Letters to Sam by Daniel Gottlieb -- Book Review

Book Classification : Nonfiction - Memoirs - Parenting & Grandparenting - Children With Autism

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Letters to Sam : A Grandfather's Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life , by Daniel Gottlieb
Hardcover - 176 pages
First Edition, April 28, 2006
Published by Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., New York

ISBN 1402728832
ISBN-10: 1-4027-2883-2
ISBN-13: 978-1-4027-2883-9

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Book Review

Psychologist Daniel Gottlieb has learned a few things about life since the automobile accident that transformed him into a wheelchair user. He imparts this wisdom in 32 letters to his young grandson. Sam, because of his autism as well as his present age, may not be able to read them for some time.

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Daniel Gottlieb ,
Letters to Sam : A Grandfather's Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life

Dan, known as Pop to his grandson, sees that the situation calls for frankness, and that euphemism won't be helpful. In one of the letters, he informs Sam directly that there is prejudice the world, and he describes some of the hatred that he encountered during his recent trip to Israel. [Page 139] In another letter, he tells the boy that he will need to know about the smart ways to handle bullies at school. [112]

Realizing that it may help Sam to communicate as one disabled person to another, Dan explains how he felt when he went for surgery and when he first became a wheelchair user. [97] This common connection brings Dan to share some feelings which, in our culture, youngsters are probably not accustomed to hearing from their grandparents. Dan describes the anger he felt when he and Sam's grandmother, who died before the boy was born, were divorced. [49]

About the Author

Daniel Gottlieb, a practicing psychologist and family therapist, is the host of "Voices in the Family" on WHYY, Philadelphia's National Public Radio affiliate. A columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, he is author of tWo books, including a collection of his columns entitled Voices of Conflict; Voices of Healing. He is the father of two daughters, and Sam is his only grandson. The author's royalties will benefit Cure Autism Now and other children's health organizations.

- From the Publisher

Pop knows that Sam will have to learn skills for dealing with emotions. He advises Sam that one can channel his anger toward the positive activity of making the world a better place. [72] There are some things that Sam will need to know about the human tendency to swing between feeling "productive" and feeling "worthless" [144-145] So many thoughts occur to us, the human mind can be a "dangerous neighborhood." [89] When we feel lost in life, we should consult our "road maps." [122]

Pop also allows Sam to assimilate certain points from parables, as when he tells the story about someone learning to swim. Having faith in the love that other's have for you is a form of floating, and you need to learn that you can trust the water to uphold you. [100-101] In another example of communication by analogy, in a letter written on the occasion of Sam's fourth birthday, the stark reality that "everything is temporary" [111] is communicated through a reflection on "losing your Binky." [109]

This one-of-a-kind volume is a family gift on several levels. As a reference for parenting or grandparenting, or working as an elementary teacher, it shows by example a very direct but very warm manner to communicate life's lessons to a child. This is so, whether the child is physically or mentally handicapped, or merely has the emotional distresses than all children will have. The book can also be read by a child or adolescent (indeed, it was written to a child), perhaps about the same time that the child is learning about sensivity to diversity and multiculturalism, or when the child is acquiring sex education in conjunction with general lessons about what it means to mature emotionally. The book can be given to a child with special needs as one more way to convey the point that you are significant, you are loved, and you are never alone.

Congratulations and thanks to psychologist Daniel Gottlieb for producing a work that, instead of being intended to sit on the shelves of university researchers, will go into the hands, and into the hearts, of families everywhere.

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

Related books at amazon.com include Grandparenting and Parenting Children With Special Needs

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Table of Contents
Letters to Sam by Daniel Gottlieb
Part I 
Your Birth19
Reclaiming Your Wisdom24
Lap Time26
Your Perfection28
Part II 
Your Father and My Father35
Aunt Sharon's Secret41
Your Grandmother Sandy46
Part III 
Give Kindness a Chance57
Compassion Works Both Ways60
Seeing the Person64
Our Frustrations and Our Desires69
Anger and Justice72
Healing Our Wounds76
Part IV 
Sex, Lies, and What It Means to Be a Man83
The Dangers of Desire86
Bright Light and Still Water89
Your Three Millimeters95
Those Who Float100
The Journey Inside103
Part V 
Losing Your Binky109
Things to Remember About Bullies112
Taking Care of Your Parents117
Road Maps122
What Does Happiness Mean?128
Fig Leaves132
Part VI 
The Smell of Peace139
Being "Productive"144
You and Your Tiger147
A Lesson in Dying151
Make the Container Bigger154
Your Birthday Gift to Me159
Saying Good-bye165
"'Guest House"169

Book Description from the Publisher

"Dear Sam, my life was changed the moment you were born."

So begins this remarkable collection of thirty-two intimate and compassionate letters that Dan ("Pop") Gottlieb wrote to Sam, his grandson. Frank and honest, they address the same challenges we all face, each in our own way, and reading them delivers an inspiring and emotional punch.

Although the themes of the letters are universal, they draw from a highly personal well of experience. Dan Gottlieb has been paralyzed from the neck down since a nearly fatal automobile accident twenty-five years ago. His grandson Sam was diagnosed at fourteen months old with Pervasive Developmental Disability, a severe form of autism. Dan wrote these letters with the hope that Sam would one day be able to read them and, through them, get to know his grandfather.

Yet you will find no self-pity or regret in these letters. They sing with the purity of a grandfather's love, understanding, concern, and wisdom and cover universal life lessons: dealing with parents, coping with school, falling in love, living with disappointment, experiencing joy, and achieving personal success. Written with keen intelligence and hard-won sensitivity, these are letters that illuminate the moments a man and a boy share. Dan's healing voice of tolerance, hope, and experience is inspiring and serves as a wonderful reminder that, regardless of our abilities and limitations, we all share in the human condition.

Book Reviews

"Within the first minute of reading this book, I had already begun to ask deep questions about my life. And within the second minute, I knew he was speaking as much to me as Sam. But by the third minute, I forgot I was even reading, and I felt more like I was in the great classroom of life, learning lessons that I will treasure forever."

-- Rachel Simon, author of Riding the Bus With My Sister

"Dans love of Sam is indeed an exquisite love... After reading these powerful words, I look at my own beloved grandchildren in a different light."

-- Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate, President and Founder of World Centers of Compassion for Children International

"What a delicious read! Daniel Gottlieb's Letters to Sam touches us deeply in ways that can help us all learn to live richer, more satisfying lives. Its wisdom and insight justify him as one of America's favorite psychologists."

-- Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., author of Einstein Never Used Flashcards and How Babies Talk

"Letters to Sam is heartbreaking and heart-mending all at the same time. Dan has the authority of living through the extremities of pain and loss, so when you bite down on his wisdom, it's gold. I want to give this book to everyone I care about."

-- Ellen Bass, award-winning poet

"Letters to Sam is a remarkable book that I want to give to my wife and friends and family. I also want to share this book with my son who has special needs, along with his teachers and the parents at his school because it does a beautiful job of describing the beauty and richness of being unique and highly sensitive."

-- Leonard Felder, Ph.D., author of The Ten Challenges

"In irreducibly simple yet profound words, Dr. Dan Gottlieb shares the wisdom he has derived from living in a wheelchair, battling his own inner demons, and practicing psychology for the past 35 years. Letters to Sam is a guide for the soul, and a wonderful gift to all families."

-- Robert A. Naseef Ph.D., author of Special Children, Challenged Parents and co-editor of Voices from the Spectrum.

"Letters to Sam is the manifestation of a brilliant mind inside a giant heart."

-- Gerda Weissmann Klein, author and historian

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