Book Review by Kimberly Gerry-Tucker (author of Under the Banana Moon, Living Loving Loss and Aspergers/Selective Mutism)
I was googling ‘autistic memoir,’ when I saw this: ‘A non-verbal, aggressive child becomes a hard-working and responsible father to a non-autistic son.’ I read this book description and immediately wondered about the word becomes. “Becomes” is a powerful and loaded word. What transformation took place for Jude between ‘aggressive child’ and ‘responsible adult?’ What changes transpired? What did this growth from ‘non-verbal’ to ‘hard-working responsible father’ look like? I was also intrigued by the book’s title: Why Does Daddy Look So Sad? So many people (women in particular) are said to have RBF (resting bi!*h faces); myself included. As a person with autism, I know that my facial expressions are not always in sync with what I am truly feeling.
I placed the book in my virtual Amazon cart along with several others, thinking I might not only identify with Jude on the facial expression thing, but also learn something, given he had a male perspective on some of the issues I too face: parenthood, autism.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of books that interest me. While this one is 178 pages and fairly priced, when it came time to review my online cart, it totaled over $300.00! Yes, with my library closed, this pile of books would keep me well-read during the pandemic but I could not put forth that kind of money. Reluctantly, I had to remove Why Does Daddy Look So Sad? from my cart (along with over a dozen other must-have books). Imagine my delight when I was sent a copy of this book and asked to review it! At last it arrived, and my first thought when I pulled it from its manilla envelope was this: The book is soft. That’s right, I’m not going to judge a book by its texture, but the smooth soft matte finish was very appealing to me, as was its soothing blue and gold design (one of my favorite color combinations). I was off to a good start. And I could not stop caressing the cover. Sigh.
Bernie Siegel MD, in his Foreword of the book, alludes to the importance of journaling (which Jude and I both did- we also both disposed of these journals, Jude by burning, and me by shredding) and also Bernie mentions Jude’s journey of hope, magic, and healing. Intrigued, and wanting all three of these things in my own life, I read on.
First, let me say, I don’t feel there are enough books published from the point of view of male autistic fathers, so I feel that the publisher “Beyond Words,” which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster, has filled a niche here.
As a mostly non-verbal autistic child who became a hard-working mother of boys, I realized right away that Jude and I had things in common. I also knew that my ‘becoming’ was going to look different from his, since we are all unique. I did however, find this similarity between us: our foundation. Parents who loved unconditionally. Who were present in the background and indeed in the foreground of our lives. Jude’s parents taught what love means through their actions; always at the ready to help, dispensing of their advice and hands-on help in generous abundance from his youth, straight through to his adulthood. It is through strong supports like this, that we all become who we become. But strong parental support is not the only element in play here. As I read with interest, Jude’s inside-out perspective, on the reasons behind his childhood aggression, I was struck with the realization that he is uncommonly self-aware. Whether he is enduring a marathon or excelling at work, Jude is a man with a plan. He has an innate desire to get things right, a never-give-up determination.
Being mute is not pleasant, I know this firsthand. Jude bravely touches on a childhood of being non-verbal, tantrums, ritualistic behavior and sound sensitivity. That Jude Morrow should go into the profession that he did (I will let you read the book to discover what that is!) speaks to the kind of person he is. He is someone who needs and wants to sincerely understand, both himself and others. Someone who has a strong desire to help and to be understood himself.
When the birth of Jude’s baby is imminent, he says this: “The nearest feeling I can compare to it is the feeling of helplessness one gets when reading the assembly instructions of a piece of furniture. The only difference being is that if one part of the instructions is neglected, it could have a negative impact upon a small baby. So I was quite frightened to say the least.” And this:
“I was an outsider who had clung to the coattails of society and somehow managed to survive, but would I survive parenthood?”
In Why Does Daddy Look So Sad? Jude Morrow unflinchingly shows his blemishes. That is to say, he admits when he feels he has done wrong, been insensitive, obsessive, or selfish. He is a logical yet sensitive meta-thinker. Jude mentions having cards when he was a child with emotions depicted on them. When discussing with his parents, his own worries about being a parent, Jude says he had a mental image of the “sad face card.”
Jude said of his parents, “…they would listen to me and that was all I needed.”
The writing in this book is straightforward and candid. It is not filled with fanciful imagery and lyrical phrases. It really isn’t about the ‘becoming’ of one thing (aggressive, non-verbal) to another thing (responsible, hard-working) after all. Rather, it’s about a work in progress, the ongoing process of the journey that is only just beginning when we have children.
The possibilities, promise and obligation that is presented to us as we are faced with becoming the foundation that our offspring needs as we get to know who they uniquely are, and build our own way a day at a time with moments that succeed more often than they fail, bit by bit, moment by moment. It is about the realization that we, as parents, have the obligation and power to shape who someone else becomes. This book, in all its forthright honesty, is valuable to teachers, advocates, and professionals in the autism community, and parents in general. It’s a superb go-to for any autistic person facing parenthood. Go over and put this book in your Amazon cart, but make sure you check it out! Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com/Why-Does-Daddy-Always-Look/dp/158270757X
Kimberly Gerry-Tucker resides in Connecticut with her significant other Al and with her beloved pets, where she works in QA, at finding bugs in software. She is a board member of the Art of Autism nonprofit.