Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Review: Not My Boy! A Dad's Journey with Autism, by Rodney Peete

Not My Boy! A Dad's Journey with Autism
by Rodney Peete
Hyperion, 2010
256 pages
Read for the Memorable Memoir Challenge

One of the suggestions that former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete offers in his memoir about his family's experiences with autism is to seek out another dad to talk to about the day-to-day struggles and issues. 

In his book, Rodney Peete becomes that dad. 

Not My Boy! is written in a very conversational, simple, and matter-of-fact style - almost as if you and Rodney were talking casually about kids and marriage and autism over Scotch and cigars.  There's very little pretense here.  Unlike some other celebrities, the Peetes don't put themselves on a pedestal or proclaim to be experts on autism because of their high-profile status (Peete is married to the actress Holly Robinson Peete). 

Instead, Peete shares his family's journey in a down-to-earth way that will resonate with parents of kids on the autism spectrum, especially fathers.  He admits his shortcomings and initial struggles, his denial and escape tactics.  He talks poignantly about how he was brought to a moment where he had to make a crucial, life-changing decision to either "get the man right" or lose his family.

Not My Boy! is written in two parts.  The first chronicles the birth of Holly and Rodney's first children (twins Ryan and R.J.), the heartbreaking emergence of R.J.'s autism following a nurse whisking the toddler away for vaccines despite Holly's questioning, the missed signs among doctors (the oft-heard "boys develop differently and later than girls"), the callous way that the diagnosis verdict was delivered, and the doomsday prognostications of a specialist who clearly has no right to gaze into an imaginary crystal ball to determine a child's potential and future.  (If there's anything that pisses me off more, it's a so-called specialist with a lack of a bedside manner who feels compelled to issue decrees that a child will live in an institution, will never speak, will never do this or that or the other thing.)

Ahem.  Been there. Done and heard all of that. 

We think that celebrities are different than us (and in many ways, they certainly are) but when it comes to that moment of getting a diagnosis, there is and was no difference between me and The Husband and an NFL quarterback and his actress wife. 

"Your son is autistic.  And your daughter is too."   (In fact, Ryan - the Peetes' daughter and R.J's twin - had issues with low muscle tone. Not autism.)

This universalism of the Peetes' experience was something that I appreciated very much about Not My Boy!  There were many times throughout the book where I found myself nodding at something R.J. did or was doing, thinking to myself that this sounded so much like Boo.  I recognized myself and The Husband in both Holly and Rodney's reactions.  I think most parents who are living this life will do the same. Again, it's the universal factor of this diagnosis that, ironically, is different in each child but yet oh-so-similar to so many.

In Not My Boy! Rodney Peete offers some tips to dads about marriage, parenting and discipline, having additional children, involving a child with special needs in sports and working with his or her coach, and more. He includes experiences of others, such as another dad Khari, a former member of the Bloods gang. You wouldn't think that someone of Peete's stature would be friends with someone like Khari, but as he says, they bonded over their son's autism and their kids being in the same school. He learned a great deal about advocacy and getting services from Khari, which he shares in the book.

Fathers often feel perplexed, lost, confused, and left out of this journey.  We moms are usually (not always, but often enough) the ones spending hours upon wee hours of the night online, researching and networking with others, reading blogs and books, finding out everything we possibly can about doctors and therapies and everything else.  (Of course, dads do this too.  Just read Erik Lindhorst's terrific piece "The Birth of a Dad-vocate" at Hopeful Parents for just one example.)  Dads need each other more than they realize or often want to admit.

Once upon a long-ago time, we cheered for Rodney Peete when he played for our beloved Philadelphia Eagles.  In Not My Boy! we find ourselves rooting for him (and his family, especially R.J.) once again. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

You write this review with such eloquence. I've listened to Holly speak about her children before.
Another memoir about Autism I recently discovered is a book called Twin and I can't remember the author's name but he writes about his twin sister who was diagnosed with Autism as a child and institionalized. The memoir is about that but also about his difficulties in growing up without his twin.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a very powerful book. I hope it helps a lot of people.

Joy Weese Moll said...

Fascinating book and topic. Thanks for hosting the Memorable Memoir challenge, where I am looking at this and other interesting reviews today!