Father’s Day

Last weekend, I had the unexpected pleasure of hearing Buzz Bissinger speak at Powell’s Books in Beaverton, Oregon. Bissinger is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist mostly known for his bestseller, Friday Night Lights.  He was there to promote his new book, Father’s Day.

Father’s Day is the story about his cross-country trip with his autistic adult son in 2007, but his talk last week was about coming to terms with the expectations parents have for their children. Bissinger pointed out that both books are about the same topic, fathers and sons, hopes and dreams.

Father’s Day does not include multiple story lines like Friday Night Lights, it is simply about the author’s relationship with Zach.  Zach was born 13 weeks premature and suffered brain- damage but his twin, Gerry, survived with no ill effects and has gone on to college, graduate school and is soon to be married.  Zach however, is stuck in time and Bissinger discussed his nearly 30 years of mourning the loss of Zach’s “normal” life. He lamented that Zach will never kiss, hold a job or achieve independence.

He said, “You want your children to do well, be happy, be on the right path.” He spoke of trying to reconcile his own need for success in his life with his inability to help his son. He honestly told the crowd that for many years he would have angry tirades yelling, “I deserve a different son!”

He referred to a particularly poignant moment on his trip where he desperately wanted Zach to have recognition of his condition. He asked Zach if he knew what brain damage was. Zach replied, “When your brain is not right.” He asked Zach if it made him sad and if he knew there were things he could not do. Zach said, “Yes, like not go to school or college like my brother.” At this point, Bissinger’s words became halting and he quietly uttered, “That was the hardest conversation I ever had in my life.”

Bissinger questioned whether he had been too honest about his feelings toward Zach in his book. He referred to a recently published negative review in the Dallas Morning News by Alex Lemon. In that review, Lemon wrote, “But in my life, no book has left me with such a sour impression of its author. Bissinger’s Father’s Day is full of moments that made me cringe at a father’s selfishness.”

Bissinger was deeply wounded by the comment and riffed on the Lemon article for five minutes at Powell’s. It seemed like a storm was brewing so I was not surprised to read this past week that Bissinger launched a highly profane twitter assault at Lemon. Bissinger tweeted, “Dallas can go f@%&*$k itself.”

http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/books/20120518-book-review-author-of-friday-night-lights-bonds-with-his-developmentally-challenged-son-in-fathers-day.ece

To me, his reaction shows the intensity, love and hope we all have for our children. It took a lot of courage to write honestly about his feelings and frustrations. I don’t know if Lemon is a dad, but he sure didn’t show much empathy. I don’t have kids with developmental needs, but I have observed my friends who do and I can see their pure emotional and physical exhaustion.  Truthfully, I would not volunteer to be in their shoes. We need to give ourselves permission to not only love and forgive, but to be frustrated and angry at times. This is a gift that we can give each other this Father’s Day.

Carol Lewis Gullstad

June 11, 2012

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