For journalist Ron Fournier, connecting with his youngest child, Tyler, wasn’t easy: Tyler hated sports, which his dad loved, and he was socially awkward, which made Fournier cringe. His warmhearted memoir, Love That Boy, details a father’s journey to understand and bond with his son, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the relatively late age of 12.
One thread of the memoir follows father and son on a series of post-diagnosis road trips. Tyler loves history and Fournier is a former White House correspondent, so they visit presidential house-museums—the White House; Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill; the Adams home in Quincy; Jefferson’s Monticello. Fournier tries to connect the dots for Tyler: Roosevelt suffered asthma and was bullied as a child but grew up to be wildly popular, he tells him. “You’re trying too hard,” Tyler says.
Divided into two parts, “What We Want” and “What We Need,” the memoir is also a familiar meditation on parenting—our outsize expectations for our kids’ success, popularity and happiness. To get at these issues, Fournier interviews other parents, some who have a child with Asperger’s or depression, others who call themselves tiger moms. Fournier intersperses these with his family’s story, including the slow path to Tyler’s diagnosis and one daughter’s adolescent struggles. He’s clear-eyed about his own shortcomings—he repeatedly put work ahead of family, and his anxious expectations for his college-age daughters, Holly and Gabrielle, led him to give them wrong-headed advice (which they wisely ignored).
Fournier also secured substantial visits with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and he vividly describes the former presidents’ empathy and generosity with Tyler, who didn’t make those visits easy. But Love That Boy is most affecting when we see how far Tyler has come since his diagnosis and how far his father has come as well.