Father Soldier Son
by co-directors Catrin Einhorn & Leslye Davis
We didn’t set out to follow one family for a decade. But over years of plot twists that unveiled fascinating themes, we could not stop documenting the lives of the Eisches. Ultimately, that investment of time revealed a more profound story than we could have imagined.
It started in 2010. The Afghanistan War had stretched into its ninth year and President Obama was sending in a “surge” of troops to try to bring the conflict to an end. It was a hugely important news story, but the public seemed disengaged. A team of journalists at The New York Times set out to follow one battalion over its yearlong deployment, hoping to draw people in with the personal narratives of American soldiers.
One part of the series focused on the strain on the families left behind. Two little boys captivated us from the day we met them: Brothers Isaac, 12, and Joey, 7, were living in Wisconsin with their uncle while their single dad was overseas. They were startlingly honest about their intense feelings, while at the same time working hard to be brave and strong. Their father, Brian, was candid and reflective. The family didn’t mind the cameras and seemed to find meaning in sharing their story. A couple of months after we met them, when Brian was back in Afghanistan, we got an email from his father. It was the first twist.
The stories published, the series ended. It was only supposed to be a year, and the story of Brian and his boys was one of many.
But when we learned of another major development coming in Brian’s life, we did something journalists often yearn for but rarely get the chance to do: We went back.
We had no idea how much joy and tragedy the family would experience. Some of the devastating moments they lived through were also the hardest of our careers to document.
Over time, the story both deepened and broadened as more universal themes emerged. We witnessed an age-old conflict: a son trying to take a different path than his father had, and a father who felt sure he knew best. And we saw how beliefs about masculinity and patriotism shaped the family as they searched for purpose and identity.