Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Sean P. Hoggs
I suppose if you asked most young people today who their heroes are, you’d probably get a few high-profile sports figures, and maybe some celebrities (movie stars, musicians), as well as the requisite names of those tried-and-true heroes we all learned about in school (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Paul Revere). That mix says something, I think, about where we are as a society, what we value, who we think we ought to emulate. The curious juxtaposition of the over-hyped and the secularly sainted might help explain the generally narcissistic tenor of our times. Neither a multi-million-cd selling rapper, nor a woodcut Founding Father seems like they would have much to say to a young person trying to navigate the complexities of contemporary times.
So might I be brazen enough to nominate someone to serve as a new hero for today?
His name is Sean P. Hoggs, and his book The Bastard Child: A Story of Hope, Resiliency, and Perseverance is a fresh and bracing blueprint for a way forward for all younger people, and a clearly-marked escape map especially for those trapped in despair, poverty, and abusive life situations.
Hoggs – a recently retired Air Force officer – knows whereof he speaks. Born to what used to be called, euphemistically, “a broken home” in Plainfield, NJ, Hoggs suffered a litany of cruelties that make the first several chapters of his book tough to read. Verbal abuse, unrelenting physical abuse, grim poverty, and the contempt of a handful of relatives (mother, father, various extended members of the family, even strangers who entered the lachrymose labyrinth of his tender years, belts and bigotry at the ready) initiated Hoggs into the reality many never think about except when rolling up their windows and clicking the door locks as they drive through such a world.
But Hoggs lived it – barely. Confronted with the choice of surviving or giving in to the grimness of his world, he did what seems tragically logical: he started to hustle. His adolescence and early adulthood drew him to the street, and its drugs, weapons, and gang-banging that perversely promise deliverance for many inner-city teens. A smart kid – bookish, even – Hoggs found himself seduced by the prospect of gaining social power through his “posse.” The more adept he became at surviving on the streets, the less alluring the lamplight of education. Yet, he continued to feel soul-searing regret at having to scratch out a living among the drug dealers, junkies, hustlers, and criminals.
His epiphany came when he watched a shabby, elder heroin addict shoot up for the fix that wrecks. The stark reminder – yet again – of the one-way street to prison (or the graveyard) spurred him to finally take to heart the advice of a small, dedicated number of teachers, coaches, and counselors who had recognized his intellectual gifts early on.
Returning for a second senior year of high school, he’s rewarded with the love of learning, the love of a good woman, and the love of country – a trifecta that pays off handsomely. Married, graduated, and newly accepted into the Air Force, things finally look bright. But, as Hoggs regularly reminds his readers, the curse of the Bastard Child (a pejorative title that, he admits in the first few pages of the book, technically applies) can be powerful. Tortured by night terrors borne of his childhood abuse, dismissed by some military supervisors as a ghetto cast-off, and plagued by the demons of self-doubt, Hoggs has to fight for every square inch of real estate on the American grid of success.
Again and again, he trumpets education as the key to his ultimate triumphs. In fact, it becomes his mantra, a Cri de Coeur for a generation lost, or for anyone following his first, misbegotten footsteps. Have faith, he says, in the maxim that knowledge is power. “What was supposed to break me in life had only made me compassionately stronger. Faith – in a person’s belief, ability, or purpose – is an incredible thing.” Hoggs also became a man of devout Christian faith, a conversion that reinforced his sense of being guided by providential hands.
There’s no way to read Hogg’s book without being inspired by his journey. At every turn, when bitterness, anger, or widespread social disdain threatened to overwhelm him, he somehow found a way to break the surface and breathe new life into his seemingly moribund existence. At the very least, after reading this book you’ll be less likely to grumble about a bad day at the office, or the run of bad luck you’ve been experiencing. Heroes re-define what’s possible – and what’s necessary. And their example make us better people. While the heroes in history books often seem untouchable, Sean Hoggs’ journey will touch you deeply.
Follow Here To Purchase The Bastard Child: A Story of Hope, Resiliency and Perseverance.