April 07, 2010

Adoption Book Club: The Blind Side

I'm an incurable procrastinator, have been all my life. And here I am again, squeezing out my contribution to the adoption book club organized by The Egg Drop Post before I fall asleep. For this first round we read The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis, currently in the news because of the movie, the Oscar and the starlet with the cheating husband.

Did you enjoy reading the book? Why or why not?

I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would! Based on nothing but the movie ads, I expected a treacly adoption story, which isn't really my cup of tea. When I saw the author's name on the cover I was sure I checked out the wrong library book because really, the Moneyball guy? It turned out to be an interesting discussion of changes in the (monetary) values assigned to certain football positions that also used Michael Oher's personal story to talk about the ways society assigns (other sorts of ) values to people.

What did you think about the portrayal of adoption, particularly teenage transracial adoption in the book?

I don't think this was really a story about adoption, although it was a story about people forming family in untraditional ways. I'm not entirely clear that Micheal was ever legally adopted by the Tuohy family, which I realize is a distinction that matters to about 0.2% of the book's readers. But it started as a very informal arrangement, the kind that happens all the time (although not across such enormous class differences). They eventually became his legal guardians. But if they dealt with the administrative drama of minor adoption or the emotional impact of formally severing Michael's ties to his mother, it didn't make it into the book. And Michael's transition into the Tuohy home was shockingly smooth. Although I bet that had a lot to do with the family (fairly) not being willing to put certain information up for public consumption, I don't know that it makes it a good case study for teenage transracial adoption.

What do you think about Michael Lewis’ description of Michael Oher’s ‘natural athletic ability’? For example, in chapter four, entitled “The Blank Slate”, Lewis writes about the “boy’s freakish physical gifts. Later in that chapter, he writes about “the trouble with Oher as a football player was…he didn’t exhibit the anger of his breed."

I was troubled by how Michael Oher was "othered" in general in the book. The book is ostensibly about him, but I felt like he didn't have much of a voice or presence in it. It was a lot of other people talking about him and his life, moving him like an object around the story much the same way he was treated for most of his life.

At one point, when the Oher’s are being investigated by the NCAA, Lewis writes, “Michael Oher might never be sure of Sean Tuohy’s deeper motives. But he could be sure of this: Pops was funny!" What do you think motivated the Tuohy’s relationship with Michael? Did you ever doubt their sincerity?

I didn't find myself doubting their sincerity. But I did find myself thinking that the book was pretty committed to Sean and Leigh Anne's version of events, especially since Michael's voice was so absent through most of it.I was surprised at how little skepticism the author showed toward the Tuohys in general, especially given how much suspicion there was from the NCAA and other quarters in real life. Toward the end he disclosed that he was a longtime friend of the Sean Tuohy, which may have had a lot to do with it.

In what ways do you think that Lewis' approach to race and class is successful ? And in what ways do you think it falls short?

On a meta-level, I thought a lot as I read about all the interest in Oher's story and the fact that it has now generated a lot of money for quite a few people. It was clearly a life-changing experience for both Michael and the Tuohys; I don't want to take anything away from that. But why was this private story was so interesting to us in the public? Would it have been turned into a book and a major motion picture if the Tuohys weren't so (a) white and (b) wealthy?  It certainly slotted neatly into the white savior storyline that gets recycled again and again in "inspirational" books and movies. It wasn't a story about a black kid making it out of poverty and becoming a success, it was a story about white people saving him. (Oher himself doesn't see it that way, but it's how the author portrays it.) Lewis is willing to talk about how the Tuohys used their personal racial and class privilege on Oher's behalf, but doesn't go broader to talk about how those racial and class inequities in general feed into the problems Michael faced.

Again, I'm not criticizing the people who actually lived this, nor minimizing the how profound it was for them. But I'm asking why this is the story that once again made it past the publishers and onto the movie screens. 

Does it surprise you that Leigh Anne and Sean decided to adopt Michael after they learned they could not add him to their children’s trust fund? Leigh Anne says, "I wanted to make sure Michael got a third of what we had if something happened. And [after speaking with our attorney] I just said, 'Well, this is just ridiculous.'" They hired a lawyer and soon became Michael's legal guardians.

This is my ultra-practical side showing, but I was a little surprised that it was the inheritance issue that finally pressed the legal guardianship thing. You'd think it would have come up in much smaller ways before that, given that they had taken responsibility for this minor living in their house. Who signed his permission slip to play football?

I was interested by the small tidbits here and there about how Leigh Anne in particular thought about Michael's other family. Michael and the Tuohys quickly embraced each other as permanent family; they called each other brother, sister, Mama, Pops, son. Yet it seems they didn't see it as a wholesale replacement of the family from his past. In fact, both Denise Oher and the Tuohys were listed as Michael's parents on his college football profile. There was one comment in particular from Leigh Anne to Michael that stood out to me, especially given the fact that he was coming from such severe childhood neglect: "She is your mother. She will always be your mother. And you are never going to be able to look at me and say, 'You took me away from my mother.'" How people balance the past and present in adoption-esque situations obviously wasn't the point of the book, but the glimpses I got into this specific situation were intriguing.

Thanks to Eva for organizing this--I'm glad I was finally pushed into reading the book, which really was worth reading. Even the look into the history of football strategy was interesting! You can check the other participants' thoughts, too, from the links at The Egg Drop Post.


Lizzie said...

Thanks. Loved reading your thoughts on the book. Found you through Eva.

Leigh said...

I was so interested to see that this was read as part of an adoption book tour. I guess I shouldn't be surprised...but I just didn't think about the movie's adoption story. I was familiar with Michael Oher's story (husband's a big sport's fan) before the movie came out. Then about a week ago, we finally watched it. I was really looking forward to it because I new it was an inspirational, uplifting story.

But I just found myself SO SAD through the whole thing. My husband kept saying, "he makes millions of dollars now. he's a success story. his life is good." But that doesn't erase the sadness he must have endured growing up. I just couldn't get past the hurt I felt for him.

Then I cried for about an hour, thinking about my relinquished daughter. I just never saw it coming...maybe that was silly of me, but I can watch plenty of adoption themed shows/movies with no emotional reaction like that. I love Juno, for example... Either way, I don't think I'll be watching it again!

Sorry for "blogging" in your comment section!! I really enjoyed reading your POV on the book! :)

J said...

I loved the movie...didn't realize there was a book. My husband wasn't sure about adoption and then after watching the movie, he said he was ready but he want a baby not a grown boy, lol! :)

Anonymous said...

Saw an interview with Sean Tuohy where he said, in the state of Tennessee, you can't do a legal adoption if the child is over 18 which Michael was. That's why they have the arrangement that they have. It's not even called a guardianship. He used another word for it which I can't remember.

familyofthree said...

Well, I also didn't realize it was a book, but knew it was a true story. *oops* We just watched the movie this weekend, and WOW... I have to say it was the best movie I've seen in a long time! It's definitely stuck with me... like I can't "shake it"... all the highs and lows of his story.

One line from the movie that really stuck out to me was when Leigh Anne's (sp?) friend says something to her about what a good thing she's doing and how she's changing this young man's life... she just shakes her head and says "No... he's changing mine." I felt like that really captured adoptive parenting to me. People on the outside look in and think this is some kind of "duty" we think we owe society, some "good thing" that we add to our tally. It's not about doing something "good" or feeling as though we should receive praise for *parenting our children.* NO. We do it because we love them... and the joy and happiness I receive back from parenting my daughter is far greater than anything I could ever give her.

I also had to really respect the Tuohys for their attitude of not being a "replacement" for Michael's family, but an addition to it. Of course, I know nothing other than what the movie portrayed, so I'm speaking only from that "insight." I thought it spoke volumes about their character when they were shocked at the fact that there was no need for Michael's mom to sign anything. She said something like "You think it's okay to take her son away without even asking her?" (TOTAL paraphrase) And then it was shortly after that that she went to visit his mom herself.

Definitely HUGE implications on the adoption world in his story, but I guess for me, the *movie* (at least) was more about his overcoming such enormous challenges to be where he is today, and the power of family. An immensely tragic story in the beginning, yes (and I agree... I'm having a hard time "forgetting" about that part as well), but such an amazing picture of grace in the end.

{wow, sorry for taking up ten pages to comment...}

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...