Love That Boy

What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations

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A uniquely personal story that delves into the causes and costs of outsized parental expectations. What we want for our children—popularity, normalcy, achievement, genius—and what they truly need—grit, empathy, character—are explored by National Journal’s Ron Fournier, who weaves his extraordinary journey to acceptance around the latest research on childhood development and stories of other loving-but-struggling parents.

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.



“Love That Boy captures both the fears and gifts of fatherhood and writes about it with honest, selfless clarity. This book is a joy to read, and should be required for all new dads…Really.”
—Jim Gaffigan, Comedian and author of Dad is Fat

“This illuminating and touching book gives us the great gift of letting us know and appreciate the Asperger's world of young Tyler Fournier, who steals scenes from presidents while teaching his parents and all of us what is important in life.”
David Maraniss, Pulitzer-prize winning author of Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story

“LOVE THAT BOY is a gift to families of all kinds. Tyler is a reminder of why being a parent, whatever the child's condition, is at once the most important and challenging job in mankind.”
Tom Brokaw, journalist, news anchor, and author of The Greatest Generation 

“Ron Fournier has done a masterful job capturing the troubles and triumphs of parenting. That we – as parents and caring adults – too often superimpose our own needs and aspirations on the children we love is an important theme in this must read new book. It is a moving tale of fatherhood and of coming to terms with a more enlightened definition of perfect.”
Stephen Gray Wallace, MSEd, President and Director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE)

"Love That Boy is so honest raw, open and unafraid that it will surprise you with its startlingly honesty. It helped me understand what some of my friends are going through as parentseven those who aren’t facing a major health problem but are dealing with the pressures and expectations on themselves and their children. Ron’s written a book about the grit and love it takes to get through life, and he and Lori emerged from those years with a stronger family and an appreciation for life that all of us can only hope to feel some day.”
Dana Perino, Former White House Press Secretary

“There's no magic wand that can make the challenges of parenting disappear, but having the courage to talk honestly about them may be the next best thing. This is a candid look at raising an atypical child. Ron Fournier leads by example, digging through expectations and ego to lay bare what it means to love a child unconditionally."
Olivia Morgan, Managing Editor, The Shriver Report; Member of the Board, New England Center for Children

"Ron Fournier’s deeply personal account of the frustrations and celebrations that go along with raising a special child is deeply moving. As the proud father of an Asperger’s child, Ron's heartfelt work inspired me as much as I know it will inspire you.”
Joe Scarborough, NBC News senior political analyst and host of Morning Joe

"American Presidents have the honor of meeting Tyler Fournier in this lovely, intimate and inspiring book by his father, which has so much to teach all parents, sons and daughters.”
—Michael Beschloss

“Ron Fournier and his son Tyler are partners on an eye-opening road trip to the crossroads of love and humanity. Along the way, they meet Bill Clinton and George Bush; but the real reward for readers from his being on the road with his dad is that we meet Tyler, a young man with Asperger’s and a heart as big as the country.”
Mike Barnicle, journalist and MSNBC news analyst

“In this aching, honest, and moving account of coming to terms with his son’s Asperger diagnosis, Ron Fournier speaks to every parent who has struggled with, not only accepting but embracing, his or her child’s differences.  Quite frankly, that is every one of us.  To varying degrees we all have two children, the one we hoped for and the one we have.  It is the latter that is the blessing. Love that Boy reminds us not to be preoccupied with weaknesses, but to look for strengths. Ultimately Fournier sees clearly, without projection or intruding narcissism, the gift that he has been given in his quirky, whip smart, and unforgettable son Ty. A brave and beautiful recounting.”
—Madeline Levine, Ph.D. author of The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well

"We love our kids fiercely – that’s a given. Less obvious is knowing how to love our kids unconditionally, so they in turn can love themselves, feel a sense of belonging in the world, and get out there and thrive.  All too often we have a specific image of success in mind for our kids and do our darnedest to fashion them accordingly. This can make them feel we love not them but our image of who they could become if only they tried harder to please us. Fournier leads us step by step through his struggle to accept his third child – a son, Tyler, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 12 – and comes to the realization that Fournier’s own ego, not Tyler’s Asperger’s, was the obstacle.  But this book isn’t just for parents of kids with special needs – it’s for any of us, all of us, who have more than occasionally needed our kid to be more athletic, articulate, artsy, amiable, able… A shining example of honesty and humility in parenting, Fournier’s journey forced me to dig deep and provoked more than a few tears. Ultimately, he’s drawn a road map for all parents that is as inspiring as it is necessary."
—Julie Lythcott-Haims,  author of the New York Times bestseller How to Raise an Adult


"Without putting too fine a point on it, Love That Boy presents a particular story about Tyler and a universal story about parenthood--its conclusions are born out of this moving interaction between personal experience and time-honored truths. Love That Boy is a must-read for parents and the parented."
—Hank Stephenson, Shelf Awareness, for the full review click here.



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.



Excerpted from Love That Boy. Copyright 2016 by Ron Fournier. Published in the United States by Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

Reader's Guide

Love That Boy Reading Group Guide


  1. In the doctor’s office immediately prior to hearing Tyler’s autism diagnosis, Ron and Lori are holding hands. Ron notices an unfinished puzzle on the floor next to a worn wooden train with its locomotive missing. A puzzle piece has long been an emblem of the autism community. Must a child be autistic to be an “unfinished puzzle,” or does that symbol apply to all children? As a mother or father, do you ever feel like a powerless locomotive? If so, when? What can you do about it?
  2. At the end of the Introduction, Ron refers to the toy train and a single puzzle piece as “misfits of a tidy office.” Do all children, at some point, feel like misfits, or just those on the autism spectrum? What is the real-life analogue to “a tidy office”?
  3. On the first “guilt trip,” Tyler is practicing his handshakes just before meeting President Obama and tells his father, “I hope I don’t let you down, Dad.” How do you think Ron felt hearing that? How would it make you feel to hear it from one of your children? Do you ever put too much pressure on your kids?
  4. After the Obama meeting, Ron says he realizes the problem isn’t Tyler or even autism. “It’s me.” What does he mean by that?
  5. Do you agree with Ron that childhood popularity is a “trap”? Why or why not?
  6. When Tyler says he is “my kind of happy,” what does he mean? Do you think there’s a gap between your idea of happiness and your child’s?
  7. At the end of “Grit,” Ron notices President Clinton missing subtle social clues and wonders if perhaps we’re all on the autism spectrum. Do you think he meant that literally or was he making a broader point?
  8. Were you surprised that President George W. Bush’s chapter was titled “Empathy”? After all, it was President Clinton who famously told voters, “I feel your pain,” and whose greatest political gift is thought to be empathy. Is there a difference between connecting with a crowd and connecting with a person? Why do you think Bush connected with Tyler better than his own father? Have you ever noticed somebody other than you relating to your child better than you? How did that make you feel?
  9. Ron posits that human decency motivated the ex-presidents to meet with his young Aspie. Why do you think they cooperated? Do you agree they are “fundamentally good people in a bad system”? What, if anything, did you learn anew about Clinton and Bush by reading Love That Boy?
  10. It’s easy to criticize parents for their excessive expectations. But aren’t there good reasons for pressuring our children to do better and be better? What are those reasons? How does a parent learn to recognize the difference between pushing and guiding?
  11. The chapter on happiness ends with a scene in which Ron’s father is so exhausted from Holly’s wedding that he cannot close his own zipper, and yet he gets out of the car for a family photo. Ron wrote of his dad, “He was still The Guy, full of goodness.” What does that scene tell you about the true meaning of happiness? How might you pursue happiness differently?
  12. On page 95, Ron tells parents to “just chill” and concludes a section on the superstar syndrome by writing, “We should refashion parenthood by tolerating pain, play, and failure.” Do you agree? How might you apply it to your family?
  13. Were you surprised at the end of the book to see Tyler step forward to comfort his grandmother when his father and uncles could not? What did that scene say about his development? What does it say about the potential of all children to exceed their parents’ expectations? If you are a parent, do your kids ever exceed yours?
  14. Love That Boy ends with this passage: “Now finally, I know what perfect is. It’s a child blessed with the grace to show goodness, even on the worst of days. No, Tyler is not my idealized son. He is my ideal one.” Think about your own family. How does your child meet this definition of perfect? How are you still striving to be perfect? And what is the difference between our idealized and ideal selves?