Secret Box

Searching for Dad in a Century of Self

Non-Fiction - Memoir
258 Pages
Reviewed on 03/29/2018
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Author Biography

I am a psychologist son who wrote a book convinced that this particular story addressed questions of interest to many of us.

On reaching 60 three years ago, a father thing that had always bugged me turned into an urge to settle it somehow. Helen and I were empty-nesters, taking life slower, when that big birthday made us notice that those who could answer our family questions wouldn’t always be around.

This is when we launched ourselves on a quest as detectives trying to solve this mystery, ostensibly to do with my father...

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite

Secret Box: Searching for Dad in a Century of Self by Tony Page is the author's memoir chronicling his own life and that of his deceased father and the family left behind. It starts with Page's earliest memory of abandonment at the age of fourteen, when he and his siblings go out for a swim in the Deben Estuary with their father. Soon after, Page's father and sister swim ahead into the open water and, forced into a vigorous current, Page finds himself alone, in danger, and afraid. However, it is the silence that follows that cloaks the author's life. Many years later when Page's father dies, his father's third wife hands him a box that sits unopened for over a decade. Once opened, Page begins the difficult personal journey of finding out who his father really was, attempting to piece a fragmented life back together for answers.

Secret Box by Tony Page is an interesting read, and one I had to step away from a few times; not because it isn't wholly engrossing (it certainly is) but because it doesn't make for light reading. Intelligently written and surprisingly thoughtful (given what he'd been through), Page details family history, the downfall of a marriage and destruction of his family, and the resulting tailspin that ensued and impacted his life over sixty years. I enjoyed the writing style which felt as if I was being told a story by a friend. A resolution of sorts is ultimately achieved by Page himself, although his father did make a half-hearted non-apology that he self-indulgently referred to as "atonement", and as this is the best that can be mustered by a man of the "silent generation", Page turns inwardly for the healing that all of us in similar situations wish for.

Eric McDowell

A compelling study towards understanding family dynamics and how they got that way.

Tony Page’s Secret Box: Searching for Dad in a Century of Self is an engrossing personal memoir, a respectful analysis that methodically examines the variables that contributed to a family breakdown with an acute focus on the author’s father, who was caught up in what the author terms a “cult of self” via the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s. The memoir is not a blame game; rather, Page exudes compassion on every page as he at first gropes in darkness for the understanding that so eludes him but slowly elicits light and comes into clearer focus as the narrative progresses.

We examine the author’s father through a somewhat smoky glass throughout the read. We never really “see” him; we see only his essence. Such a method is an effective way to suggest the puzzling nature of the father—that is, he is as shadowy a figure to us as he was to his son. With Page’s discovery of a secret box containing his late father’s journals, he is ready to take on the task of analyzing him and how his behavior set into motion what became a fractured family.

One of the memoir’s many highlights takes place in a Viennese café (coming at a bit past the book’s halfway mark) and leads to some surprising revelations. While dining in a booth and using his laptop to write, the author strategically places condiment jars and bottles on the table to represent family members as he examines their behaviors and motivations as a theatre director would do. In this way, with Freud’s work on his mind (Page is also sitting in Freud’s favorite café, a faint suggestion that he is channeling the master in some way), he begins to grapple with the inner workings of the family machine, which ultimately helps him understand his father better. The writing in these scenes is captivating because the author demonstrates how visualization processes help clients “see” the emotional baggage as apart from him or her, a mindset so necessary for healing.

The final section of Secret Box contains an illuminating series of appendices that provide background on psychological theories and treatment practices, as well as the methods that have influenced Page’s own practice. This section is enlightening because the author helps us visualize abstract concepts through workshop exercises. He also discusses the value of writing as a means of therapy. When the therapist works with the client’s stories by making the stories an essential part of his or her counseling practice, the professional relationship becomes a kind of collaboration towards gaining understanding and insight into the client’s issues. The writing in these sections is not at all pedantic or laden with jargon. There is even a rather humorous scene between the respected R. D. Laing and Carl Rogers as they debate in a 1978 co-presentation. Page also describes a mesmerizing scene of “rebirthing,” wherein a patient goes through a symbolic journey of reliving his passage through the birth canal in order to be “reborn” and able to begin life anew.

Because of its wealth of food for the mind, it’s a book to savor slowly for maximum benefit and understanding. Highly recommended.

Ann W Campanella

An absorbing, fascinating read!

Secret Box: Searching for Dad in a Century of Self, is an absorbing, powerful book. Tony Page's memoir reads like a mystery as he takes us on a tour through his past to unravel the enigmatic, perplexing memories of his father. After a lifetime of silence from his parents, Page, a psychologist, discovers a multitude of diaries written by his father. The author recreates the drama of his childhood, illuminating the darker side of his father who was caught up in the self-gratification of the Human Potential Movement in the 1960s.

A fascinating portrait emerges as Page weaves together scenes from his present and past, unveiling in the process how the sharing of stories has the potential to produce understanding and hope.

Mary A Joyce

Rediscovering our fathers and ourselves

An impressive and thoughtful book in which the writer tells the true story of how he came to rediscover his father through a chest of unopened diaries and letters that had lain in the attic for many years. What he uncovers in the dairies forces him to re-evaluate his memory of his father and their family history, and gain a deeper insight into himself and the influences that shaped him, and his father.

Touching and sensitive, funny in places, and extremely enjoyable, this is one of those special pieces of writing where the author skilfully tells a compelling story whilst at the same using his professional knowledge to demonstrate the psychological insight that can help all of us understand more about our own family relationships and dynamics.


Bringing to life that particular period in the Sixties...

A searingly honest book that not only invites us to examine how much we really want to know about our parents but also give us ample reasons for both accepting and rejecting that invitation.

The book works brilliantly in bringing to life that particular period in the sixties and seventies when the old certainties, the known and the familiar were cast aside in pursuit of adventure and risk, the experimental and the new. The quiet devastation inflicted on the children left ( literally) floundering in the wake of a parent's total absorption in and commitment to self is skilfully, albeit painfully, depicted and, kudos too, to the redoubtable Helen whose insights, pragmatic scepticism and unwavering support enabled the author to finally find his father.

Gordon Lyle

Philip Larkin may have been right about the impact our parents have on us but, in this compelling and intriguing tale of exploration, the author is determined not to be ‘handed on misery’ and rather to open hearts and minds, to learn lessons and to hand these on instead. Brave and very personal, not many books make their impact as viscerally as this.

Gordon Lyle, former VP HR Starbucks

Tritia Neeb

As soon as the secret box is opened, you must continue to read to the final page!

People have told stories for centuries, which keep their hopes and tragedies alive long after those people have passed away. ‘Secret Box’ is a story about a quest that is exciting, emotional, funny, insightful and at times difficult. Shadows of the past can prevent us from enjoying our lives in the bright sunlight. Here the author shows us the courage needed to make the shadows disappear.

J Keeley

What I love about this set of stories is the raw nature ...

I had the privilege of reading this twice as Tony did ask me to review the early manuscript. Even though I found the first time compelling reading, I found reading it again even more compelling and even harder to put down.

What I love about this set of stories is the raw nature of it. I say "set of stories" as it seems to me a whole series of nested stories rolled into one. The story of Tony's Dad, the story of his parents' marriage, the story of Tony doing all is research into the history of his father, the raw story of Tony's own secure marriage full of honest conversation. And laid through all of this the richness of developmental psychology laid bare: how we get to be where we are, and how important it is for us both to understand how we turned out the way we did and at the same time to honour the parents that also were not pure despite how much we want them to be.

Tony Page is a rare kind of storyteller and it is worth reading his other books too, Diary of A Change Agent and Hippos to Gazelles. Both also raw, rich, real stories of life where we want so much for it to work out perfectly and where the reality is always different from that and we have to keep on going.