Andrew McCarthy walked 500 miles across Spain with his actor son. Here's what it taught them.
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Thirty-five years ago, Andrew McCarthy might have been cast as a restless teenage boy who joins his sometimes stern, sometimes sentimental father to walk Spain's famed Camino de Santiago. In real life, and in McCarthy's new travel memoir, however, the former Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero star isn't the kid; he's the dad.
Along with with historical details and the sort of local color one might expect from an actor and director who also happens to be an award-winning travel writer, Walking with Sam: A Father, A Son, and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain is also filled with reflections on fatherhood. The former '80s heartthrob and reluctant Brat Packer is now a 60-year-old father of three kids aged 9, 16 and 21. His oldest child, from his first marriage, is actor Sam McCarthy, best known for the Netflix series Dead to Me. It's Sam who joined his father in the summer of 2021 for the weeks-long trek, a transformative journey McCarthy made solo back in the mid-'90s. For the actor, that first pilgrimage felt like the first time he'd actually proven himself and earned something without taking any shortcuts.
Pitching the trip to Sam — on the cusp of manhood, in need of direction and reeling from his first romantic breakup — McCarthy hopes it will have a similarly empowering effect on his son. As a dad, he also saw it as an opportunity to bond with his son and, as someone who was estranged from his own father, help him shake off some of the self-doubt he had about being a good father.
"When I was 17, I left home and never looked back and I had no relationship with my father for my whole adult life, pretty much," McCarthy tells Yahoo Life. His anxiety about having a solid relationship with his own son has dissipated in nearly two years since their Spanish journey, however.
"I don't fear as much that it is precarious," he says of their relationship. "I trust that it is stable." That he might be doomed to repeat the rocky father-son dynamics he grew up with is something he fears "less," he adds. "I'm not trying to tell [Sam] what to do. I just trust that the relationship is there. ... I suppose I trust our relationship more. He'll call me less, but be more like, 'Dad, you got a minute?' That he trusts me in that regard, that's a big thing."
That's not to say the journey was smooth sailing. McCarthy is unflinching as he documents the many ways in which he and his son test each other's patience. McCarthy was a stickler for an early start; Sam slept in and spent ages in the bathroom. The teen agonized over his breakup; McCarthy agonized over losing his temper when his son did something he found irritating. They butted heads over music, and which direction to take. They both grew homesick — Sam for his friends, and McCarthy for his wife, writer Dolores Rice, and their two younger children, Willow and Rowan. But when any disagreements bubbled up, father and son were always able to express themselves, shake it off and move on with their trek.
"Well, my son has no fear of me," McCarthy laughs. "My kids have no fear of me, which I suppose is good and bad, whereas I was terrified of my father, and I never would've been there with my father. But we fought; like, we were still us no matter what. And you know, if you're spending 24/7 with anyone — let alone a parent or child — stuff is gonna come up. But my son has much more of an ability than I do to simply move on and just accept. I had many opportunities to demonstrate to him the power of saying, 'I'm sorry,' and I do think it's a huge thing to be able to apologize when you're wrong. And my son was able to, and I was as well."
While he and his son befriended fellow pilgrims along the way, McCarthy notes in his book that, for all the bonding the experience has given them, he doesn't need to be Sam's friend; he's happy to be his kids' parent.
"I didn't feel the need to be like their buddy and their best [friend] — they've got friends for that," he says. "I have a different unique, wonderful role and hopefully we do become [closer]. One of the objectives of this walk was to transform that relationship into more of an equal kind of thing — to adults as opposed to dominant parent and submissive child, which he no longer is. That relationship is either going to die or it's going to morph."
Weeks of walking also gave father and son ample time to tackle some deep conversations — about social issues, social media (something McCarthy tries to keep an open mind about, sharing how his teen daughter has been explaining TikTok to him) and the actor's divorce from Sam's mom. McCarthy is quick to admit he doesn't have all these answers.
"I think letting our kids see us in our frailty, in our human foibles, is actually one of the parts of parenting that is underrated," he says. "Because in them seeing who we really are — because they sense who we really are, anyway — instead of just being some authority figure for them, letting them see us, and the good, the bad and the ugly, is a powerful thing for them, and for us. Instead of trying to hide behind some kind of wise figure who knows best."
Did Sam have an issue with his father sharing their story, good and bad? McCarthy says there was just one line his son asked him to take out ... eventually. "I said, 'Sam, you might want to read this and see if there's anything you're really uncomfortable with here,'" McCarthy says, "and he just never got around you to it." It wasn't until Sam sat down with his dad to read the audiobook version that it sunk in. "He goes, 'Whoa, you, wrote about that?'" the St. Elmo's star laughs. "I'm like, 'Yeah, dude, I told you.' He's like, 'OK.'"
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