Father's Day: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son

Father's Day: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son

By:  Buzz Bissinger

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A remarkable memoir from the best-selling author of Friday Night Lights and Three Nights in August.

Buzz Bissinger’s twins were born three minutes—and a world—apart. Gerry, the older one, is a graduate student at Penn, preparing to become a teacher. His brother Zach has spent his life attending special schools. He’ll never drive a car, or kiss a girl, or live by himself. He is a savant, challenged by serious intellectual deficits but also blessed with rare talents: an astonishing memory, a dazzling knack for navigation, and a reflexive honesty that can make him both socially awkward and surprisingly wise.

Buzz realized that while he had always been an attentive father, he didn’t really understand what it was like to be Zach. So one summer night Buzz and Zach hit the road to revisit all the places they have lived together during Zach’s twenty-four years. Zach revels in his memories, and Buzz hopes this journey into their shared past will bring them closer and reveal to him the mysterious workings of his son’s mind and heart. The trip also becomes Buzz's personal journey, yielding revelations about his own parents, the price of ambition, and its effect on his twins.

As father and son journey from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, they see the best and worst of America and each other. Ultimately, Buzz gains a new and uplifting wisdom, realizing that Zach’s worldview has a sturdy logic of its own: a logic that deserves the greatest respect. And with the help of Zach’s twin, Gerry, Buzz learns an even more vital lesson about Zach: character transcends intellect. We come to see Zach as he truly is: patient, fearless, perceptive, kind—a man of excellent character.

This e-book features a teaser chapter from Bissinger’s story of strategy, heart, and baseball, THREE NIGHTS IN AUGUST.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547818788

  • ISBN-10: 0547818785

  • Pages: 288

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 05/15/2012

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Buzz Bissinger
Author

Buzz Bissinger

Buzz Bissinger is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of four books, including the New York Times bestseller 3 Nights in August and Friday Night Lights, which has sold two million copies and inspired a film and TV franchise. He is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and a sports columnist for The Daily Beast. He has written for the New York Times, The New Republic, Time and many other publications.
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  • reviews

    "Blunt, tender, sometimes harrowing, and always affecting, Father’s Day is a triumph. Bissinger unfurls the whole fabric of love and pride and heartbreak and salvation that makes a family, with an honesty that will make you gasp."

    — Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin and The Orchid Thief

     

    "Bissinger has the great writer’s gift of showing us we are not alone. Here he explores the religion all parents share: that our children’s essential goodness will somehow grant them safe passage through a rough world. What a book! Every parent should read it."

    — Chris Matthews, host of Hardball and author of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero

     

    "I loved this unflinching, heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant tale of disability and difference, and what it means to be a father, a son, and a man."

    — Jennifer Weiner, author of Then Came You and Fly Away Home

     

    "Buzz Bissinger's memoir — a paean to his remarkable son — is tender, funny, frightening at moments when love is re-stated; even brave — which memoiristic writing rarely gets the chance to be. It also reads as unflinchingly true, which should give it a long and useful life in the reader's heart." 

    — Richard Ford

     

    "Father's Day is the story of a road trip like no other. Searing and heartfelt, this is not just an unforgettable portrait of a father and his son; it is a love story that speaks to the mystery, pain, and exhilaration of being human."

    — Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and The Last Stand

     

    "This brave and beautiful memoir gets at the core of what it means to be a parent — how painful it can be, how scary it can get, and how rewarding it is. By facing a challenge that would try any of us, and beat many of us, Bissinger emerges a better man. He not only finds his son, but himself, and the reader finds something, too. After reading Fathers Day, I’ve rethought my assumptions about what makes a successful and worthy life. Ultimately, this is a mesmerizing story about how we can all be better."

    — David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy

     

    "Buzz Bissinger has given completely of himself in this moving book about his son Zach, who was born too small, too soon. There is the father's disappointment and guilt, his confusion and frustration, his wonder and love. That Zach has a twin brother, who grew up unscathed, and that Zach's mind is as divided as his father's emotions, makes the story all that more compelling. Father's Day is wonderfully, achingly written, with all the doubt that tells you how truthful it is."

    — Frank Deford, author of The Old Ball Game and The Entitled

     

    "Every father of a special needs child should read this very insightful book." 

    — Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation

     

    "A fiercely honest memoir about the complex hard drive of a son's brain and the balky software of a father's heart. Though his story is singular, Bissinger makes it feel like part of that eternal saga — fathers and sons trying to connect."

    J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar

  • excerpts

    1

    Zach

    I am meeting Zach at Brooks Brothers in the sodden, sullen aftermath of Christmas. He has just come from work at the supermarket where he has bagged groceries for four hours with one fifteen-minute break. I cannot imagine my son doing such work at the age of twenty-four. It shames me to think of him placing sweat-drenched jugs of milk into their proper place and learning initially, with the extensive help of a job coach, that the eggs must be placed separately in double plastic bags. He has been doing the same job for four years, and he will do the same job for the rest of his life. My son’s professional destiny is paper or plastic.

       Except for brief lapses in which he pesters fellow employees like a seven-year-old, following them and calling out their names in a purposely aggravating singsong voice when they are trying to work, he does his job well. He limits his conversations with customers, although by nature he is ebullient and friendly. He no longer interjects his views, as he did several years ago when he was working at K-Mart one summer stocking supplies. When a customer asked where to find work gloves, he announced that he found it an odd request: “What do you need gloves for? It’s the summer.” It defied his sense of logic; gloves are for cold, not hot, and Zach just wanted to make sure the customer understood the order of things.

       He is generally well liked. Female cashiers call him “my guy” and “my baby” and treat him with protectiveness. He calls them by their first names, as if they all served in the trenches of World War I together. But he lacks the dexterity, or maybe the confidence, to handle a register or work the deli section. He fears change, because routine is the GPS that guides him. He orders the same entrée virtually every time we go out for dinner: salmon. He occasionally ventures out into the uncharted territory of a Cajun chicken wrap or even a crab cake, but it is the pink flesh of salmon, even if it is more gray than pink and flaking off in dry chunks, that safely brings him home. He leans back in the La-Z-Boy I once gave him for his birthday and often watches the ten o’clock news on Fox, not because he wants to keep up on current events, but because he takes comfort in seeing the usual television newsmakers like the mayor and the police chief and the indicted city official proclaiming innocence although the payoff money was found inside his pants. He also liked learning the names of the anchors and the weatherman. The world by its nature is chaotic and unpredictable, but Zach always narrows it down to a reliably straight line.

       Because of trace brain damage at birth, his comprehension skills at the age of twenty-four are roughly those of an eight- or nine-year-old. He can read, but he doesn’t understand many of the sentences. He has basic math skills, although he is still prone to using his fingers. He understands money to a certain degree. Because his mother, Debra, and I encourage independence, he is allowed to use public transportation to go to Philadelphia where his other job is, stocking supplies at a law firm, and where his brother lives. The train stops at 8th Street and Market. He is supposed to walk the rest of the way if it is daylight — about seven blocks. But sometimes he sneaks in a cab ride. The fare is ten dollars. He dutifully pays the meter but then he leaves a five-dollar tip, making him a favorite among Philadelphia cabdrivers who otherwise drive in silent misery.

       He can’t add a hundred plus a hundred, although he does know the result is “a lot,” which is close enough when you think about it. He goes to movies, but the action and plot don’t filter down to him; he seizes on images that he has seen before. I took him to see Spartacus once, when he was nine, and, after a blood-flowing scene at a Roman villa where Kirk Douglas single-handedly kills two million buffed-up soldiers with a plastic knife, he turned to me and said, “Look Dad! A pool!” He has always loved pools. In his early teens, he belonged to a swim club that competed against other clubs. He swam the fifty-yard freestyle. He finished far behind the other contestants, but it didn’t matter. He still finished, every stroke like swimming against a frothing high tide. To this day, I don’t know how he did it. It is the most monumental athletic feat I have ever seen.

       His IQ, which has been measured far too many times, is about 70, with verbal scores in the normal range of 90, but with performance skills of about 50. I love my son deeply, but I do not feel I know him nor do I think I ever will. His mind is not simple. It is limited to a degree that profoundly frustrates me, but it is also inexplicably wondrous at certain moments. I have dedicated my life trying to fathom its inner workings. I can make educated guesses, some of which I think are accurate. I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I have spent nearly a quarter century trying to pinpoint the best learning and life strategies for Zach, so I am far more confident of my conclusions about him than theirs, some of them so haphazard they might as well have been made during the fourteenth hole on Maui before the convention luau.

       It is strange to love someone so much who is still so fundamentally mysterious to you after all these years. Strange is a lousy word, meaning nothing. It is the most terrible pain of my life. As much as I try to engage Zach, figure out how to make the flower germinate because there is a seed, I also run. I run out of guilt. I run because he was robbed and I feel I was robbed. I run because of my shame. I am not proud to feel or say this. But I think these things, not all the time, but too many times, which only increases the cycle of my shame. This is my child. How can I look at him this way?

       Because I do. Because I think we all do when confronted with difference, reality versus expectation never at peace or even truce.

    As his father, I should go to watch him work at the grocery store every now and then. I should offer support and encouragement because he is my son. I did go once. Zach was in one of the aisles on a break, and he didn’t know I was there. I saw a coworker approach him. I thought they were friends. It made me feel better. The coworker spoke with rapid excitement.

        — Hey, Zach!

        — Oh hey Brian!!

        — Hey, Zach, you know the woman with the big tits? She wants you, Zach! When you gonna put the move on her?

        — Yeah.

        — She’s waitin’ for you, Zach! You better do it soon!

        — Okay Brian okay!

       Brian knew Zach was different. He knew from the way Zach talked aloud to himself. He knew from the way Zach paced and took in breaths like he was gasping for air. He knew from the sudden tics that sometimes overcame his arms and torso. He knew from the way Zach walked, slightly hunched and Chaplinesque, one foot toward the east and the other toward the west. He knew from the way Zach had difficulty understanding. He preyed on Zach with leering joy. He laughed at Zach and walked away. But that wasn’t what hurt me most. What hurt me most was how Zach welcomed the attention. He yearned to please Brian. He yearned for Brian’s acceptance, although he did stop short of seeking out the woman with the big tits.

       And that still wasn’t the most painful part. I should have grabbed Brian by the neck. I just ran.

    I am forever running.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547818788

  • ISBN-10: 0547818785

  • Pages: 288

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 05/15/2012

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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