Jean-Louis Fournier did not expect to have a disabled child. He certainly did not expect to have two. But that is precisely what happened to this wry French humorist, and his attempts to live and cope with his Mathieu and Thomas, both facing extremely debilitating physical and mental challenges, is the subject of this brave and heartbreaking book. Fournier recalls the life he imagined having with his sons—but his boys will never really grow up, and he mourns the loss of every memory he thought he’d have.
Though a devoted father, he does not shy away from exploring the limits of his love, the countless times he is filled with frustration and disappointment with no relief in sight. Mathieu and Thomas can barely communicate, and each in turn repeats learned phrases, such as “Where we going, Daddy?” (a favorite in the car) in what feels to
Fournier to be an eternal loop.
In WhereWe Going, Daddy? Fournier reveals everything, and that is perhaps his most remarkable quality. He does not hide behind a mask of cliché, but gives voice to the darkness that comes with disability, and the rare moments of light. Through short, powerful vignettes Jean-Louis manages his grief with cynicism and humor. For parents of disabled children, this book will offer some relief from the courage they must garner every day, a chance to let down their guard, laugh at themselves, and embrace even the ugly emotions they feel. For the rest of us, it’s an unsettling and heartfelt glimpse into an otherwise unimaginable life.
Mathieu doesn’t have many distractions. He doesn’t watch television, he doesn’t need its help to be mentally handicapped. There’s only one thing that seems to make him slightly happy, and that’s music. When he hears music he beats his ball like a drum, in time.
His ball plays a very important part in his life. He spends all his time throwing it in places he knows he can’t get it back on his own. Then he comes to find us and takes us by the hand to the place he’s thrown it. We get the ball back and give it to him. Five minutes later he’s back looking for us, he’s thrown the ball again. He’s quite capable of repeating the performance dozens of times a day.
It’s probably the only way he’s found to make a connection with us, to get us
to hold his hand.
Now Mathieu’s gone to look for his ball all by himself. He’s thrown it too far. In a place where we won’t be able to help him get it back…
Excerpted from Where We Going, Daddy? by Jean-Louis Fournier. Copyright © 2010 by Jean-Louis Fournier. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Leave it to a Frenchman, humorist Jean-Louis Fournier, to break practically every taboo in the world in order to write honestly and admirably about something off-limits to most everyone else: severely handicapped people. As the father of two sons with profound cognitive and physical impairments, Mathieu and Thomas, Fournier uses a series of short vignettes to bravely discuss the difficulty of coming to grips with his children's limitations…By the final story, you'll be touched no matter what. But you'll probably also find that you're laughing at things you never thought funny before.”—NPR.org