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‘You Have to Love the Child You Have, Not the Child You Want’
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Monday, September 13, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Alan Pesky’s memoir starts off in heart-wrenching fashion, painting a picture of himself and his wife Wendy waiting on the tarmac of the Boise airport for a private charter that will take their 30-year-old son to New York—and, hopefully, another chance at life.

It was not to be. The couple’s son Lee died at 30 from brain cancer. That would prompt Alan Pesky to do a deep dive into examining the complicated relationship he had with his son as he realized that he had lost the chance to love his son the way he was, not as he wanted him to be.

And the insights he gleaned fueled him to honor his son by creating a learning center for children with learning disabilities similar to those his son struggled with all his life.  Its reach has gone nationwide, training special education practitioners and championing research into learning disabilities.

“The Lee Pesky Learning Center, which we founded in 1997, has helped more than 90,000 Idaho  children in its 25 years,” said Pesky. “Windy commented, ‘Every child leaves with a little bit of Lee in them.’ ”

Pesky recounts his story in the memoir “More to Life than More: A Memoir of Misunderstanding, Loss and Learning.” It’s engaging, easy to read and full of food for thought.

And he and Claudia Aulum, who co-authored it, will discuss the book with Community Library Director Jenny Emery Davidson at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, on the Community Library’s Donaldson Robb Family Lawn. A portion of book sales will benefit the Lee Pesky Learning Center.

The two will also discuss the memoir at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday Sept. 15, at The Senior Connection in Hailey.

Pesky was a hard-driving, ambitious co-founder of an international advertising agency and his son was in fourth-grade when the director of the prestigious day school in New Canaan, Conn., that Lee attended asked for a meeting.

Lee was acting out and immature and he would fit better in another school, he said, noting that the school catered to affluent families with a preponderance of high-achieving parents who expected the same of their children.

Educational specialists now contend that between 15 percent and 20 percent—or 30 million--of the children in this country have learning disabilities. But, when Lee was a child, the term “learning disability” wasn’t in the English language, Pesky said.

Even as he sought help for his son, Alan Pesky had trouble relating to him. And then Lee was gone.

“I thought Lee was misbehaving, lazy… In reality, he had a problem with the way his brain was wired. It’s not to say these children like him are not intelligent. Some of the country’s most brilliant people have learning disabilities,” he said.”

Eighteen months after Lee’s death, the Peskys opened the Lee Pesky Learning Center. And Alan began hearing the tormented stories of parents who were at wit’s end trying to figure out how to make things right for their children.

“So many of the obstacles Lee faced weren’t his problems. They were my problems. They were the teachers’ and the schools’ problems and the problems of so many others who didn’t understand that all minds don’t think and learn alike,” he said.

After watching ‘On Golden Pond,’ Pesky had decided to commemorate his 50th birthday by going to a remote cabin in the woods of Minnesota with a stack of yellow pads and a playlist of great music and write his memoir.

“But I ended up climbing Kilimanjaro because it was warm there and the Boundary Lakes are cold in December,” he said.

But others persisted in prodding him to write his memoir, especially after he founded the center. A friend from MacMillan Publishers even introduced Pesky to a man he considered one of the best ghostwriters in the country. But Pesky didn’t feel the man had enough empathy for him to open up his heart.

As luck--or fate--would have it, Claudia Aulum had quit her job working with Sun Valley Resort General Manager Tim Silva to pursue her dream of writing. A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, she had taken online classes in creative non-fiction writing with the University of California at Berkeley, then with the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., which has turned out some of the greatest authors of modern times, including Michael Cunningham, who won a Pulitzer Prize for “the Hours.”

“I was in the financial industry for 14 years in New York and Switzerland, and here I’ve done some consulting work and owned a store. So, writing has been a big part of my career. But creative non-fiction is a big change from writing strategic planning and marketing plans,” she said.

Pesky and Aulum met three times, during which he reviewed some of her writing. On the third meeting he popped the question.

“And I rushed home to go online and learn how to write a memoir,” Aulum said.

Three years of intense back-and-forth followed as they strove to co-write a book that sounded like Pesky spoke.

“Three years later, we had a book that was beyond what I had imagined,” Pesky said.

The soul searching that went into writing the book helped Pesky discover even more about his relationship with his son.

“So many people say, ‘I want my son to be a great baseball player.’ ‘I want my son to be a great hockey player.’ ‘I want my child to play cello.’ But many don’t have that ability. You have to love the child you have, not the child you want.”

He paused.

“There’s an expression that reminds us to think with the other’s person’s head to understand why they’re the way they are. Now I understand why Lee was the way he was. Isn’t that the most important thing in life—to understand why something happened, not that it happened?”

Many of those who have read the book see themselves and their children in it.

“What resonates with people, what brings them closer together, unfortunately is adversity, not necessarily learning about successes,” said Aulum. “For Alan to be so honest and vulnerable and to share that—that gives courage and inspiration to the people reading it.”

Pesky concurred: “My joy is having a parent come up to me and say, ‘I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for my child.’ ”


 

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