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Review: Apollo’s Creed

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Apollo's Creed: Lessons I Learned from My Astronaut Dad Richard F. Gordon, Jr.
by Traci Shoblom
G&D Media, 2023
paperback, 196 pp.
ISBN 978-1-7225-0640-7

Most astronaut biographies and memoirs follow a similar trajectory. Such accounts start with childhood and, perhaps, the first inklings of desire for traveling to space. That’s followed by pursuing a career in military, industry, or academia that sets the stage for applying to become an astronaut. Then there’s the astronaut selection and training process and the mission or missions they fly. At the end, perhaps, is a discussion of life after being an astronaut.

You don’t have to go to the Moon to know how to do dishes the right way, but maybe it helps when trying to get that message across to others.

Apollo's Creed takes a different approach. We’re introduced to Dick Gordon, who flew on Gemini 11 and Apollo 12, after the apogee of that traditional trajectory. He enters the life of the book’s author, Traci Shoblom, as her stepfather in the late 1970s just as she begins her teenage years. What could be a scenario for conflict—rebellious teenager against former astronaut and naval aviator—instead develops, over time, into a friendship that endures until Gordon passes away in 2017.

The book, Shoblom writes in the introduction, is a hybrid between a memoir and a self-help book. “I’ve attempted to blend public facts about the space program and what happened before we met Richard with stories and anecdotes from our time together,” she says. “But my years as a personal development writer have seeped into my DNA, and so I couldn’t write a book that doesn’t have practical application.”

That hybrid takes the shape of a series of anecdotes, roughly chronological, of her experiences with Gordon as a stepfather. They are very short—most chapters run just a few pages—and are often humorous, but sometimes serious. Each has, at its core, a life lesson, one that Gordon often provides as advice to Shoblom. For example, as he instructs her on the proper way to wash dishes, he explains the importance of doing things right the first time, and throws in the story of how, on Apollo 12, he would not let crewmembers Pete Conrad and Alan Bean back into the command module after their time on the lunar surface until they got out of their dusty spacesuits to avoid getting the module dirty.

Most of these lessons are straightforward: “trust is everything,” “give it your all,” and “know when to accept things and when to fight for what you want” are among the lessons featured in Apollo's Creed (consolidated into a list at the end of the book.) However, you don’t need to be looking for life lessons to enjoy the book. It’s an enjoyable read to see how Gordon applied what he learned as an astronaut and pilot to domestic life, and how those lessons were accepted—sometimes reluctantly and grudgingly—by a teenager. You don’t have to go to the Moon to know how to do dishes the right way, but maybe it helps when trying to get that message across to others.

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