Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Report : Far From the Tree

Yes, I'm doing a book report on my blog, just revert back to elementary school for a moment and go with it.  I'm mainly doing this because this book made me think a lot and I don't want to forget it.

This is the longest book I've ever read.  It is over 700 pages, not counting the notes and bibliography section (that makes it 960 pages).  I heard about this book after reading an article on the Columbine shooting and they interviewed one of the mother's of the shooters for the book.

This book is about a lot of difficult subjects that parents often have to deal with when it comes to parenting.  Its a play on the common phrase, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."  Sometimes the apple does fall far from the tree, sometimes children are completely different then the rest of their family.

Each chapter dealt with one of those subjects.  The first chapter titled Son was about the author, mostly him being a gay man and how he was different from the rest of his family.  Because of that, he identified with a lot of the people he interviewed.  The other chapters are: deaf, dwarfs, down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, prodigies, rape, crime, and transgender.  The last chapter titled Father, is about how the author had become a father during the time of writing this book.

Some of the chapters were more interesting to me then others, some were very depressing.  Deaf had a lot of medical terms so it was a hard read for me, but I thought the dwarf and down syndrome chapters were really interesting.  Especially after reading Kelle Hampton's book Bloom, which is about the changes that took place in her life after her daughter was born with down syndrome. (A book I HIGHLY recommend and one that should be held, its a beautiful book, an electronic version of it wouldn't do it justice.)   Autism was the most depressing because there just doesn't seem to be an answer for anyone who has a child with autism.  The chapter also ends with stories of parents who have murdered their children and received very little punishment from the law because of it.  I also found prodigies to be depressing too, most live a life of solitude.

The book also talks a lot about abortion.  Mainly that many of the disabilities can now be detected while the mother is still pregnant, because of such many parents choose to abort their children with disabilities instead of letting the child live.  Because of that, many of these disabilities are on the decline such as deaf, down syndrome and dwarfism.  It has also made many of the people who have these disabilities feel like they are being exiled or that the world feels like it would be a better place without them.  It explains why many people who are deaf do not like the cochlear implant because you're "curing" something that they feel is not broken.

The chapter on rape, which is about children who are born from rape, had a very interesting take on abortion as well.  Many who are against abortion have often agreed that in the case of rape, an abortion is "OK" but for many of the women who experienced rape and then an abortion, they felt more violated, even referred to the abortions as a "medical rape." Many felt that the abortion was actually harder to get over then the rape.  Although also hearing many of the mothers who saw their rapist eyes in their own child had to be some of the saddest stories I've ever read.   One mother talked of how her daughter's touch reminded her of the rapist so much that her skin would crawl and the mother would jump if the child came up behind her.  Her daughter had to ask permission to touch her mother.

The book has so many stories of families of how their children have changed their lives some for the better and some not.  For instance a child with downs, although will have difficulty living on their own as an adult, will always be a very loving person.  So its easy to see the plus side because of the sweetness that is in their nature.  But for a child with autism or an adolescent who has become schizophrenic, there are no plus sides.  Their world is usually filled with chaos.

The chapter on crime was also interesting although not complete in context with this book.  Some of the parents did have minor criminal backgrounds so it wasn't a complete shock that their child struggled with the law as well.  One story was about how a young man got into drugs which led to criminally behavior, he also got a woman (who was also into drugs) pregnant and over a few years had three children with her.  The parents ended up taking custody of the girls and raising them with very little interaction from the actual parents.  The father tells his son at one point, "I would like my life back." And his son replied to him, "Dad, don't you think I feel the same way."  That story gave me a new perspective on drug abuse and how it takes over a person's life.

He also interviewed the parents of Dylan Klebold. Dylan was one of the shooters at Columbine.  His parents tell a frightening story of how they really did not see the possibility of their son being responsible in something so devastating as the Columbine school shooting.  As a parent that is very frightening.  But I will say, it is in a weird way beautiful to see how much they really love their son.   His mother says, "I know it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born.  But I believe it would not have been better for me." (p. 597)

The chapter on Transgender was also very interesting although that has always been a subject that interested me as well.  One of the families he writes about, their son at a very young age "knew" that he was a girl and would often refer to himself as a girl.   They allowed him to transition as a girl named Paula while still in preschool and shockingly the community they live in was for the most part very accepting.  But in the interview the father breaks down crying and says, "I just struggled, because it was my little boy.  I want my child to be happy.  But I found the pictures of us as a family before all this, and I miss that little boy.  Just once in a while, it still hurts."  He asked the mom if she ever felt that way and her reply was, "No, what I regret is that time with Paula that I didn't have.  I missed my daughter's infancy, spending all my energy on someone else who never existed." (p. 613)

They also discuss how the parent that is the same sex goes through a process of feeling rejected.  It was also very saddening to hear of parents who lost their children to the state because people "blamed" the parents for the child believing he/she was transgendered.  And there were many stories of the families being completely rejected from their communities and from extended families, one's family dog was murdered because their child was transgendered.  Many families lost their own siblings or parents because they chose to let their child live as the opposite sex.

Mostly I learned as parents that we all love our children and for the most part strive to be the best parents we can.  I also believe that we as parents will all have different struggles with our children.  Some may deal with a child who has a criminal background while others will have to figure out the best medical placement for their child. And that no child (or parent for that matter) is perfect.  And though some might be labeled with a disability, they are still an individual that should be valued.  One of my favorite stories was in the Dwarfism chapter.  It talks of a mom carrying her child who was a dwarf into the hospital elevator.  Another mother is in the same elevator holding her child who has down syndrome.  The mother of the dwarf child just looked at the other mother with total sympathy and thought to herself, "I'm good, I can deal with this."  And as she caught the other mother's eye, she recognized that the mother of the downs child was looking at her the same way.

Here are some of my favorite quotes I wrote down,
p. 13
" intolerant society creates self-hating people who act out inappropriately."
Treating an identity as an illness invites real illness to make a braver stand.
p. 15
"...their primary experience was of having a child who spoke a language they'd never thought of studying."
p. 32
"Jerry;s kids are people in wheelchairs on television raising money to find a way to prevent them ever having been born." John Hockenberry who had a spinal injury
"Adults responded to my difference by helping me, but some of my classmates responded by calling me names.  Only much later did I realize that helping and name calling amounted to the same thing." Rod Michalko who was blind.
People with disabilities - they suffer only because society treats them badly.
p. 53
"One cannot imagine thought without language anymore then one can imagine language without thought.   An inability to communicate can result in psychosis and dysfunction; the hard of hearing often have inadequate language and researches have estimated that up to one third of prisoners are deaf or hard of hearing."
p. 55
"Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people." Helen Keller
p. 113
"Historic preservation is noble, but it shouldn't forestall invention."