“Love That Boy”: Discovering How to Be a Good Father

From the National Journal comes a moving story about a father named Ron Fournier who learned to engage and truly love his son. Tyler Fournier has Asperger Syndrome, and it took some time for his parents to figure this out. Once they did, it explained many things about their son that had baffled them. Their discoveries are elaborated in a piece, “How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal With Love, Guilt, and Fatherhood,” that is easily one of the best-written essays I have read in a good long while.

The essay includes two powerful sections featuring none other than George W. Bush. I have always liked Bush. He is disliked by many in America, and he is a crusty old guy, but he is a man’s man. I once thought I would get to shake his hand at a helicopter departure at the White House–he was just about to walk my general direction–but he pivoted and departed. No matter, though–I got to work in a small way for his administration, and I am thankful for his honorable if embattled presidency.

Here’s a section that lets you see the kind of man Bush is, and gives you a touching window into what Tyler is like. I will quote at length (it’s all worth reading):

As the most powerful man on Earth prepared to pose for a picture, my son launched into a one-sided conversation, firing off one choppy phrase after another with machine-gun delivery. “Scottish terriers are called Scotties, they originated from Scotland, they can be traced back to a single female named Splinter II, President Roosevelt had one, he called it Fala, Dad says he kept him in the office down there when he was swimming, there’s one in Monopoly, my favorite is the car …”

I cringed. Tyler is loving, charming, and brilliant—he has a photographic memory—but he lacks basic social skills. He doesn’t know when he’s being too loud or when he’s talking too much. He can’t read facial expressions to tell when somebody is sad, curious, or bored. He has a difficult time seeing how others view him. Tyler is what polite company calls awkward. I’ve watched adults respond to him with annoyed looks or pity. Bullies call him goofy, or worse.

But the president was enchanted. Waiting for Tyler to take a breath, he quickly changed the subject with a joke. “Look at your shoes,” Bush told Tyler while putting a hand on his shoulder and steering him toward the photographer. “They’re ugly. Just like your dad’s.” Tyler laughed.

Ten minutes later, we were walking out of the Oval Office when Bush grabbed me by the elbow. “Love that boy,” he said, holding my eyes.

Read the whole piece. It is impressive, and it will affect you.

I’m thankful for this essay, which brings to light the complications and blessings of parenting an Aspergers child. I do not have this experience myself, but I know some who do, and it is clear that such a situation requires grace and tact. Thanks to good teaching and parenting, many who have Aspergers are able to function very well in society.

Pieces like this remind us of the tremendous potential every person possesses. The Christian worldview does not rank people in importance or worth and allow them to function and live accordingly. It seeks the full flourishing of all, including those who volunteer obscure yet fascinating facts about polar bears in formal adult conversation. (Actually, I would sometimes prefer this kind of enlightening conversation over other kinds.)

All have worth in the eyes of Christian faith; all have dignity. We remember David’s kindness to Mephibosheth (2 Sam 9), a social misfit in his own right, and we are stirred to show gospel-shaped kindness to others in our little corner of things.

“Love that boy.” May we fathers do just that, as our heavenly father has done with us.

(Image: Richard A. Bloom/NJ; link found at longreads.com)

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