Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Prince of Denial, Doug Wilhelm

Take care of your dad, my mom keeps saying. Not How are you? Just, Take care of him. He needs you.

- Review by Kazza K


This was an interesting read for me in many ways. It's not written so much for my age group in mind, unless you are interested in the topic or you work with teenagers. To take a look inside what it is like being in a household, a child's world, where there is dysfunction. It is written for children in the twelve to fifteen year old age group. That could be extended depending on the child involved. It is certainly a fantastic resource to have in a school library, classroom, counsellors office and for youth groups. The Prince of Denial deals with addiction and the affect it has on a family, most importantly here a thirteen year old boy.
Casey's mum and dad have split up. His sister has gone with his mother to live in Maine. Casey has stayed in New Hampshire with his father. It is fairly apparent that Casey's mother is not as interested in Casey as she is in her daughter, the high achiever, or as Casey nick names her the Medallist -
I do miss my mom, but my dad needs me, and unless she's basking in the spotlight, the Medallist is basically helpless. She doesn't even pick up her own clothes. How's she supposed to take care of him..
Casey is in seventh grade and his best friend is Oscar. They play word games together and have hide-out spots they go to. They have a pretty typical thirteen year old boy friendship, except Casey won't allow Oscar to come visit his house since the split -
Oscar dropped to the bottom branch. It swayed. "I'm coming over to your place," he said. "Right now. Let's go."
"Not today," I said quickly. "Tomorrow maybe."
"That's what you always say, Casey. I don't get it, why can't I come over? Why won't you do stuff after school anymore?"
"I don't know. I's not a good time!"
Hey, come on, it's a great time."
"We're seventh graders now, Case, we got choices."
Casey doesn't get choices though.He can't bring friends over. He has an alcoholic father. Having an alcoholic father means living with someone who is erratic - he can be less drunk sometimes over others. He can be more obnoxious sometimes over others. It's a lottery that mostly swings into the obnoxious and difficult category. Casey has no way of knowing what his father will be like from day to day, but he doesn't want to chance it. It's scary. It's confusing. It's embarrassing having your friends yelled at for no reason. To be belittled in front of them. To be hauled away from a day out with a friend simply because your father is drunk and belligerent. To have no water because your father is too drunk to fix a tap correctly, so the bathroom floods and there's no drinking water. And he doesn't notice because water is not his first or even second choice drink. To have to do all the cleaning up, fix dinner that your father starts and scarily walks away from. To have to clean the vomit up after your father has been on a bender, and cover him in front of the television of a night so he doesn't get cold. And to be promised, in moments of sobriety, that you're going to nice places that thirteen year old boys like to go to - like Fenwick Park to see a baseball game, only to be forgotten time and time again. Of course there are the good times. There's a favourite song you have on an old cassette that you used to sing with your father. He calls you a nickname, Caboose. And occasionally promises that things are going to be good, and he is sober for the odd night. Sometimes he actually cooks you breakfast.....Sometimes. But sometimes carries a lot of weight when you have one parent left in your life even if they may or may not care...,depending - let's hang on to may care because the alternative does not bear thinking about.  
Of course the icing on the cake is that your mother rings to ask about money, but doesn't wish to talk to you. And when she does, it is to tell you of your sister's accomplishments, and for you, her thirteen year old son, to take care of your father. Her husband.
There is so much more to this nicely thought out book. It is told in first person from Casey's perspective. Which gives you much needed insight into his feelings. The writing is very age appropriate for it's target audience.
One of the main stories running through this book is that Casey's Aunt Julie is planning an intervention with the help of Joe the interventionist. The idea is sound. Julie means well. Joe is a decent man who once suffered all the practicing addict's afflictions himself, but is now sober sixteen years. He was an intervention success and now sets out to get other people into rehab and hopefully clean and functioning again. I liked the way Joe talked to Casey, but the ask was way too big. The expectations on a thirteen year old to be the primary person involved in the intervention very tough. The school counsellor gave some good advice. I liked how that was handled. I also liked the fact that it looked at the fact that people could say this or that, but where were they when he was being dragged past them, his head hitting the car, only to be driven away by a drunken father? What would they really do if his father was angry about the intervention? Who would be there on a day to day basis for Casey if things went pear-shaped? What if his father ended up hating him? You have to think like a thirteen year old. It's scary to feel this much worry and responsibility. Joe the interventionist and Tara, his friend, helped change the way Casey thought about things. That it wasn't his fault. That's a very important piece of information. If not addressed properly children do think these things are their fault. I liked the realistic feel to the story, it wasn't treated like a fantasy.  Casey's friends, Oscar and Tara are a little mature in their understanding, but they serve a purpose and play off Casey and his situation well. Thank goodness for Oscar's family.
The scary thing is that this story is true of the circumstances many children around the world find themselves in, and worse. It is hard living with a parent who has an addiction, who is in denial. How another parent expects a child to take on the role of an adult. How the mother walks away because her marriage is all too hard for her yet seems to feel it's okay for her thirteen year old son to pick up the pieces and be his fathers carer. This creates a big problem in society. I know. I've picked up the pieces more than I care to share in my practice The numbers that have come through my doors over the years would scare you. If you are the slightest bit interested in the dynamic, and while this is a work of fiction, it is pretty good and pretty accurate in portraying a child's feelings in this situation, I say give it a read.
There is no neat ending here but that is well done given the topic. I enjoyed reading this ebook and I think Doug Wilhelm is to be commended for his focus on children and the extra difficulties they can face at what is already an impressionable and awkward stage in life. I liked that it may give an adolescent, a child,  hope and help them reach out to a responsible adult if they can. That they can read something that they may identify with. I can definitely recommend The Prince of Denial to those interested in what I've discussed in my review, schools, appropriate youth groups, and therapists.


  1. This looks like an emotional roller coaster. My heart broke just reading your review. It takes on topics that far too many people (children mainly) are forced to deal with. Great review about a difficult topic.

    1. Thanks Cindi. It was my professional side that was attracted to this book. Good on the author for tackling this issue. It also appears he has written books about bullying. They are necessary books. If it helps just one child realise they're not alone. That it's not their fault and they reach out, then he has done a good job.