BOSTON — Buzz Bissinger knew from the minute his son Zach was born, the second of twin boys to be born prematurely and weighing in at just over a pound, that he was faced with the challenge of getting to know the kind of son he never expected or wanted.
"In some ways this book is about three minutes," Bissinger said, explaining that because Zach was deprived of oxygen and suffered brain damage, his family's life was changed instantly.
It was after years of struggling and difficulty with marriage as well as how to be a father to these boys that Bissinger got the idea to take a road trip with Zach and get to know him better, one-on-one. But Bissinger is the first to admit he's not easy to travel with.
"I can be volatile. I get lost a lot," he said. Along the way he discovered that Zach's unflappable demeanor and talent for reading maps had a soothing effect and gave Bissinger the empathy he needed to find a way to talk with, and about, his son.
Bissinger's style in his memoir is to be blunt and state the whole range of emotions he experiences as a parent of a child with special needs. He feels rage and a sense of being cheated when faced with "really feeling stuck" in a situation he can't change. He decided the voice he would take on was one that could voice those frustrations that other parents might feel unable to express.
Driving across the country gave Bissinger the opportunity to ask a lot of direct questions. "My brain isn't right, I can't go to school like my brother does," Zach said to his father in answer to whether or not he knew what brain damage was. But he also told his father that the endless questions along their journey were upsetting and he couldn't answer them all. That gave Bissinger the understanding that his son was actually maturing. The trip drew them closer and helped a father understand how to accept his relationship with his son, wherever it goes next.
Watch Bissinger's interview with Emily Rooney on Greater Boston.