Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch (Book Review #116 of 2014)

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband
I was attracted to this book because my son is on the autism spectrum. I find it helpful to read books written by adults with high-functioning autism because they often clearly describe what their world looks and feels like. It turns out that this is actually one of the best books on marriage from a husband's viewpoint that I have ever read. Finch credits British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen's work for helping Finch understand himself. If Baron-Cohen is right that "autism can be considered as an extreme of the normal male (brain/psychological) profile," then every married man can learn from this book.

Finch and his wife Kristen go through five years of pain and emotional separation in marriage before Finch is diagnosed with autism. He is quite fortunate to have married a woman to show him "true grace" and be willing to both put up with his quirks in the surprise that she is not who he thought she was, and to slowly work with him to improve the marriage after the diagnosis.

Finch and his wife were friends in high school and began dating in college. He admits that he worked hard to put on his "best face" all the time and hide many of his quirks. Despite clear warning signs while they were living together, both thought the situation would magically improve once they got married and that the other party would change for the better, just like many young married couples. Misguided expectations lead to bitter disappointment.

Finch is determined to overcome his symptoms and become the perfect husband. He keeps a daily journal of his epiphanies and progress as he learns things like how to be empathetic, how to deal with change and disappointment, how to have constructive conflict, etc. His problem isn't just Asperger syndrome, it's also having conservative parents who never argued and allowed no conflict within the house as models. He marries someone dynamically different from him, she stays in the marriage because he makes her laugh and she knows he'd do anything for her, and eventually they have kids.

If you've read any book on marriage, you've seen to-do lists for husbands to improve upon: "Show more affection, find ways to have fun together, listen to her and don't try to solve all her problems..." Imagine a husband picking up one of those books and determining to do all of them better than any husband and you have Finch. Finch does not rely on marriage books but learns these lessons directly from his wife and sets about to improve himself as intensely as any of his other obsessions. While his wife appreciates the effort, just the fact that he's constantly looking for improvement like a machine really drives her nuts. But he learns what it means to see things from her perspective, how to listen to her, and how to be her friend. The goal is to restore the friendship that they enjoyed so much before and while they were dating-- something every married couple should struggle to do. "Be her friend, first and always."

It was also great to read how he dealt with his kids. When given the responsibility to get his toddlers ready for daycare in the morning after Kristen leaves for work and he heads to his office, he goes about trying to meet their needs but not showing the love that they desperately need. He eventually finds the right balance.

It's also a good look at his work life as a sort of electronic engineer and later as a salesman. Somehow he advances through the ranks but also determines that he'll put everything aside to be a better husband and father.

In the end he is able to put down the notebook and intensity and just be there for his family. The family develops into the one he dreamed of, with pictures on the wall, the wife cooking dinner for the family to eat together while he plays with the kids, etc. It's a beautiful, and almost unbelievable, ending.

If you do not have a loved one on the autism spectrum, you may find the book annoying, particularly all of Finch's snide, sarcastic self-deprecating remarks throughout the book (demonstrating his humor, which he has to practice). The book also contains a lot of profanity. But I give it 4 stars out of 5, and recommend it.

No comments: