassination.
We learn how it brings father and son full circle.
As for Charlie Sheen, the bad boy of the family, he's alluded to tangentially but with well-placed irony. Sheen finds his climactic father-son showdown with Charlie in Wall Street poetic justice for really messing up as a father, while Estevez mentions how supportive his younger brother was when he lost focus scripting Bobby: "You need to change your environment and stop throwing parties," he lectured.
This cries out for a follow-up.
Bill Desowitz is the author of the forthcoming James Bond Unmasked.