'Love That Boy': On Meeting Your Kids Where They Are

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Journalist Ron Fournier turns the tables on himself for a soul-searching meditation on fatherhood now. What it is. How it’s changing.

Ron Fournier and his family meet George W. Bush in the Oval Office. (Courtesy Ron Fournier)
Ron Fournier and his family meet George W. Bush in the Oval Office. (Courtesy Ron Fournier)

Ron Fournier was a big time Washington reporter who wasn’t paying full-enough attention as a father. When he figured that out, he changed. Recommitted. Came to see his children on their own terms. Especially his young son Tyler– a marvelous boy, a boy with Asperger syndrome. They hit the road. Learned about life and each other. And the American presidency. Up next On Point: Fatherhood now, with Ron Fournier, a father who changed.
-Tom Ashbrook


Ron Fournier, political columnist for The Atlantic and National Journal. Author of Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and my Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations. (@ron_fournier)

Michael Kimmel, professor of sociology at the Stony Brook University in New York. Editor of Men and Masculinities. (@MichaelS_Kimmel)

From Tom's Reading List

Building a Better Father — "Almost six years ago, he learned that the social awkwardness of his son, Tyler, wasn’t just that. It was “high-functioning autism,” in the words of a specialist. Tyler, then 12, had Asperger’s. After that diagnosis, Fournier got a request — no, a command — from his wife: He must spend more time with Tyler, drawing the boy out. Thus began a series of father-son road trips that used their shared love of history to construct a sturdier bridge between them." (New York Times)

How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal With Love, Guilt, and Fatherhood — "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." (The Atlantic)

There’s a Fatherhood Challenge Taking Over Facebook—and It’s Actually Great —The fatherhood challenge on Facebook is great for dads. Compared with the code of conduct for mothers, the rules for being a great dad are far more straightforward. Love your kid, spend some time with your kid, and that’s pretty much it. The reason for this difference is because, historically, men invested far less of their identities in fatherhood than women did in motherhood. Men didn’t need to develop an intricate parental evaluation system because they weren’t really being evaluated, or evaluating themselves, as parents. (Slate XX factor)

Read an excerpt of "Love That Boy" by Ron Fournier

My conversations with parents almost always start with a basic question: “What expectations do you have for your children as they grow up?” The answer al­most always begins with some variation of “All I want is for them to be happy.” But I wonder, is that really all they want? After all, I’m sure there are happy se­rial killers. Think of all the happy assholes you know. “Why is it that bad people can be happy?” wrote Marc Gellman in a 2006 essay for Newsweek magazine. “The reason is that happiness as defined by our culture has become just a synonym for pleasure, and anyone can feel pleasure.”

I highly recommend Gellman’s essay, “An Ar­gument Against Happiness,” because it blows con­ventional wisdom to smithereens. The synonym for happiness is not pleasure, he wrote. It’s goodness. “True happiness, the kind of happiness we ought to wish for our children and for ourselves is almost always the re­sult of doing hard but good things over and over.”

People tell researchers that getting married didn’t make them any happier, and neither did having children or making a lot of money. That’s because happi­ness for most people is defined as pleasure, and most of what makes a marriage or parenthood fulfilling is not very pleasurable. But it is good.

The unbounded pursuit of pleasure is harmful. Re­searchers in the booming field of positive psychology see a direct link between increasing cultural emphasis on materialism and status and the rising rates of de­pression, paranoia, and psychopathology. People who focus on living with a sense of purpose are more likely to remain healthy and intellectually sound and even to live longer than people who focus on achieving feel­ings of “happiness” via pleasure.

There is nothing wrong with the pleasure that comes with a big meal, a sexy night, or victory on the playing field—but it’s fleeting. Raising kids, working through marriage troubles, and volunteering at a soup kitchen may be less pleasurable, but these pursuits pro­vide fulfillment—a sense that you’re the best person you can be. Researchers call this “hedonic well-being” and link it directly to lower levels of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other maladies. The research appears consistent at every income and educa­tion level, and among all races.

This reminds me of a family story. When my brothers were in their teens, they delivered televisions for an appliance store in suburban Detroit. One day they were assigned a delivery in an achingly poor and crime-ridden Detroit neighborhood. After installing the TV, my brothers were walking out of the apart­ment building when they noticed a familiar form headed toward them, a huge man wearing jeans and a T‑shirt. It was Dad’s day off, and he looked startled at first—then a bit angry.

“What are you boys doing down here?” Dad said, sternly. “This is a bad neighborhood.” He was carrying two bags of our clothes—pants and shirts that we had outgrown.

Tim asked, “What are you doing down here?”

Dad shrugged. “Just seeing some people I know.”

At this point in our lives, we already knew Dad couldn’t pass a stranded driver; he always stopped to help. I once saw him shake hands with a homeless man outside a Red Wings game, discreetly passing a cou­ple of crumpled dollar bills to the guy he called Bill. “Thank you, Ron,” the man said.

What do I ultimately want for my kids? I want them to pursue the happiness that is found in goodness. On a day off, I want them to bring outgrown clothes to a bad neighborhood.

This program aired on April 19, 2016.


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