biography cmon papa cockeyed writings media blog contact

"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
c'mon papa

The Canadian Press
by Anne-Marie Tobin

Ryan Knighton recalls going to prenatal class with his wife Tracy and hearing "these horrifying guttural cries" as a childbirth video played, and taking part in an exercise in which he had to pretend to be a cervix.

This would be challenging enough for any guy, but it was particularly unnerving for someone who is blind.

"It was a tough one. I just thought, wow, if it's only going to get harder and stranger from here, there's gotta be stuff to write about," Knighton, 37, said of his entry into the world of parenthood.

His new book "C'mon Papa: Dispatches from a Dad in the Dark" (Knopf Canada) is a followup to "Cockeyed," in which he wrote about being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at age 18 and his life experiences as a young adult who's going blind.

The Vancouver writer has turned the earlier memoir into a screenplay, with Jodie Foster signing on to direct the film that he's hoping will be made in the not-too-distant future.

"C'mon Papa" came to be partly because he kept getting emails from people who had read "Cockeyed" and wanted to know what happened next to Knighton, a member of the English department at Capilano University.

"'Cockeyed' ended actually with me musing about, you know, what it'd be like to have a kid one day, and it wasn't really on the horizon at the time. So in part it was just like people were prodding me to, once in a while, to answer what had happened."

What happened was the birth of baby Tess, a bundle of joy - and often a source of anxiety to her dad, who experimented with feeding and diaper changes, with limited success.

"I learned over the years the way to cope with blindness was to risk myself for my own independence and kind of be OK with that," Knighton said.

"It was another thing to say, 'Well, can I risk my kid's well-being to prove my independence?"'

As a result it meant their liberal household, in which his wife had the toolbox and he cooked a lot, had to revert to almost a 1950s model of father and mother roles, he said.

"She did all the bathing of Tess, dressed her and changed the diapers and stuff, and I became more like a breadwinner."

In the book, Knighton writes about taking baby Tess for walks in the strapped-on baby carrier and becoming comfortable with those father-daughter outings.

But when she began to walk, the landscape changed again and "it suddenly regressed me."

And no wonder. Near the end of the book, Knighton writes compellingly about the panic he felt when the two of them were outside playing in the snow and his toddler bolted, or at least didn't answer him, and he spent at least five minutes hollering and begging her to come back.

Eventually her mittened hand took his and she uttered the words that became the title of the book: "C'mon, Papa."

"We went, I think, about a year from that moment until I actually would go out by myself with her, around the neighbourhood again," Knighton confided.

He's back to doing outings now with Tess, who turned three in February.

The first time involved a trip to the grocery story and Tess agreed to hold his hand. But by the time they got to the corner she didn't want to any more and ran. After that, he carried her. In the grocery store, he realized that wasn't the solution.

"I said, 'OK, we're going to walk home and I'm not going to carry you, but I need to hold your elbow the way I hold Mommy's and you need to show me how to get home.' Well, then it was fine because she wasn't holding me, I was holding her, and just that reversal of power," Knighton said.

"But I had this wonderful feeling walking down 1st Avenue, which is busy in Vancouver, and thinking these cars are going by and seeing this massive blind man hanging onto a three-year-old's elbow."

Tess guides him in and out of her daycare at the university, he said, and seems to like the fact that she's put in a role similar to her mom's.

"Her idea that I'm blind developed very slowly and it was in stages," Knight said. "And one of the weird things that happened was she almost instinctually started putting my hand on things. I didn't teach her to do that, but when she wanted to show me something she would just grab my hand and put it on it."

Tess now understands that her mom can read to her, but her dad tells stories.

"She likes me to make up stories that star her. You find your ways, right?" Knighton said.

"I was always really disappointed I couldn't read to her and I'd get frustrated when she would bring me a book and ask me to read to her and I'd have to say no."

Tess is still trying to figure out some other things too.

"We were riding in a cab once and I said 'Oh, there's a big truck going by' and she turned to me, just kind of appalled, and said 'you can't see' and didn't quite get the fact that I can still determine things by sound," Knighton said.

"So she's still piecing it together, how I do what I do."

back to reviews



© 2010 Ryan Knighton   •   Site by Digital Circle Creative