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Readers' Choice: Favorite New Special-Needs Memoir

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Finalist: Following Ezra
Following Ezra by Tom Fields-Meyer
Cover image courtesy of Tom Fields-Meyer

Title: Following Ezra
Subtitle: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love From His Extraordinary Son
Author: Tom Fields-Meyer
Length: 256 pages
Website: www.followingezra.com

WINNER, Favorite New Special-Needs Memoir

Message from the Author: "Many memoirs I'd read by parents raising children with autism shared a common narrative: the battle against a disease. These mothers and fathers were searching for the best diet, or therapy, or doctor. Or for the cause. Instead, I wanted to describe -- with tenderness and humor -- what it's like to live with an extraordinary person, a child who opens your eyes, and surprises you, and makes you see the world in a different way. Following Ezra chronicles the decade from when our son was three (and first showing signs of autism) until he was thirteen. It's the book I wish I could have read when Ezra was younger, one that says your life may be different from what you expected, but it will be okay, and it may even be quite remarkable."

Excerpt from Following Ezra:

From Chapter 1, "He's Gone," pages 21-23:
One afternoon back at the therapist's office, Shawn and I are sitting on the floor, making vain efforts to engage our son in play. The harder we try, the more Ezra resists, and the more isolated he becomes. He isn't defiant, just detached -- his voice distant, his gaze diffuse.

On a maroon love seat, I hold Shawn's hand, silently listening to my wife, exasperated, wonder tearfully how she will ever get through to Ezra.

Ruth listens and nods with understanding.

"You have to allow yourself to grieve," she says.

I speak up: "For what?"

"You have to let yourself grieve for the child he didn't turn out to be."

I let that echo in my mind.

Grieve for the child he didn't turn out to be. . . .

That night, I can't sleep. Not because of Ezra. Because of Ruth. As I lie awake, I keep hearing her voice, her quiet tone, her calm delivery.

Grieve for the child he didn't turn out to be.

And I realize something: I am not grieving. In fact, I feel no instinct to grieve. When I thought about becoming a father, when Shawn and I dreamed together and planned together and decided to start raising a family... I didn't carry any conscious notion of what my children would be like -- whether they would be girls or boys, tall or short, conventional or a little bit odd.

I planned only to love them.

The next week, when we visit Ruth, I tell her that.

"I don't feel that way," I say. "I'm not going to grieve." I am sure she thinks that I am deluding myself. I know the truth. That one statement has done more good for me than all of the play therapy, than all of the listening, all of the advice. It has forced me to find and bring out something within myself. I feel full of love -- for the boy who lines up the dinosaurs on the porch, for the child pretending to be Tigger in his bedroom, for the little one I carried and sang to in the first minutes of his life. My answer will never be to mourn. It will be to pour love on my son, to celebrate him, to understand, to support him, and to follow his lead.

Excerpted from 'Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son' by Tom Fields-Meyer, by arrangement with New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Tom Fields-Meyer, 2011.

 

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