Quill & Quire
The premise of this memoir is straightforward: blind man becomes a father. How will he handle this new stage in life, this new role, and the swaddling infant he can only see in the faint fragments available to the one per cent of his sight that remains?
Because this new, blind father is Ryan Knighton, readers will not be surprised that he handles the situation with humour, grace, and a reflective self-consciousness that takes small, private moments – like diaper changing, or helping a toddler find a lost plush toy using only the encouraging sound of her murmurs – and renders them more broadly meaningful.
Knighton’s previous memoir, 2006’s Cockeyed, told the story of his early life: his adventurous youth and his discovery, at 18, that he had retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive, inherited disorder that slowly closes the visual field, leading to tunnel vision and, often, total loss of central vision. At the beginning of this new memoir, Knighton has only a tiny remnant of sight remaining, with which he hopes to be able to see the glint of his child’s eye.
Though he’s an English teacher at Capilano University, Knighton also has lots of tattoos and a punk rock attitude. The author’s punk ethos, however, is rarely on display here. More prevalent is Knighton’s struggle to come to terms with fatherhood. Knighton’s own father exited his life early, and Knighton sharply dismisses him from the narrative. The author clearly adores his stepfather, although he features only peripherally in the book, as does Knighton’s extended family.
Knighton’s “vision” of a father as provider is complicated by the limits of his own abilities. He picks up his daughter to give his wife a break and walks into a doorframe. He takes the girl outside and loses her in the snow.
In the end, however, Knighton has less to say about fatherhood than he does about being a partner in a functioning marriage. Knighton’s wife, Tracy, is the true hero of this book. Knighton praises her repeatedly, and deservedly so. Ultimately, the book is a testament to the power of partnership, humour, and optimism.
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"Every new parent behaves like they're the first human to have given birth, and you don't always want to be seated beside them at a dinner party. What makes Knighton special is that, being blind, he's exquisitely attuned to every detail of the experience, every moment of joy and embarrassment, in a way that can make the merely sighted feel frankly unperceptive. His book made me want to have another kid, just to see what I missed the first time round."
— Daniel Richler, author of Kicking Tomorrow
"A warm, insightful and very funny book. Knighton is a writer you enjoy in the moment and think about later."
— Timothy Taylor, author of Stanley Park
"Ryan Knighton can't see, true. But his capacity to look inward, to create a landscape of what it is to be a blind parent, is nothing short of profound. He's also hilarious, and I'm warning you, you're going to cry, too. C'mon Papa is a memoir like no other, about a life like no other."
— Alicia Erian, author of Towelhead
"Painfully funny. Whether he's writing about almost getting run over, role-playing a cervix or losing his infant daughter in the snow, Knighton is wise, witty, moving and assured."
— Annabel Lyon, author of The Golden Mean
“A wonderful writer with a gift for laughter when the situation requires it; and even when it doesn’t, he is still able to make it work. . . . Incredibly honest, eloquent and moving.”
— Ottawa Citizen
“Funny and moving, this is neither a fact-driven public service announcement nor a romanticized representation of blindness. . . . Well-written, thoughtful and engaging, this is a discussion of parenting with a difference, a book valuable not so much because it tells a remarkable story but because it tells its story remarkably well.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“It’s a parenthood page-turner, a rarity, and for the right reasons. C’mon Papa isn’t another stunt book. It’s not A Year of Living Blind With a Newborn. . . . Knighton’s wit and irreverence are apparent on every page, and besides, like Ian Brown’s excellent The Boy in the Moon, C’mon Papa is ultimately less a book about being a parent under such-and-such a circumstance than it is about being human. . . . This is what separates C’mon Papa from the canon of vaguely self-congratulatory parent-lit: It’s a book about a baby, whose daddy is blind and a fine writer.”
— The Globe and Mail
“Knighton writes with rare insight and humour about a common experience from an uncommon perspective. This is excellent new work by one of Canada’s unique voices.”
— NOW (Toronto)