I had a sneaky suspicion, before even turning the first page of Keith Stuart’s debut novel, that I would really enjoy it.
Having been marketed as “the most uplifting novel of the year” and received a glowing endorsement from Graeme Simsion, writer of The Rosie Project - one of my favourite reads in recent years - I was prepared for an enjoyable literary ride.
What I wasn’t ready for was for this fictional tale (albeit one grounded heavily in Stuart’s own personal experiences) to have such a profound, moving impact on me personally.
A Boy Made Of Blocks tells the story of Alex, a Bristolian mortgage advisor struggling to process both the breakdown of his marriage to wife Jody and his increasing disconnection to eight-year-old son, Sam. The primary driver behind both: Sam’s autism, a condition that has sadly driven a wedge between husband and wife and profoundly impacted Alex’s parenting experiences.
Alex doesn’t bond with Sam, or relate to him, as he would like to – but that’s not entirely surprising. After all, Sam views the world in a completely way to how his mum and dad do.
But as Alex’s life begins to fall apart and his bond to his family becomes dangerously detached, father and son surprisingly connect over the unlikeliest of pastimes: Minecraft. The back-to-basics video game becomes the glue that holds the pair together, providing a safe and ordered environment in which Sam can understand the world, work hand-in-hand with his dad, and truly be himself. It’s a world that belongs to the pair and the pair alone: Sam and Daddy’s World.
Combining his vast gaming journalism experience with the very personal impact that Minecraft has had on his own life and that of his sons, one of whom was diagnosed on the autism spectrum five years ago, Stuart has achieved that sweet spot of literature, crafting a book that’s touching, funny, heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal parts.
And it’s been a long time since I book has touched me so personally. As a father to a three-year-old son – a boy that right now seems to be growing up right before my very eyes in both personality and independence at a staggering pace – Alex’s perspective hit home. Hard.
My son has shown me how to live and be truly alive. And he continues to do so, with each and every day that he grows. His innocence, his spark, his natural joy for life, inspires me day in and day out, while also grounding me by reminding me what’s most important.
Every day that I lie on the floor with him, playing wooden trains for what feels like the 1,000th time (the actual figure is probably closer to 5,000 by now), or that we sit on the sofa watching yet another episode of Paw Patrol together (no matter how many joint viewings we have, I’m still not quite clear on all the dogs’ names), I am reminded that he is growing up so fast, and before I know it these days will be gone. I must savour each and every one.
I must cherish and hold on to the days in which I am his world, and I am his guide for how to behave in and experience this life.
For me, A Boy Made Of Blocks served as a timely reminder of just how vital quality ‘daddy’ time is, and why sharing special moments with my son doing the activities that he enjoys doing together matters so much. Yes, I may find some of these repetitive or tedious at times, but boy, am I going to miss them when they’re gone.
The author’s bio describes A Boy Made Of Blocks as “a story about letting go, about being a kid … how Keith learned about everything important in his life, starting with his son.” I thank Keith Stuart for being so open about his experiences – the good and the bad – and for sharing these with the world.
I believe that being a father is the single-most important role that a man can have in their life; I recently heard renowned wrestling commentator Jim Ross describe parenthood as “the greatest booking you’ll ever get” and I like that description a lot.
Sometimes, in the midst of life’s many busy spells, it can be hard to take time just to appreciate the here and now, and the pure joy that comes with being a dad, and making a positive influence on another’s life. Sure, it’s not all plain sailing, but then nobody ever said it would be. Each and every day, my son teaches me something new, and makes me a better person in the process.