Book: “Some People Even Take Them Home”


TED SIMONS: ASU journalism professor Tim McGuire has led a blessed and challenged life as a disabled dad helping raise a down-syndrome son. McGuire's story is told in a new memoir "Some people even take them home." Joining us now is Tim McGuire, the Frank Russell chair for the business of journalism at ASU's Cronkite School of journalism and mass communication. Welcome back to the show.

TIM MCGUIRE: Good to see you again.

TED SIMONS: This is -- this is quite the read. I mean, this is a remarkable -- I say remarkable, this really is something. Why did you do this? Why did you decide -- your life has been something but still this -- writing a memoir, putting it all out there.

TIM MCGUIRE: Putting it all out there. I believe there are some valuable lessons in there. I believe that the book, and I have found from the reaction, that people with any sort of struggle have identified heavily with the book, and from all sorts of life. People who have had terminal illnesses in their family. I've had four, five letters from gay men who said that was my life.

TED SIMONS: Wow.

TIM MCGUIRE: Trying to be accepted, trying to be normal. So, I had hoped for that result. I thought in my story there were some things that were special. And I think we have tapped into that.

TED SIMONS: Was it difficult to write so personal a story?

TIM MCGUIRE: Well, my late wife used to say that Tim would tell his deepest, darkest secrets to the postman. So, I've always been pretty transparent. And, so, it wasn't really that difficult. It was difficult to put it in a cogent kind of presentation, and I learned a lot when I juxtaposed my life with that of Jason. As you read, Jason is quite a wonderful character with very few cognitive abilities, but he is incredibly savvy. And, yet, I found a lot of things he didn't -- the myth that down syndrome folks are satisfied and comfortable in my view is a myth.

TED SIMONS: Interesting.

TIM MCGUIRE: He three times in his life when he was 16, 18, and 21, he was just mighty ticked off that he was down syndrome and he thought he would stop.

TED SIMONS: Yes, and those are poignant moments. I want to get to Jason, your son, in a second. Describe your childhood. There was a point in the book where your parents tried not to pray for a miracle but always made it clear they would accept one.

TIM MCGUIRE: They went to places -- in mother now believes that she has gotten that miracle in my life. And in the way that I have been able to live my life and succeed in my life. But they wanted me to play, just as I did, wanted it play middle linebacker for the Detroit Lions. And that was never going to happen. I had 13 surgeries before I was 16 years old. I was -- I was in braces until I was 12. Practically every summer with the exception of one or two, I would go to the hospital for two weeks. Pretty much alone, 65 miles from home. So, all of those are shaping experiences. And I like to think that it made me who I was. Was I terribly ostracized? No. I was lucky to have two large and close friends who always looked after me, but you had to roll with the punches, too. I remember being in fourth grade. People say you remember that? I do. I was in the hallway, and somehow it dawned on me that when I laughed, everybody was around me. And if I felt sorry for myself, I was alone.

TED SIMONS: Interesting.

TIM MCGUIRE: And I vowed to laugh the rest of my life.

TED SIMONS: That's remarkable for a fourth grader to understand. When did you, when did you understand that you were a little different?

TIM MCGUIRE: Oh, I think it, you know, I tell stories, I think there was a time when I was seven years old and kids were stealing grapes in the back yard across from mine, and they started taunting me. And I started to climb the fence to -- I was going to go beat them up. Right. And I got my brace caught in the fence. And I think there was a slow dawning even as soon as that, that I wasn't going to beat anybody.

TED SIMONS: I tell you what, it sounds like when you were in the sixth grade acceptance came in the form of a gift. You called it the greatest gift ever from your classmates there. And it was very heart-warming again, because, you know, it just -- it had to have told you that you're all right.

TIM MCGUIRE: And I was very paranoid about that. I was very close with my friends and all of the sudden they were in little groups talking and plotting something and I wasn't included. And it turned out that it was going to be my major surgery where both feet were going to be operated and this wrist was going to be operated on, and they gave me a transistor radio for the summer.

TED SIMONS: Isn't that something.

TIM MCGUIRE: And it was tremendous.

TED SIMONS: Those challenges, how did they make you who you are, and are you who you are without those challenges?

TIM MCGUIRE: That's the question -- the question has never been asked that way and it is very good. I don't think so. I think we are all a sum of our journey, and that -- when I realized, you know, there is a point in the book, I was 43, and for the first time I admitted on a document at work that I was disabled. And I had denied it up until that point. And at that point, and since then, I have come to understand how the disability shaped me and formed me and, no, I don't think I'm who I am -- I think my desire to succeed, my understanding of how people operate and work, I led a newsroom of 400 people. You don't do that if you don't have some pretty good understanding of what makes people tick.

TED SIMONS: Indeed.

TIM MCGUIRE: I learned that from my journey.

TED SIMONS: And your journey took you to the pinnacle of your profession, Minneapolis paper and now obviously a chaired professor here. Quite the career. You have met everyone. We can't begin to count the number of people and talk about them. Let's get to Jason. Talk about the book's title, because that's really -- it is hard to believe that the title comes from where it comes from.

TIM MCGUIRE: When the doctor told us that Jason had down syndrome, he looked at us and said some people even take them home. And the "even" has grown in capital letters in my head since then. But he clearly -- they felt that they were pressuring people to take down syndrome kids home, and he was doing quite the opposite.

TED SIMONS: Yeah.

TIM MCGUIRE: He insinuated that we were going to be kind of idiots for taking Jason home. The whole premise of the book is, I can't imagine a life without Jason. Jason was essential to our family. He has taught us all great things. His siblings, his parents, Jason has been incredible in our lives.

TED SIMONS: Compare his upbringing with yours, because we have talked about this before. I was very close to a family who had a retarded -- that is what we called it back then -- he was retarded. And that family, he couldn't get away with a thing. They made sure that he was responsible. Everything that he was supposed to do he did. It sounds like you were raised the same way.

TIM MCGUIRE: I was raised the same way and so was Jason. Jason has always had high expectations from the time he was six months old, we started to push the tongue back into his mouth because that -- the protruding tongue is a big, big issue. His mother taught him to high-five rather than to hug. All things to make him, you know, more acceptable. Jason stood and talked to Bill Clinton for 10 minutes one time. And Clinton had a tough time understanding him, but he stayed engaged, and Jason behaved perfectly well.

TED SIMONS: Let's not sugar-coat this. He was and probably still can be a handful. Especially these incidents -- I couldn't help but laugh --

TIM MCGUIRE: If you didn't laugh, you are not normal.

TED SIMONS: When he was -- he just ran.

TIM MCGUIRE: He would run.

TED SIMONS: He would run. He'd run forever.

TIM MCGUIRE: He ran through China shops. He ran through department stores. One of the great stories that I love in the book is he took off from the front yard, and his sister is two and a half years older than he is -- well, I guess only two. And she has been his caretaker his entire life. When she met somebody when she was four, somebody came to the house and she said hi. I'm Tracey. This is Jason. He's down and I'm up. And that was always her view of life. Jason ran and she took off to chase him, and she lost him, but she thought he went into a house. She goes up to the house and says, ma'am, is there a little boy here? She says yeah, he's up in my closet. The McGuires never understood why that woman couldn't protect the -- he just got a huge kick out of that.

TED SIMONS: The chaos -- very good job of not all -- you know --

TIM MCGUIRE: Not at all.

TED SIMONS: Do you see your parents differently after having raised Jason?

TIM MCGUIRE: No. I have to answer no to that just because I always think I understood my parents. Interesting thing happened. When I was showing this to an agent, the agent said, well, Tim, I have to tell you, I think your parents were cruel to you.

TED SIMONS: Oh, my.

TIM MCGUIRE: I was just outraged. I was absolutely outraged. He didn't get it.

TED SIMONS: Uh-hmm.

TIM MCGUIRE: Because they were not cruel to me. They wanted me to stand on my own. And if all of the other kids were walking to school, Tim was going to walk to school. And I think that is the saving grace. I have never looked for a favor or a handout or I -- I think they were tremendous to me. Now, my wife and I, my late wife -- you may be coming to that --

TED SIMONS: My next question, who was jean and what's her story?

TIM MCGUIRE: She was very strong in solving problems. But she didn't like that we're going to tough it out. And so often when I would say well, he has to tough it out. She didn't have that same feeling. We never left him alone in a hospital overnight. Hell, I probably have spent 75 nights alone in a hospital. And, so, there were some tension there. To answer your question, jean was very clever. Jean and I were married for 39 years. And I completed the book. And then last year, jean died. And so I went back and wrote the last chapter. And Jason is very prominent in that chapter, as you saw. Because he was very wise, as we interred Jean, I went up and touched her URN and broke out in uncontrollable sobs and Jason approached me, put his hand on my shoulder and turned me slightly and said, daddy, mommy is here. And she is here. He brought an incredible wisdom to that.

TED SIMONS: Yes.

TIM MCGUIRE: He is very wise.

TED SIMONS: Those moments are really strong, almost poignant moments in the book. And jean, I thought jean, the fact that she kept a diary the first week of his life. And to look at those -- that must be very interesting to look back on.

TIM MCGUIRE: It's fascinating. You know, if she hadn't kept that up -- if she had kept that up, that would have been the book.

TED SIMONS: Right. Running out of time. Humor and irreverence in here, it is all over the place. A tear jerker but makes you laugh out -- that's why I find it so remarkable. Were there times when you were writing and this is getting -- this is too sad. We have too many sad stories in a row or we have too many irreverent things and people are not going to get this, they will think I'm making fun when I shouldn't be making fun.

TIM MCGUIRE: This is raw Tim and Jason. I really didn't -- some of the language I worked on, you used the word, we lived with the word retarded throughout Jason's childhood, Jason's life. It is not accepted anymore. In 1987, or '77, you wouldn't have used any other word. It would have been, you know, inauthentic. I struggled with some of those words, but the humor, the irreverence, is all pretty much the way we lived our life.

TED SIMONS: It is a remarkable life. About 30 seconds left. One of the quote, we come home to our true and full self. Have you come home, are you there?

TIM MCGUIRE: Yes, jean's passing changed all of that. But you will notice I got married last month.

TED SIMONS: Congratulations.

TIM MCGUIRE: I built a new life with Candace, and so resilience reigns.

TED SIMONS: Congratulations on this book. Great piece of work.

TIM MCGUIRE: Good to be here.

TED SIMONS: Thank you. That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

An Arizona State University journalism professor has written a book about the challenges and blessings he’s faced raising a son born with Down syndrome. Tim McGuire, the Frank Russell Chair for the Business of Journalism, will talk about his book, “Some People Even Take Them Home,” a title based on what the doctor told him when his son was born.

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