Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
This post comes from writer Jamie Pacton, a professor and writer in Milwaukee. She’s also the mom of two sons, 4-year-old Liam, who has severe autism, and 2-year-old Eliot. She was quite moved by a new book about what it’s like for a father who has Asperger’s syndrome to raise a son who also has the diagnosis, and wants you to know about it, too.
New York Times-bestselling writers John Elder Robison and his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, had a rough childhood. Their challenges with an abusive father and mentally ill mother are detailed in Burroughs’ famous book Running with Scissors. In Robison’s first memoir, Look Me in the Eye, and its companion book, be different, Robison discussed some of the hardships of his childhood, but his real focus was to explain how having Asperger’s syndrome helped him achieve amazing things (like designing the rocket-launching guitars for the band KISS, to name one example from his very interesting life). In his latest memoir, Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors and High Explosives, Robison turns away from his rock-and-roll past and sheds some light on how having Asperger’s helped him cultivate an outlaw style of parenting.
Raising Cubby is, as Robison told me during an interview, simply the story of “how I went down to the kid store, picked out my kid, Jack (Cubby), and got him to the age of 17, when Cubby was almost thrown into a maximum-security prison for being a Boy Scout-genius with a chemistry set who earned the ire of the local prosecutor.”
This father-and-son story is by turns hilarious, poignant, weird, shocking, and inspiring. It’s full of unlikely parenting adventures: taking a preschooler to power plants, coal mines, and train yards (Cubby piloted his first diesel engine before most kids ride a bike); driving Chairman Mao’s refurbished Mercedes to a car show; inventing an alternate history for Santa Claus; raising a genius who taught himself to read using just the the Harry Potter books, but who later dropped out of high school; and, also fighting an epic legal battle to prove that Cubby was just a harmless geek, not a nefarious criminal.
This book will make you laugh, and make you think about how to parent a child who doesn’t fit into the neat categories we expect our children to occupy.
There are also practical reasons to read and share this book. You’ll learn the recipe for an infallible “monster spray” to soothe toddler night terrors. You’ll put the book down convinced that your kid needs to sign up for off-road Land Rover Driving School before he or she gets their license. And, perhaps most importantly, you’ll learn the secret to getting your kids to call you by the best title ever: “wondrous dada” (or, as I’m teaching my sons, “wondrous mama”).
Image courtesy of Crown Publishing Group.