‘This not the child I wanted’: Friday Night Lights author opens up about relationship with brain-damaged son and how it took a road trip to get to…
18:04 EST, 1 May 2012
21:37 EST, 1 May 2012
Friday Night Lights author, Buzz Bissinger, loves to take a road trip to find inspiration for the stories that so far have won him critical acclaim and a plethora of awards.
But an 11-day sojourn in 2007 with his disabled son to all the places they had lived as a family had far higher stakes than simply professional gain.
The trip gave Bissinger a chance to bond with and get to know the inner workings of the child he never expected to have, an opportunity that he has now written about in a new book entitled Father’s Day.
Connecting: Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger and his brain-damaged son Zachary about whom he has written a revealing new memoir
Zachary Bissinger was born in 1983, three and a half months early and three minutes later than his twin brother, Gerry.
But oxygen deprivation that resulted in brain damage kept Zach and his parents in the hospital for an agonizing seven and half months while Gerry thrived and developed into a healthy baby.
Recalling the experience in a candid interview for the promotion of his new work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author said: ‘His life at the very beginning we knew was going to be very different.’
As a child Zachary bounced between special schools and self-contained classrooms and though nowadays his brother is a Penn student aiming for a career in education, at 24, Zach’s professional life has been limited to menial jobs like sorting the mail at newsrooms.
Tourist: The father and son took an 11 day bonding road trip in 2007 that provided the setting for Bissinger’s memoir and took them across America and to the Hoover Dam
Brotherly love: Zachary Bissinger and his twin Gerry who was born only three minutes before
Bissinger describes his son’s comprehension skills in an excerpt of the book published by The Daily Beast, as that of an eight or nine year old: ‘He can’t add a hundred plus a hundred, although he does know the result is “a lot.”‘
Raising a child with such a disability was an epic struggle for Bissinger who openly admits how hard he found it to come to terms with the hand his family had been dealt.
Their time together as Zach grew up, he explains in the memoir, was largely spent playing games that provided an easy, lighthearted way for the two men to communicate.
But eventually, Bissinger realised that they could not lark about like children forever if he wanted his son to mature the way he knew he should.
‘Any parent who says they don’t have expectations for their kids is fooling themselves,’ he says in the tell-all video. ‘We live through our kids. We want them to do well, we want them to do great in sports. We want them to make us look good in a way and that’s fine.
Confessions: Buzz Bissinger’s previous work has won him critical acclaim and a plethora of awards
‘When you have a child like Zach, you’re going to have to find other ways to feel that.’
In the book itself, the famed writer describes the pain of loving someone who he doesn’t fully understand as challenge from which he is always running.
‘I run out of guilt. I run because he was robbed and I feel I was robbed. I run because of my shame.’
But the shame is also what spurred Bissinger on his mission to connect with his son and lay to rest the guilt he has suffered for not being able to relate to him.
In a shameless and startling confession he admits to having thought at one time: ‘This not the child I wanted, this is not the child I anticipated.’
Elaborating further, he adds: ‘I came from a very privileged background, an ambitious background. I wanted my kids to go to college… So you know, what are my bragging rights?’
But somewhere between Chicago, Milwaukee, Odess and Las Vegas, Bissinger, helped as well by his son Gerry’s tireless devotion to his brother, learns that Zach is really ‘yearning for independence’.
‘He’s capable of a lot more than I thought,’ he reveals.
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