I guess the problem is we are all locked inside our own heads, isn’t it?
That is the reaction I get when I read reader reviews of January First. I don’t read them for validation that I am a great writer. I already know I’m not. So it’s not an ego thing. I don’t read them for sympathy either, because that doesn’t really do anything for anybody.
The only thing that bothers me personally is the very, very few who actually believe that I did sexually molest Jani. Actually, “bother” would be an understatement. That is the only thing left that anyone can say about me personally that will cut me to my core and rip me open all over again. And it’s not something that I will ever get over. It’s five years in the past but it is and always will be an open wound. That is a weapon my critics will always be able to use.
Statements, while also rare, that Jani and Bodhi should have been taken away from me sting, even though I know it won’t happen. One thing I feel like I failed to convey in the book is what that feels like to know your children could be taken away from you. Sure, I knew that DCFS (CPS) existed but before Jani got sick I thought they always saved kids from abusive parents. I thought they were like Superman and Indiana Jones and Han Solo wrapped into a government agent. I’ve been lucky. The DCFS agents who have been involved in our lives have always been cordial. Never once have I personally felt threatened or bullied by them. No, the fear comes from knowing that even people who don’t know you personally, who have never met you or your children, can drop a dime on you and call DCFS. Out of four DCFS investigations, none was triggered by someone who knew us personally and only one had ever actually met Jani (they don’t reveal the name of who “called on you” but they will say whether the report was generated from a “direct observation”). So the idea that people who have never met you have the power to call an agency that in turn has the power, and quite an easy power at that, to take your children away. Knowing that strangers have that kind of power is frightening. So frightening, in fact, that if I was doing this for any other reason than helping other mentally ill children and their parents get help, I would get the hell off the internet and you would never hear from me again. I don’t give a shit about “fame” and the money I have made is less than two years working full time teaching English composition.
And I liked my job. I liked my life before I lost it.
That is real “stigma,” by the way, not fear of not getting a job or getting into college. I don’t know if NAMI and President Obama realize that. Even that kind of fear is not what stops families of severely mentally ill children coming forward because, quite honestly, you are trying to save the life of your child. You never think about that stuff until it happens and even then, as I wrote in January First, it is secondary to getting the help your child needs.
I read statements like “After reading this, I can’t believe this man’s wife hasn’t divorced him!” That by the way, is a direct quote from a review. Here is the full review:
After reading this, I can’t believe this man’s wife hasn’t divorced him. He comes across as a huge jerk with a “special snowflake” child, and the very small portion toward the end of the book where he kind of sort of tries to apologize and/or justify his behavior isn’t enough to make him even remotely likable.
I read this wanting – and expecting – to have sympathy for him and his family. I ended up feeling quite the opposite.
This review makes me feel like I completely failed. I was such a “huge jerk” to this reader that Jani was rendered totally irrelevant. My behavior in the book was so much for her that the main character, Jani, became the background and the narrator, me, a secondary character, became the main focus.
I guess I make a hell of a villain. Fiction writers would kill to be able to write a character that produces that strong of an emotional reaction.
But it’s the first line that gets me: “After reading this, I can’t believe this man’s wife hasn’t divorced him.” When I first read it, I showed it to Susan.
“This woman must not have kids,” was her largely disinterested response, before walking away.
Not a ringing endorsement of me as a husband and father, perhaps, but that’s not the point.
The point is this: For all I know, people walk past each other everyday thinking this. I sincerely hope not. I sincerely hope how this reader’s statement is not how most people think.
Because if it is, our civilization is screwed.
People are always commenting to me and Susan, “I don’t know how you did it!” while shaking their heads in amazement. Our answer is always the same: “We did it because we had to. Jani was our child.” I go a step further and say, “You’d do the same thing.”
But now I am not so sure.
Because what does that reader’s statement really say, beyond the fact that I am apparently so much of an asshole Susan should have divorced me and broken up Jani and Bodhi’s family?
That when faced with someone you don’t like, that pisses you off, that drives you up the wall…
…you should quit.
Give up. Throw in the towel. Run in the other direction.
Yes, I have been an asshole and I have been an asshole to Susan more than anyone else on Earth. Susan has even called me an asshole on more than one occasion.
But Susan is not a quitter. Susan doesn’t give up. Susan doesn’t put herself, or me, before the children and most of the time, if I take my meds, neither do I.
Should Susan have divorced me? Possibly. I’ve given her reasons I didn’t even get a chance to put in the book for length reasons and because the focus was supposed to be on Jani. What’s funny about that reader’s statement is that I have been an even bigger jerk than she could possibly know just from reading the book. Could Susan have raised Jani and Bodhi without me? I’ll leave that for her to answer.
I am actually less of a jerk to her now, though.
I always knew Susan was unique. After all, she agreed to marry me. Most women wouldn’t put up with me. But it wasn’t until we went through this with Jani, and now with Bodhi, that I understood how unique she is. There is no replacing her. Susan is like a 1971 Dodge Challenger: they just don’t make them like that anymore.
It seems the more recent models may be too ready to quit when the going gets tough.
In all my blogs, in the book, I never got angry at anyone (other than Susan, unfairly) for failing Jani. I’ve failed Jani at times. I’ve certainly failed Bodhi as many point out.
The only thing that made me angry was if I thought you were quitting.
You can fail. We all fail. But you can’t quit.
You see, I don’t care if you hate me because I don’t need your help, at least not personally. Five years ago? I absolutely needed it. Jani doesn’t need it. I am reasonably confident now that she has enough people in her life who will look out for her after Susan and I are gone. I found this out when expressing my fear to the executive director of Carousel Ranch, where Jani gets her equine therapy, that her scholarship is running out and I don’t know if I will be able to pay next year.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she told me. “It’s easy to get a scholarship for Jani. Everybody knows who she is.”
This came as a shock to me because I didn’t think about it. That was never what the TV appearances and the book were about for me. I never did it for Jani or for us.
I did it for those who are following. I did it for the severely mentally ill kids out there, that you think are just “brats” or a “bad kid” and their parents, who you think are “terrible parents.” I did it to alter your perception of them because they still need your help. They don’t have the benefit of the LA Times, or Oprah Winfrey, or a New York Times Bestselling book. They are not on your TV screen or on your Kindle Fire or on the pages in your lap. They are next door, down the street, in your kids’ schools. They are all around you.
So if being inside my head screwed up your chance of recognizing and sympathizing and, most importantly, HELPING them, then I apologize. I failed and everything I did was for nothing. All I did was set up Jani and Bodhi for life. I did nothing for kids in your personal world.
Unfortunately for those children, those who hated the book because they hated me most likely will never read this blog. I had one shot to change hearts and minds and I guess I blew it.
Oh, well. Don’t worry.
Susan and I won’t quit.