How Accidental Lessons Change My Life by David W. Berner

David Berner Head Shot“How Accidental Lessons Change My Life”

by David W. Berner

I was scheduled to read from Any Road Will Take You There–my latest memoir–at a literary event recently, and Mike O’Mary of Dream of Things Publishing introduced me to the crowd. He had some very nice words to say about my work. But of all that he mentioned, one particular thing made the most impact on me.

David writes a lot about road trips, mid-life changes, and family,” Mike said to the audience.

As simple as that sounds, I never really thought about my writing as thematic. But it’s true. Nearly everything that I’ve investigated in my writing involves one or all of those three things, and how we all might discover beauty and redemption in them, possibly even reinventing ourselves in the process.

Accidental Lessons, my first memoir, is about major changes in my life, changes many of us have experienced: a failed marriage, a new career, the death of a parent, and new beginnings. I accepted a new job teaching disenfranchised kids in a troubled school district outside Chicago during a time of personal upheaval in my own life. What those children taught me was more important than anything I could have taught them. The year spent in that 8th grade classroom helped construct the road I would get on for the rest of my life. It proved to me, more than any other experience in my life, how the human spirit has the ability to overcome the adversities we all face by giving back to those around us. It sounds like a self-help mantra, but it’s really not. It’s just a way to live your life.

I don’t claim to have all the answers; I just know my own story, and it’s a familiar one. So many of us want to rearrange our lives in some way, find new meaning or redemption. But instead of exclusively looking inward, we need also to spend time looking outside ourselves.

Through the writing of Accidental Lessons, I was able to do this, consider how the lives around me had influenced and changed me in very personal ways. And although the story revolved around my teaching assignment and it clearly was a teacher’s story, it is a far bigger, more shared narrative. All of us have times, periods, even moments in our lives that have so profoundly changed, shaped, or influenced us, that we see them as something spiritual, other-worldly, even mystical. And that is what I tried to share in Accidental Lessons, this universal human experience.

Any Road Will Take You There Cover - NEWI hoped to continue to shine some light on those themes of renewal when I moved to my next project: Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons. This time the story would be about my grandfather, my father, and my role as a dad, and how all the fathers before me shaped my life. That story was told through a 5000-mile road trip I took with my two sons and my best friend. There is nothing like the redemptive powers of wheels on pavement, and nothing quite like the relationship between a father and a son, complex and beautiful at the same time. The exploration of that relationship is the center of Any Road Will Take You There.

Both memoirs are stories of enormous life changes, personal but relevant to all of us. And writing those stories, turning them into books, helped me understand those changes more than I ever could have without putting them down on paper and realizing how incredibly powerful each of our personal stories can be.

Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons
is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story told with humor and grace, revealing the generational struggles and triumphs of being a dad, and the beautiful but imperfect ties that connect all of us.

Recipient of a Book of the Year Award from the Chicago Writers Association, Any Road Will Take You There is honest, unflinching, and tender.

In the tradition of the Great American Memoir, a middle-age father takes the reader on a five-thousand-mile road trip — the one he always wished he’d taken as a young man. Recently divorced and uncertain of the future, he rereads the iconic road story — Jack Kerouac’s On the Road — and along with his two sons and his best friend, heads for the highway to rekindle his spirit.

However, a family secret turns the cross-country journey into an unexpected examination of his role as a father, and compels him to look to the past and the fathers who came before him to find contentment and clarity, and celebrate the struggles and triumphs of being a dad. Paperback: 300 Pages



  • I love travel, David. After I had my first child, I went through terrible depression and anxiety trying to be a SAHM during the day and teaching night classes at a university. So I packed up myself and my son and hit the road with a friend and her daughter. We saw every state west of the Mississippi except Utah over the course of 7 weeks. It felt so refreshing and helped me be in the moment and enjoy my life more.

So, what do you think?