If not you, then who?

Earlier this week in my post Smile! It’s contagious I mentioned the commonly held misconception that adults usually know when children are lying. I say ‘misconception’ because it’s been shown that adults have no idea whether children are lying or not, and it appears that children, also, have no idea if others, even their siblings, are lying.

This inability to distinguish the liar from the truth-teller is portrayed clearly in an incident in the book Ugly, a memoir, by Robert Hoge. We’ll call it The Chocolate Incident.

Ugly cover

Robert is the youngest of five siblings. One day the five of them were called to a family meeting in the lounge room. When they were all standing up straight in a line from oldest to youngest Robert knew that something was up. Their mother soon informed them that chocolates had been taken from a box on top of the fridge, and not just a couple that wouldn’t be missed, but more than that.

Both parents were involved in the interrogation. Their mother said, “We’re going to ask who took the chocolates. We’re going to look you in the eye and ask you, and you’d better come clean or there’ll be real trouble.

Robert explains that in turn she approached each child, starting with the oldest. She stared at each for a few seconds, then asked, “Did you take any chocolates?” In turn each child replied in the negative and, as they did so, turned to look at the next in line.

As the parents moved from child to child Robert, knowing he was innocent, observed the responses of his siblings. Who took the chocolates? The looks of dread, panic and fear that were so obvious on each face convinced him of their guilt. But no, each sibling denied it.

When the fourth child denied taking chocolates and turned to face Robert, he realised that he was the last in line, “there was no one there for me to look at. Not even Sally, our dog.

He continues, “I started crying before Mum got to me. One by one the others turned to look at me. Dad glared ominously over Mum’s shoulder and I tried to say, “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me.” But everything was lost to my sobbing and I got the blame. I still don’t know who took those chocolates.

I wonder if there’ll ever be a confession! Or if the culprit ever felt remorse for Robert, the youngest, having to take the blame.

There is more to Robert than this one incident portrays. His is a remarkable story. I have heard it many times and am yet to tire of hearing it. I first heard him speak at a writers’ seminar, the seminar that was the final impetus to set me on my blogging journey. I heard him speak again at a Writers’ festival at which I purchased his memoir. I have also seen him tell his story on television more than once.

My signed copy from the writers' festival!

My signed copy from the writers’ festival!

I own three versions of Robert’s memoir: paperback, audiobook and the Kindle version for younger readers. Robert reads the audiobook, which is a special treat. It gives authenticity to the listening experience, particularly since I was already familiar with his voice. It also means when I read his books to myself, that I hear his voice telling me his story. All versions are written in a pleasant, easily readable and conversational tone, as if we are sitting together, chatting over a cup of tea and a Tim Tam.

tim tam and tea

When I handed my Mum a copy of the book, I wasn’t sure whether she’d enjoy it or not. However, after 70+ years of adult reading (she was 90), she informed me that it was the best book she had ever read.

I’m not sure why this story makes such a strong impression on us. Maybe it’s because we think it could have happened to either of our families. Robert is only two years older than my Robert, and six years younger than Mum’s youngest of ten.

Houghton Highway

Maybe it’s because the family’s culture, growing up in another Brisbane bay-side suburb just across the bridge, was similar to ours.

Maybe it’s because it’s a story of resilience, of survival against the odds, and of making hard decisions. Maybe it’s a bit of all of these, and more, including the raw honesty with which Robert writes.

Ugly for kids.PNG

There are many opportunities for learning in Robert’s book, many different topics I could choose to write about; so many that I haven’t known where to start. After the previous discussion about lying, this seemed an appropriate introduction.

I haven’t told you much of Robert’s story. It is better to have him tell you himself. He introduces himself in this TED talk.

Links to other interviews, and to connect with Robert online, can be found here

I recommend Robert’s story to you. It is definitely a story worth sharing.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

32 thoughts on “If not you, then who?

  1. Sarah Brentyn

    Thanks for introducing us to Robert. I only watched part of the Ted Talk but it was really good. I’m glad to see he has a young readers version of his book. I’m putting that on my to be read list. Have you read Wonder?

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    1. Norah Post author

      It’s a great read. I have no trouble recommending it. He writes openly and honestly in a way that children will respond to.
      I hadn’t heard of “Wonder” but I have now bought my Kindle copy. It sounds interesting. I wonder what she based her story upon. I’ll be interested to read it. I wonder how it will compare to Robert’s true story.
      Thanks for letting me know about it. 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          I read the first couple of pages last night. It looks interesting, but I was most interested in her reason/impetus for writing it. I couldn’t find any of that background information in the book. I might have to look elsewhere. 🙂

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  2. roughwighting

    That was a rousing review of a book that has obviously touched you in many ways. For me, just reading his ‘chocolate’ story here, made me sad and mad and full of compassion. It’s rather amazing to me that most of us survive childhood to become more-or-less functioning adults. :-0

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    1. Norah Post author

      I was able to identify with his chocolate story. I’m sure similar situations were repeated in many households around the world. It is a wonder any of us survived to become “more-or-less” functioning adults! I guess that most of us can talk, and often laugh, about the situations is a testament to our resilience. I wonder how different, perhaps how “more” functioning, we might be if we’d not needed to develop resilience in that way.
      Thanks for your comment, Pam. xx

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  3. robinettercleave

    Wow, what a resilient and inspiring guy. I’ll definitely be buying his book. I love listening to him speak and loved his comment about 14-year-old boys! Yup, he was spot-on with that one!! Thanks for bringing Robert to us, Norah!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Robin. I’m pleased you enjoyed meeting Robert. He has much wisdom to share. You won’t be disappointed in reading his story. It is told with great honesty and humour.

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  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Thanks Norah for this introduction to Robert. A memoir now on my list to read. It sounds as though he came from a truly democratic family and one that after an initial blip by the mother was extremely supportive and loving. His outcome seems to be different from Lucy Grealy who wrote Autobiography of a Face who chose to have ongoing surgery resulting in intractable pain and her eventual death by heroin OD. This man’s story seems inspirational and his TED talk certainly was.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Irene. I’m pleased you enjoyed meeting Robert. I think he spoke at the seminar at which Angie and I met, so she’d know of him too.
      I hadn’t heard of Lucy Grealy. What a sad life.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Okay. Interesting. Though I have heard of Ann, I haven’t read any of her books. You’re expanding my horizons. Now I just need time to read them. Thanks. 🙂

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  5. Annecdotist

    Thanks for sharing this, Norah, it’s great how you’ve connected your last post to Robert’s inspiring story. I read it this morning and listened to the talk and have been thinking about it for several hours!
    Interesting how in his family the youngest child got the rap as is often perceived as the other way round (what am I talking about, as I wasn’t the youngest, it can’t be just perception), but also interesting that parents leave tempting chocolates where young hands can easily get them, almost as like the experiment from your last post to test out whether children would lie.
    But lots more to think about in the video. How difficult it must have been for his parents and we have to applaud their honesty in their response to the first sight of the baby – and of course they’ll have had very little/no support in those days. But I also feel for any child who undergoes that early separation and parental rejection, and also the painful and probably frightening surgery, which doesn’t help to form a secure base.
    So there’s lots to admire in his journey to becoming comfortable with who he is, even without his facial disfigurement. The psychology of how we respond to faces is interesting. I’m not sure I agree with him that we are becoming suspicious of the perfect face [although I have to say that hearing him occasionally correcting himself made me warm to him even more and wonder if I am slightly suspicious of the perfect TED talk – obviously they need to be rehearsed, as they clearly are, but some of them are disturbingly perfect] – I think that pressure is still there and as plastic surgery is used as a lifestyle choice, almost as casually as using cosmetics, I wonder if that makes us less open to diversity in how people look, surely putting more pressure on those who are never even going to be able to have an ordinary face.
    I listened very closely when he spoke about his adolescence and the parents saying it was his choice about whether or not to go ahead with the surgery. Now that resonated for me given how it crops up in my novel. But the difference here seems to be that the whole family were involved in helping Robert decide and it seems this has been very empowering for him.
    I can see why you might have three versions of his book and great that you were able to hear him read and get a copy signed. But while I know what tea is, I’ve never heard of a Tim Tam (though obviously a kind of biscuit).

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

      Tim Tams have become like vegemite to Australians these days. Norah’s picture shows what they look like but can’t describe the taste (and nor can I) of the filling sandwiched between two biscuits and held together with delicious milk chocolate outer coating. We take suitcases of them with us when we go to Europe and my friend does the same when she goes to the States for her daughter.

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    2. Norah Post author

      Thanks for the richness and wisdom of your comment, Anne. I hadn’t thought about the way in which some of the issues that Robert needed to deal with are similar to those faced by Diana, in your book Sugar and Snails. But I can see it now. Robert was fortunate to have a loving, supportive family. But what comes across even more strongly is that they were an ordinary family, coping with what was thrown their way, and working through the difficulties together. Part of the blurb says, “It is also the story of an extraordinary person living an ordinary life, which is perhaps his greatest achievement of all.”
      In his book, and some of his talks, Robert has quite a bit to say about diversity, acceptance and, of course, bullying, amongst other things. He definitely gives us much to ponder.
      I was surprised too, that it was the youngest child who took the blame, particularly one less able, one would think, to reach the top of the fridge. I would say that, in my family, it was usually the older one involved in the incident(and sometimes not) who got the blame.
      Perhaps the parents didn’t really expect the children to find the chocolates on top of the fridge, though I know if there was anything sweet in the house I always managed to find it, and get myself into trouble in doing so! I hadn’t thought of it being like the test mentioned in the previous post, but now that you say I can see that it is also a bit like the marshmallow test. How could we expect people to wait (or leave them there) when there might not be any more where they came from!
      Tim Tams are Aussie chocolate coated biscuits – as Aussie as Vegemite. They are very popular and very moreish. I’d love to share a packet with you over a pot of tea!:)

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  6. Prior-2001

    Norah Norah Norah!
    I thought this was just another book review post – and fine if it was cos those are nice – but getting to Robert’s video – u really led us up to the wow factor – powerful story and great message!
    Will have to check out more from Robert later – what an inspiring man!
    Thx 😎

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m pleased you enjoyed it. I don’t usually do book reviews as such, though I do sometimes discuss content from books that I find interesting. Robert is an inspiring man, and he has certainly got plenty of wow factor. He speaks honestly and has much to offer from his experience. I was hoping others would find his story as interesting as I do. 🙂

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