A Father’s Legacy: Looking at Robert Dugoni’s Life and Work

Jun 15, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Paula Gail Benson

Many descriptions apply to New York Times bestselling novelist Robert Dugoni. In addition to being the author of such fast paced legal thrillers as The Jury Master, Wrongful Death, Bodily Harm, and Murder One, he has worked as a reporter, actor, and attorney. He brings his knowledge from previous occupations to his writing, but he also brings something else: an uncanny ability for creating characters and placing them in realistic, thought-provoking situations.

Robert Dugoni

You don’t have to look very far to understand some of Robert’s inspiration. He grew up with nine brothers and sisters and a mother who encouraged him to read. But, his father’s significance had a lingering effect, clearly noticeable in all he writes, whether in books or articles, or in comments on his website or Facebook. Robert adored his dad, and that relationship has led him to be a wonderful husband and father.

In his acknowledgements in Bodily Harm, Robert wrote, “I always said [my father] should have been a writer because he lived his life by the writer’s mantra–show, don’t tell.” Robert mentions never remembering his father lecturing, but demonstrating how one should behave by example. Robert continues in the acknowledgements, “I wouldn’t be writing books had it not been for my father. His only goal in life, it seemed, was to give his children every chance to follow their dreams. This is mine. I owe him and my mother my career.”

On his website, you can read Robert’s account of “Saying Goodbye” to his father, how he was able to go home to spend the last three days with his father before his father passed away from cancer in 2008, on Father’s Day. In an April 18, 2013 online interview, he told Cassandra Overby the lesson he learned on the day his father died. “From that moment on, I decided that it was more important to leave behind a legacy of quality than to leave behind a legacy of quantity,” he said.

Robert’s protagonist, David Sloane, lives under a curse. He’s known as the lawyer who can’t lose, so naturally, he has to confront many who are waiting for him to fail. David is strong and isolated. He didn’t have a father figure growing up and he’s reluctant to develop relationships unless the other person proves him or herself worthy.

David Sloane’s lonely life becomes both enriched and complicated when he acquires a step son, Jake. As difficult as his cases are, David finds even more perplexing dilemmas when he tries to determine what is best for his step son, whether in helping Jake develop a relationship with his biological father in Bodily Harm, or in saving Jake from a self-inflicted lawless streak that results in Jake being sent to a terrifying county-owned wilderness detention camp in The Conviction.

As wonderful as seeing how Robert’s father’s influence has infiltrated his writing, it is even more inspiring to see how it shapes his life. He writes glowing reports about his children on Facebook. Just recently, he wrote about his son, “What does it mean when your 16 year old son borrows your dress shirt and suits and they fit him? Where have the years gone?”

He also proudly mentions that his daughter appeared in the pages of the New York Times at a tender age. He wrote an article about how it felt when his daughter first locked the door to the bathroom while she was in it. How it made him realize his child was growing and the precious time was slipping away so quickly.

Robert was kind enough to share with me his “Top Five Rules for Parenting, with One Bonus.” These are his own words:

1. Be present. We can’t always be there, working, traveling, but we can always be present for our kids and let them know we are never farther away than a phone call or a text message.
2. If my kids ever ask for help, with anything, I provide it. If they need a hitting coach I do it. If they need help with reading I find someone.
3. Give them a home. I think it is so important that my kids have a place to call home. I doubt I’ll ever sell my house because even when they move out I want them to know their home is there for them. It is their anchor.
4. Give them a safe place. In our house their rooms are their safe places. That is where they can go when they need peace or to scream and yell and rant and rave.
5. Give them a faith. Life is not always fair. We encounter many disappointments and, unfortunately, unlike books we don’t have a narrator to tell us everything is going to work out fine. We have to have trust and faith that God has placed us exactly where we are supposed to be at this moment in our lives.

And the bonus,
6. Admit your mistakes and admit when you’re wrong. If you don’t, how do you expect them to be honest with you when they make a mistake? I tell my kids often, “I was wrong. There’s no manual on how to be a father. I’m learning as I go and I will make mistakes.”

The importance of fatherhood is its legacy for children. What one father passes on continues through generations, in fiction and life. As you can see from Robert Dugoni’s Rules, his father’s lessons and values still have an enduring effect upon many lives.

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and father figures. May you have the same joy Robert Dugoni experiences each day.

Robert Dugoni’s books are:

The Cyanide Canary (2004), written with Joseph Hildorfer, is a nonfiction account of how EPA agents and a government team prosecuted a case against an environmental polluter.

The Jury Master
(2006) introduces David Sloane, who, in trying to solve a murder that has been portrayed as a suicide, confronts a 30-year-old conspiracy that may involve the President.

Damage Control
(2007) features female attorney Dana Hill, whose successful life and career changes radically when she has to deal with a frightening medical diagnosis and her twin brother’s brutal murder.

In Wrongful Death
(2009), David Sloane returns to seek answers and justice for a widow with four children, whose husband, a National Guardsman, was killed in Iraq.

Bodily Harm (2010) involves David Sloane in a malpractice case where a toy designer claims responsibility for two children’s deaths.

Murder One
(2011) has David Sloane defending Barclay Reid, a former adversary in court turned current love interest, when Barclay is accused of killing a Russian drug trafficker she blames for her daughter’s death from a overdose.

In The Conviction (2012), David Sloane seeks to bring stability back to his stepson’s life by taking him on a camping trip, but finds himself on the opposite side of the justice system when Jake is convicted and incarcerated in a wilderness detention camp.

You can learn more on his website.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.

Paula Gail Benson is a legislative attorney and former law librarian who is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Romance Writers of America. She enjoys attending writing and mystery conferences, and moderating panels for the South Carolina Book Festival in her home town Columbia. For her church drama ministry, she writes and directs original plays and musical productions.


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