With New York Times best-selling author Susy Flory, a father shares his autistic son's story and offers inspiration and advice for families facing similar challeges.
Like any other teen boy, Austin loves pizza, movies, dancing, and girls. But unlike most other eighteen year olds, he has a rare brittle-bone disease, was locked in a mental ward as a child, and is autistic. Yet Austin doesn’t let any of that stop him.
The Unbreakable Boy is the raucously tender story of Austin’s joyful embrace of life’s tragedies and triumphs. His is a world where suffering a broken back is a minor inconvenience and the quest for the ultimate strawberry milkshake just might be the best day of his life.
Told with compelling candor by Austin’s father, Scott, and with New York Times best-selling author Susy Flory, The Unbreakable Boy weaves the beautiful and often humorous tale of how Austin teaches his father—and everyone else he encounters—to have faith in God and trust that one day life’s messes will all make sense.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Scott LeRette is an ordinary man with an extraordinary son.Scott and his wife,Teresa, have two teen sons, Austin and Logan. Both Teresa and Austin suffer from Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. Scott writes an award-winning daddy blog called Austintistic.
Susy Flory is the author or coauthor of five books, including the New York Times bestseller Thunder Dog. Her articles have appeared in Today's Christian Woman, Enrichment Journal, Guideposts books, Kyria.com, and with Focus on the Family.
Read an Excerpt
The Unbreakable Boy
A Father's Fear, a Son's Courage, and a Story of Unconditional Love
By Scott Michael LeRette, Susy Flory
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Scott Michael LeRette
All rights reserved.
IN THE CLOSET
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.... The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, The more joy you can contain. —KHALIL GIBRAN
I sit cowering in my closet, the one place I find refuge. Life is hard, really, really hard, and sometimes this is the only place I can find a few minutes to ease my brain and recalibrate my soul. Go ahead and laugh. A grown man hiding in a closet like a little kid.
But even though I'm a dad and Austin is my son, I often feel like a child because I feel so helpless. Austin sees things differently, and I wish I could climb inside his brain and understand why he does the things he does. Some days it's like we're playing two different video games with two different controllers and two different sets of rules in two different virtual universes. I get frustrated. We all do.
Tonight is worse than usual. I'm scared and unsure what to do next as I sit on a kiddie chair alone in the dark, trembling and thinking and analyzing. I relive that night again. I can't get it out of my brain.
My stomach tightens, and I feel sick as I remember standing in the men's room at the country club, drunk as I'd ever been. I couldn't stop staring at the man in the mirror. I raised my hands and tried to touch his burning eyes.
I wanted to keep believing this was all normal and life was just fine, but the man looking back at me was someone else—lost, alone, and at the point of destruction. I didn't know who I was anymore, and I felt empty, like a lifeless cicada shell stuck on a post. I stumbled back into the dining room, the lights beating into my brain.
I have to get out of this place. Everyone is looking at me, and they just don't understand.
As the awful memory unfolds, I grab my two boys and stumble out to the parking lot, heading for the car. Then I forget how to walk. My keys go flying, and I am on the ground, staring at the rocks stuck in my palms. I have gravel in my knees too. I look up at the moon and laugh, out of my mind, hands bleeding and snot bursting from my nose.
Nothing makes sense. I laugh even harder when a random man helps me to my feet and hands over my keys.
"Be careful," he says.
"Sure. I'm fine. No problem."
I zigzag to the car. We get in.
"Dad, are you okay?" Logan asks. "Daddy?"
I work the key into the ignition, start the car, and step on the gas. As we turn on the highway, I push the pedal all the way to the floor.
"Daddy?" Logan asks again.
I can't remember anything that happens after that. Everything is gone. Black.
Much later, alone with my memories in the closet, I rock back and forth like Austin does sometimes, the tears running down my cheeks as I remember the next morning, the thoughts screaming through my hungover brain.
What have I done?
Did I kill my boys?
Oh my God.CHAPTER 2
THE GIRL WITH THE BLUE EYES
Love isn't something you find. Love is something that finds you. —LORETTA YOUNG
Life was good—I was twenty-nine years old, an Iowa boy living in Charlotte, North Carolina. When I first met Teresa, I thought she was pretty cute, but she thought I was gay. I was blessed with considerable self-esteem, so it didn't bother me too much. I had a great sales job, I lived in the newest and trendiest apartment complex, and I spent most afternoons exploring the awesome trails around the Piedmont on my mountain bike.
One cold winter day my friend Gary and I wandered into Structure, a trendy clothing store at Carolina Place Mall. I was sporting Bermuda shorts in multicolored stripes, a dark T-shirt with a hoodie on top, penny loafers, and round, wire-rimmed glasses. Part jock, part prep, part dork with a dash of romantic fool in the mix, I was also ex-navy and strutted a little when I walked. I've always been positive and happy-go-lucky with a streak of toughness—I never back down from a fight.
In college I could hammer out 330 pounds on the bench press, but even though I couldn't lift that much anymore and I wasn't very tall, I was in great shape. The girls seemed to like my dark blond hair and green eyes and told me I was cute and sweet and genuine. I liked my life just the way it was.
Teresa took one look at me in my funky outfit accompanied by tall, tan, and buff Gary and thought, Gay. She started joking around with us, picked out an awful pea green sports coat, and kept trying to sell it to me. She was tiny, cute, and loved to laugh. And then there were those eyes. They were the color of the Atlantic, and even the whites were blue.
She wouldn't give up trying to sell me the ugly green coat, and we started talking. We discovered we both liked eating out, clubbing, and the musical Cats. I bragged about my new Calphalon cookware. And we both loved anything having to do with Italy. In Teresa's mind, I was her new best girlfriend.
Two days later I came back by myself, this time in more respectable Levi's 501 jeans, an L.L. Bean fleece pullover, and my killer black lizard Tony Llamas. Man, did I look good! I brought a gift—I'd made her a recording of the soundtrack for Cats.
Our first dinner was at the Epicurean restaurant. Teresa was still a little confused about my sexual orientation, but when I kissed her good night, it officially became a date.
I was casually interested, and we ended up seeing each other a few times over the next several weeks. I liked her, but I didn't even know her last name.
Then I got a phone call that changed my life. You know the kind? The game-changer call, the one that turns you upside down and shakes you?
I'd left work early to get some things done before heading out of town on business. I had some paperwork in hand and was lounging half out of my recliner, my leg slung over the side. The phone on my desk buzzed. I looked over at the caller ID display and liked what I saw.
I smiled, tossed the papers down, and punched the Talk button.
"Hey, Scott. I'm having some medical things done. You know, just some routine stuff." Teresa's voice was rushed, thin, a little out of breath. "It's not that big of a deal. But, umm ... can you run by the hospital and take a blood test?"
Her voice was like a hammer to my chest, and when the shock went through my body, I flopped out of my chair and crashed to the floor. On the way down I hit my head on the edge of the desk, hard. The cordless phone bounced somewhere under the desk. I lay there, trying to understand what was happening. And I knew it couldn't be good.
Man. My life is over.
It was 1994 and AIDS was all over the news. Millions of people had this horrible blood disease, and they all died. There was no cure.
I'd grown up in the Catholic church and knew all about the dangers of sin, but Teresa was a beautiful girl and our chemistry was strong. We'd gone on several dates, some of them sleepovers. Now I was going to pay.
She must have AIDS, and I do too. Now I'm going to die.
With my bashed head throbbing and adrenaline pumping through my veins, I flailed around under the desk, trying to find the phone.
Oh, God. What have I done?
I finally located the phone, tried to stop hyperventilating, and took a deep breath.
Slow down, Scott. Maybe it's just routine. Maybe it's no big deal.
I thought I'd heard a little catch in Teresa's voice. Is she crying? But I was completely unprepared for what came next.
"Scott, I'm pregnant."
I turned over, threw my arms out to each side, and stared up at the underside of my desk. This time I hung on to the phone, my hand gripping it like a lifeline.
"I didn't want to bother you, and I knew this would ruin your life," Teresa said. "I know you're a good person, and you don't need to get involved. We don't even know each other." I was silent as her sweet Southern voice spiked each word into my heart.
I lifted my head a few inches off the ground and for some reason flashed back to a few weeks before. My mother had been in town, and I'd taken her to meet Teresa. I remembered Teresa had looked thinner; I told her how great she looked and asked if she'd been working out.
Ouch! My head fell back again as I realized she'd already been pregnant. With my baby.
"I just need you to do this blood work." Teresa's voice sounded stronger now. "I'm going to have this baby. Just do this and we can get on with our lives."
I must have said something to Teresa and clicked off the call, but I can't remember. When I finally rolled over and pushed myself up off the floor and onto my knees, I went into some kind of fog. My heart was pounding. I realize I should've been worrying about Teresa and the baby, but I wasn't.
This is messed up. There is no way I can be a dad. I don't even know this girl. And she's the reason my life is over.
I pulled myself up, then dropped back into my recliner. I took a deep breath, held it, and breathed out. But did I come to my senses? No. I hate to admit it now, but I was just thinking of one very important person. Me.
I am not happy about this. I have yet to sow my oats. This is not fair. I deserve better than this. And it all coalesced down into one sharp, undeniable urge.
I need a beer. Or three.
Later Teresa told me how she discovered she was pregnant. She had been getting ready for work one day when she suddenly doubled over in pain. She drove herself to the emergency room where tests showed a benign tumor in her ovaries. Her doctor recommended immediate surgery, but he said tests showed something else—Teresa was pregnant!
Teresa had no idea; she hadn't experienced any signs of pregnancy. And because of some preexisting health issues, she didn't think she could even get pregnant. In shock, she kept the news to herself, had surgery to remove the tumor, and went home a few days later. The unborn baby, our baby, came through it all okay. Did I visit her in the hospital? No, I was out riding my bike, still blissfully unaware I was going to be a father.
Teresa felt unprepared for motherhood, and she made an appointment for an abortion. "I swore I would never have kids and here I was, twenty-seven years old, just met this guy, fell hard for him, and couldn't believe I was pregnant," she later told me. She felt alone and afraid and wasn't sure how she could make it all work. But she couldn't go through with the abortion. I can't end the life of this baby God gave me, she thought and canceled the appointment.
This all happened around the time my mother was visiting. Teresa didn't tell me about the baby then because she didn't want to ruin my visit with my mother. It was a few weeks later that Teresa told me she was pregnant, and I fell out of my chair and into a very different life from my carefree, before-the-phone-call life.
I had always been the black sheep of the family. I was my mama's boy, but I was also the one my three brothers called the screwup. "What'd he do this time?" was the phrase that usually followed the word Scott. I never got in real trouble; I just tended to make poor choices and didn't think enough or look too far ahead before I leapt.
I didn't really know much about this beautiful Southern belle who was about to be the mother of my child, and that needed to change. A few days later, when the shock had worn off, I bought a baby bottle, stuck a daisy in it, and took it over to Teresa's house. "I like you and want to get to know you better," I said. "I want to be a part of the baby's life."
I never did go in for the blood test, but soon Teresa was healthy again, and we started spending more time together and making some plans for the baby. One day I gathered my courage and told Teresa that I loved her.
Being in a serious relationship was uncharted territory for me, and I didn't know how to handle it. I don't think I really loved her. I wanted to love her, but I didn't know how. One day Teresa had a migraine. I didn't know about her headache, played my music too loud, and we had a disagreement. Then I got mad and took back my I love you.
I could have handled that better. I had a lot to learn. And now I really needed that beer.
I was havin' a baby.CHAPTER 3
TRADING J ABS WITH JOE
When a child is born, a father is born. —FREDERICK BUECHNER
Right before I got off the plane, I started tapping my toes inside my shoes. First two taps on the left, two on the right. Then three taps on the left, three taps on the right. However many times I tap on one side, I have to tap on the other. I've always done this. It helps me stay calm, and I was about to step off the plane into the cool Omaha air and hop in a car to drive to Red Oak, Iowa. I was going to break the news to my family. I silently practiced the words I'm going to be a father.
Then Joe started giving me a hard time.
"You're really in a fine mess, ya big dork," Joe said.
"Dude, I'm not sure how this will go." Four taps on the left, four on the right. "I'm a dead man walking."
"Runnin' home to Mommy and Daddy?"
"Uh-huh. That's exactly what I'm doing, my man. Running home," I said. "I know what to do."
I often traded jabs with an imaginary friend I'd had since I was a kid. The first time Mom heard this running dialogue, she named my invisible friend Joe. She always gave me a lot of grief about our lively, sometimes loud conversations, but I often talked to Joe when I was trying to figure things out.
As usual, I felt pretty positive and optimistic about the future. I knew I would have to grow up, and I had always wanted to be a dad. But first I needed to go home to my own mom and dad for comfort and a shoulder to cry on. I was my mama's boy, and I knew she would put a good spin on whatever I could throw her way.
I did worry, just for a moment, that she would flip out and react like her mother, Ruth. We affectionately called my Grandma Ruthie "The Battle Axe." She was one tough lady, shepherding an enormous Catholic family and keeping the kids in line while enduring life with her hard-working and hard-drinking Irish husband, Gus. We all adored Grandpa Gus, but Grandma ruled the roost.
My mom, Marcia (or Mawsha, as everyone called her), was tough too. When it came to meting out punishment in our house, it was Mom, not Dad, who swung the heavy wooden spoon. She also used to twist her rings around her fingers so the stones were facing palm side and whack us boys on the head. Even though she was petite (I used to say she was four foot twelve), we had good reason to call her "The Warden."
I was the third of four boys. My father made a good living running the family appliance store where my brothers helped sell washers, dryers, refrigerators, and stoves to fill the houses of Red Oak. My brothers used to say I didn't have to work as hard as they did and I always got everything I wanted. I did work hard at school and made good grades, but I was a little ADD-ish and learned to tap my toes or hum quietly to keep myself focused.
After high school I headed off to the University of Oklahoma, graduating with a degree in business administration. I wanted an adventure so I signed with the navy and was accepted to Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. After two years in the navy, I was discharged for severe vertigo and motion sickness. You can't be too useful in a navy jet if you're dizzy, blind, and vomiting. No hard feelings, Uncle Sam. I always thought Dad and my oldest brother, Kevin, who made a career out of the navy, loved the idea of me being in the navy more than I did.
I took a job in sales for a giant pharmaceutical company called Allergan, which was how I ended up in North Carolina. I've never been there, so why not? I thought when I heard about the open sales territory. I kept in close touch with my family, though. The LeRettes are a tight clan.
What are they going to say about the baby? I wondered. They don't know Teresa. But then, neither do I.
When I drove up to my parents' home, a large, two-story, white frame house, I practically held my breath while my mom and dad hugged me. I followed them inside and sat down at the table with Mom for a glass of pop. Dad wandered out to his workshop in the garage. He is probably a little ADD-ish too.
I did a little toe tapping and let out a big breath. While she is tiny and cute with a friendly smile, The Warden is a staunch Catholic, and I was terrified she would judge me harshly.
"Mom." My toes were tapping furiously now. "I need to tell you something. You remember Teresa? That girl with the pretty blue eyes?"
Her eyes widened and locked onto mine.
"Well, she's pregnant. We're going to have a baby."
It's always a shock when your mom lets loose a string of expletives, but she did, calling me "stupid" and a lot of other things I can't repeat here. After that first blast of anger and disappointment, she downed her glass of Pepsi, set it down on the table with a thump, and started into the real business.
"When is the baby due?"
Okay, I can answer that one.
"What are you going to do about this?"
Umm ... I don't know. Be a father?
"Do you love her?"
That's the one I dreaded. I didn't know if I loved Teresa. I did like her. She was beautiful and funny and smart and feisty. She was going to be the mother of my child. But did I love her? I didn't really know what that meant. I'd already tried the I love you thing, and it hadn't worked out too well.
Excerpted from The Unbreakable Boy by Scott Michael LeRette, Susy Flory. Copyright © 2014 Scott Michael LeRette. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsA Note from Austin LeRette, xiii,
1. In the Closet, 1,
2. The Girl with the Blue Eyes, 4,
3. Trading Jabs with Joe, 11,
4. The Box, 18,
5. What Ring?, 23,
6. Stitched Together, 28,
7. The Rib, 34,
8. More Glue, 40,
9. The Run, 47,
10. Facing the Queen Bee, 52,
11. Parent Training, 56,
12. My Own Little Rain Man, 64,
13. The Door, 71,
14. Dad, Can I Have Some Ranch Dressing?, 77,
15. The Earworm, 82,
16. Sand Angels, 90,
17. The Devil's Grip, 97,
18. The Jester, 104,
19. Escape, 110,
20. Full Retreat, 118,
21. The Shroud, 125,
22. A Real Life, 133,
23. Helping Hands, 140,
24. Glow Sticks, 147,
25. The Tiger, 154,
26. Strawberry Shakes and Sunny Sneezes, 161,
27. Close Your Eyes, 168,
28. Boo, 173,
29. Clouds, 182,
30. Stars, 189,
Epilogue: Unbroken, 197,
The Unbreakable Boy Resources, 203,
Austin's Favorite Movies, 207,
Outtakes: Life with Austin, 209,
About the Authors, 231,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have yet to read anything with Susy Flory falling anywhere near flat. She has a wonderful talent for working with people and getting their stories into an awe-inspiring, heart-touching book. This book is no exception. It's definitely another "wow." Austin LeRette is the first-born baby of two flawed people: Scott is a heavy drinking, ex-navy, macho guy with a propensity to hide in the closet when life gets to be too much--which it does, and often. He also talks a lot to his invisible friend, Joe. Teressa LeRrette has beautiful blue eyes--even the irises are blue--with osteogenesis imperfecta (a bone-breaking disease, literally) and a few secrets in her past. Little bumps can become big breaks, and there's a possibility she will pass it on to the baby. Sure enough, Austin is born with the same thing. There are several unique things about Austin (Auz) they find as he grows up. Yes, he breaks bones right and left. Trips to the emergency room are frequent. He also has autism. Plus a wonderful optimism, a sense of humor that won't quit, and a knack for making friends with absolutely everyone. Add in a younger brother who somehow becomes the beloved big brother. Still--their parents find they need more than just optimism and humor to be good parents and spouses. They have a lot to learn about love and life and crises. This would be the perfect book to begin the new year reading.
I opened this book and didn't want to put it down. I sat reading with tears streaming down my face at the REAL emotions that the author showed to us, let us feel along side him. This book was humbling and touching and humorous and REAL. Definitely one to zoom through and go back and re read and then to share!
I loved The Unbreakable Boy for its humor in the midst of the incredible challenges of living with an autistic child with a rare bone disease. It gives hope even when things are messy and out-of-control. Austin LeRette – aka the Auzman – is a wonderful, intense kid that keeps his parents on their toes 24/7. Scott LeRette chronicles the life of his son in an honest and compelling manner that is heart-wrenching at times, and funny at others. I laughed out-loud on several occasions. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it.
Just finished reading "The Unbreakable Boy." Scott LeRette tells with honest candor just what it is like to, with his wife, Teresa, raise his sons, Austin, who was born with autism as well as osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and youngest son Logan, and also what it was to awaken to the destruction of Alcoholism on his own life. I found myself literally sobbing over the physical wounds Austin has suffered, broken bone after broken bone, as well as the innocence and sincerity he immediately applies in forgiving those who would wound his spirit. I want to live more like Austin, exuberant, joyful and full of love for all people, and like his family, courageous and (tired, but) thankful for all they have. Want to be inspired? Read.