Ron Fournier: Love That Boy
What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations
March 30, 2017 at 7pm
In his book Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations, award-winning political journalist Ron Fournier writes movingly about the causes and costs of parental expectations in 21st-century America through the lens of his relationship with his son Tyler. He lurches between the two poles of parenthood: what we want for our children—popularity, normalcy, achievement, genius—and what they truly need—grit, empathy, character.
At twelve years old, Ron’s son Tyler was diagnosed with Asperger's. His unique wiring and interests made him socially awkward, and it was difficult for Ron to connect with him in the ways he'd done with his own father: through a mutual love of sports. When Tyler is diagnosed, his wife, Lori, insists that Ron bond with his son and help Tyler develop social skills by taking a series of road trips together to the libraries and homes of former presidents. (Tyler shares a deep interest and love of presidential history.) Along the way, Tyler attends a White House Christmas party, where he shakes hands with President Obama and gets a hug from Michelle; Tyler also gets the courage to meet privately with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and talk with them at length. Ron calls them "guilt trips." Father and son also visit the libraries and homes of Presidents Adams, Ford, Jefferson, Kennedy, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Their journey turns the spotlight on all parents, urging us to do as Ron ultimately does: learn to love our children for who they are, not who we wish them to be. Love That Boy is a deeply personal and honest look at the universal pitfalls of modern parenting.
Tyler and I inch toward the Green Room, in line with blow-dried TV anchors and stuffy columnists. He's practicing his handshake and hello: "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. President. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. President. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. President." When the couple in front of us steps forward for their picture, my teenager with sky-blue eyes and a soft heart looks up at me and says, "I hope I don't let you down, Dad."
What kind of father raises a son to worry about embarrassing his dad? I want to tell Tyler not to worry, that he’d never let me down. That there’s nothing wrong with being different. That I actually am proud of what makes him special. But we are next in line to meet the president of the United States in a room filled with fellow strivers, and all I can think about is the real possibility that Tyler might embarrass himself. Or, God forbid, me.
General admission: $10
Copies of Love That Boy will be available for purchase at the event. Book sales coordinated by Barnes & Noble Booksellers.
About Ron Fournier
Ron Fournier is the Senior Political Columnist for National Journal. He began his family and career in Arkansas, covering then Governor Bill Clinton before moving to Washington in 1993, where he covered politics and the presidency during the administrations of Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Fournier also served as a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics, where he co-wrote the New York Times bestseller Applebee’s America. He holds the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for coverage of the 2000 elections, and he is a four-time winner of the prestigious White House Correspondents’ Association Merriman Smith Memorial Award.