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Friday, August 19, 2011 Interviews: Stephen Gallup, Author of 'What About the Boy?"

Hey there, Librarywalas!

A few weeks ago, we had posted an introduction(First Look) to Stephen Gallup’s much awaited memoir “What About the Boy?” A story of undying devotion to his developmentally challenged son, the book promises to take readers on an emotional roller-coaster like none other. We got chatting with the author, and asked him some pertinent questions about his book.

1.   “I had no reason to be over-optimistic,
But somehow in his smile I could brave bad weather.
What about the boy?
What about the boy?
What about the boy, he saw it all!”
…So goes the chorus of the Tommy soundtrack by The Who.  How did you identify with these specific lyrics when you chose the title of the book?

You are quite right about the source of the title. Like my book, Tommy happens to be about a disabled kid. Another similarity is that, in the rock opera, the boy Tommy inspires a messianic movement, and there are points in our story at which the search for a response to Joseph’s condition leads his mother and me into cult-like situations.

But the reason for the title What About the Boy? is not complicated. The adults have their own agendas. Early in my story, the doctors suggest counseling for Joseph’s mother and me, rather than exerting themselves to understand his problem. We, his parents, are not immune to being side-tracked into battles that don’t have a direct bearing on the problem. “What about the boy?” means just what it says: How much of all this adult activity really pertains to what the child needs?

2.       Tell us a little bit about the book. What should readers expect from it?

Ultimately, this is a true story about people who faced an uphill battle in the absence of dependable guideposts and forged ahead only on the basis of what felt right. Readers with an interest in children will likely be affected more strongly than others. Some parents have told me this story made them want to hug their kids.

3.       Why did you feel the need to document your life and your son’s story? How long did you take to write the book? Was it difficult?

At first, the writing was simply an effort to make sense of it all. And it became an emotional outlet. In those days, I never imagined that any of it would be published.

Writing about this ended up consuming most of my creative energies for a period of at least two decades. That’s not to say I worked on it all that time. Many times I put it aside for a year or more, and just pondered it. Each time I picked it up again, I had new thoughts and a more refined concept of what the story was all about. Making sense of the experience has certainly been difficult for me, but it has led me to an understanding I otherwise never would have had, and hopefully to transform the specifics of our story into something everyone can recognize.

“Is it possible to push a kid too hard? Absolutely! Pushing is the opposite extreme of complacency, and both are wrong. It’s especially wrong if the child perceives that becoming ‘perfect’ is his or her only hope of winning the parents’ acceptance.”

4.       You have tremendously gone out of the way to better your son’s life, even opting for highly unconventional, scientifically unproven methods, which have been met with resistance in some circles. What would you like to say to these skeptics?

My essential message to skeptics is this: When families come to professionals with a little child who has obvious problems, they expect those problems to be taken seriously. If they perceive that the doctor’s office amounts to a revolving door that dumps them back outside, with nothing having been accomplished, you shouldn’t be surprised when they go elsewhere. In this book, I am not arguing in favor of any specific alternative treatment. I’m only saying that doing nothing is no option. You don’t approve of what we did? That’s fine. What do you think would have been better, and why is it not being offered?

5.       You say that “wellness and potential are every child’s birthright. And I’m quite sure society is served when children have it.” Please elaborate.

The first part of that statement is simply an article of faith. I cannot prove it to be true, but I doubt there will be much debate. As people live and make choices, and mistakes, we naturally find that our future options in life become more limited as a result. But little kids have done nothing to limit their options! I believe each kid deserves a chance to step into life and do his best.

And there really should be no argument with regard to the effect on society when this happens. Look at it from the point of view of a taxpayer. With regard to a stranger’s child, born on the other side of the city, which would you prefer? Someone who remained helpless and dependent on the world for everything, throughout his life? Or someone able to grow and take a productive role in the world—and who knows, maybe even one day solve a problem for you?

6.       What is your opinion of the Librarywala service in India, and the blog?

Since our earlier contact, I have spent some time browsing around the Librarywala blog and I like it very much. The site seems to include a nice balance of types of books, fiction as well as nonfiction and also both new releases and classics. We mustn't forget the classics! I regret that I know little about the cultural life in India, but I believe you are filling a very important role….

Mr. Gallup’s story is one of courage, love and an undying belief that a silver lining does exist. In a heart-wrenching story where all hope for a better future may have been decimated, the father’s pledge to his son depicts that no one is immune to the sunshine effects of hope. In this day and age of sky-high parental expectations, the book teaches us that one must not forget to let children be children, and to fill their lives with affection over expectation.

Do write in with your opinions.

Till then,
Happy Reading! 


  1. A nice interview and yes society let children live a little.

  2. Thanks for your compliments Cassandra. We're glad you enjoyed the interview. :)

  3. As you have read from my blog, I love this book. Thanks for sharing this interview, it's like being able to sit down with Steve Gallup for a chat. :)