Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review: Not My Boy!

Not My Boy! A Father, a Son, and One Family's Journey with Autism by Rodney Peete with Danelle Morton.

Y'know what's generally missing in many of these "my family's experience with autism" stories?  The dad.  You get plenty about the mom, she's often the driving force behind getting the diagnosis, getting the supports and services the kid needs, and holding the family together.  But not the dad.  In fact, the dad often fades out of the picture entirely.  This is, in part, because taking care of a special needs kid is really stressful, and that's brutally hard on a marriage.   But even if the relationship between the mom and the dad stands the test of time, most of these books I've read have the mom front and center and the dad is... either not there, or is barely there.  A footnote, so to speak, in the story.

That isn't how it should be.  Marriages, and parenting as well, are supposed to be a team effort.  This is particularly necessary given the challenges of raising a special needs kid.  The experience, from what I've read, is very emotionally taxing of course, but also financially taxing.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, many couples, autistic kid or not, end up breaking up over money issues.

So this book is a rare commodity.  The dad in the family wrote this book.  And not because he took over the mom's role in the usual family story.  He was, however, the dad that only faded out of the picture for a few years.  Then he came back, and was the dad his kids needed.  I honestly couldn't find much to complain about in this book.  The dad is brutally honest, but not cruel, to himself.  He is thoughtful, lets you inside his head, and shows you what happened specifically with him and why this tends to be a pattern with the dads in the "autism family" picture.

Also, I shouldn't have to mention this as notable, but our society makes it necessary: this book is written by a man of African American descent, and his family is African American.  That fact makes it doubly important, because the stories of minorities in the US often get sidelined, or never told at all.  The author does not particularly focus on this as an important point, his focus for differing advantages is financially-based, but it wasn't lost on me.  Now more than ever, we as a society need to recognize that the US has a lot of diverse people and stories, and they are all valid.  Maybe we can't fix racism by waving a magic wand, but we can at least listen to people unlike us and learn their lives and struggles.

Something I liked about this book was the picture section, about halfway through.  It's not a huge section, but it helps put faces and people on the names and personalities in the book.  The cover, of course, has a picture of the dad and his son, but it's good to see the sister and other siblings, and the wife.

The last notable point about this book is that this dad doesn't just give you his story and tell you how he failed, bounced back, and succeeded.  He has advice for all dads dealing with an autistic kid.  And it's not just advice strictly from his life, he went out and talked with a lot of dads and families, learning from them to find the common pattern and mentality that causes the "absent dad" phenomenon.

I personally found this book heartening, as it and books like it may help turn the tide of this phenomenon, and make it a trend of the past.  As you perhaps recall, I didn't get my diagnosis until I was 20 or so.  This is, at least in part, because neither of my parents were engaged with the idea that I was very different than my peers.  And probably, in part, because I learned fast enough and had few enough sensory and organizational difficulties that I was able to struggle through school without supports.  That said...  I suffered for that lack.  Not having friends until high school and not being understood by my parents really did a number on my self-worth, my ability to trust other people, and my ability to accept or ask for help.

Obviously, I didn't implode, and my parents did a lot of other things right.  But in an ideal world, I wouldn't have had to suffer those lacks.  My dad wouldn't've had the mentality that this author did, that "bringing home the bacon" and "doing occasional activities when time allows" was a sufficient form of fatherhood.  This author learned otherwise, that special needs kids really do need more than a roof and food, and he freely offers his story as an example to other men.  It does me good to see this, and I really hope his story, and those like it, can help turn the tide of broken families in the autism world.

Read This Book If

You're anyone, especially a dad, involved in an autistic kid's life.  This is a very important story for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is helping to combat the "autistic family, dad MIA" tragedy that plagues us.  Please, please read this book and bring it to dads everywhere.  It's an easy read, and pretty short. 

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