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In 'Walking with Sam,' Andrew McCarthy bonds with his son while walking Spain's Camino de Santiago

Andrew McCarthy is probably best known as a member of the “Brat Pack” with roles in popular 1980s films such as “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Weekend at Bernie’s.” In the decades since those came out, he’s been directing, writing — and walking.

He trekked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago in Spain twice. And one of those times, he roped his then-19-year-old son Sam into tagging along with him. Their time together on the Camino is the subject of McCarthy’s book, “Walking with Sam: A Father, a Son, and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain.”

Camino de Santiago is often a religious journey for those who make the pilgrimage, but McCarthy says he isn’t religious in the traditional sense. The journey still held profound meaning for him. The first time McCarthy walked Camino de Santiago, he did it on impulse and it changed his life.

“It revealed to me how much fear I had operated beneath for my whole life. And that was a liberating thing,” McCarthy says. “It really changed my place in the world.”

About 25 years after he made that first pilgrimage, he asked his son to join him in doing it a second time. Over the course of the voyage, they learned more about how to understand each other, offer and accept support and see each other as humans, not just as father or son. 

“I thought it might be a way for us to establish a baseline for [an] adult-to-adult relationship because the Camino does nothing if not burn off that top layer of flotsam and just kind of reveal what’s underneath,” McCarthy says. “I thought that would be a good thing for the both of us to sort of be able to see each other.”

The cover of “Walking with Sam: A Father, A Son, and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain.” (Courtesy)

Book excerpt: ‘Walking With Sam’

By Andrew McCarthy


When I was a very young man and became very successful in the movies very quickly, I harbored a notion that I had not earned my accomplish- ments, that I hadn’t done the requisite work, that it was all merely a fluke, that I didn’t deserve it. When a magazine article linking me to a group of other young actors branded us spoiled, fame-seeking punks called the Brat Pack appeared, this internal sensitivity was matched by outward perception. I was someone who skimmed, who bypassed the effort and claimed the rewards. A lightweight. Whether any of this contained truth is debatable, but that it burrowed under my skin and became my adopted perception of myself there is little doubt.

Walking across the Camino de Santiago a quarter century ago chal- lenged all that. It hadn’t been my conscious intent to reclaim the nar- rative of my own life, yet that’s what happened. Whereas I had become someone who reacted to events, deflecting what felt like attacks, dodging emotional entanglements, grasping at what seemed to be diminishing opportunities, my time in Spain planted seeds for another way to per- ceive things, and gave me an internal baseline from which to go forth in the world. Simply because I started walking. I walked. And walked. Across a country. For five weeks and five hundred miles. It was some- thing that could not be taken away or be easily dismissed, even by me. I earned my way across Spain.

Each day during the walk I was reminded of this by the town churches—although not for the obvious reasons. When a pilgrim is still out among the wheat and dust and a long way off from any village, the first sign of civilization that will often appear on the horizon is a church spire—the highest point in the town. I always felt a mix of relief and fatigue upon seeing those spires. “My God, that’s still so far away,” I always thought. Invariably the walk into the village was quicker and easier than I had first perceived. And I had done it. On my own. There had been no shortcuts.

Years later, after I no longer viewed myself as a person who skimmed and cut corners, but rather was someone who merited his successes and could swallow his failures, I was able to attribute the first sense of earning what I had achieved and who I had become back to those church spires. There was something in the walking that had burned marrow-deep, into a knowing that couldn’t be shaken.

For so long I had felt ill-equipped, insufficient in some way, and often very alone. It took the Camino to teach me that I was solid in myself. It was the greatest of the many gifts it gave me and something I wish I’d learned much earlier. It’s time to pass that gift on. So after a quarter cen- tury I’ve returned to northern Spain—and I’ve brought my son.

Excerpted from the book “Walking with Sam: A Father, A Son, and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain” by Andrew McCarthy. Copyright © 2023 by Andrew McCarthy. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Andrew McCarthy and his son, Sam, on their journey. (Courtesy)
Andrew McCarthy and his son, Sam, on their journey. (Courtesy)