On October 11, 2012, at the Autism New Jersey Annual Conference, Rodney Peete spoke candidly to 1000 of us present about how he was in denial after the diagnosis of his son RJ with autism. His wife, Holly Robinson Peete, quickly countered by saying "I was on Get Out of My Way Avenue!" She didn't have time to wait for him. Having a child is special needs clearly impacted them just like many other couples. It was inspiring to hear them talk about working through this and saving their marriage. It was also refreshing to hear a man talking about his vulnerable side.
Rodney Peete played the quarterback position in professional football for 16 years. Holly Robinson Peete has been in show business her whole life. Her father was the original Gordon on Sesame Street. While Rodney traveled around the country playing professional football, Holly dealt with the struggle to learn everything she could about autism while getting the best services possible for their boy. Although it took him longer, Rodney was able to enter his son's world once he gave up his dreams about taking his son into the locker room after games.
When RJ was nine years old and included in a fourth grade classroom, Holly and Rodney went to speak to the class about autism so that his classmates could understand RJ better. Rodney commented that his knees were shaking, and he was never more scared in his life. This came from a man who was used to playing in football stadiums in front of 100,000 people with 300 pound defensive linemen trying to hit him as hard as they could.
Admitting our vulnerable feelings is crucial for all men, especially fathers of children with autism. Coming to grips with these difficulties helps us to “get in the game” and do something positive for our children and families. Rodney had to rethink what it meant to be a father to his boy, since he could not duplicate the fond memories of what his father did with him. Indeed this is the journey of all parents, but autism makes it more complicated.
Rodney Peete's book, Not My Boy: A Dad's Journey with Autism, tells the down to earth story of his struggle to accept his boy's autism. RJ’s sister, Ryan Elizabeth, along with her mother Holly Robinson Peete wrote the children's book, My Brother Charlie. Through their books and the HollyRod Foundation, the combination of a strong passionate woman and a man who can voice his vulnerabilities make them a role model for couples.