the caleb years book coverReviewed by Alyssa Katanic

Whenever someone faces tragedy, especially when young children are involved, people like to throw out the question of, “Where is God in this?” It is so painful beyond measure to watch a little one struggle medically, to see the family struggle, or worse, to be a parent who loses a child. How do those parents survive the day to day struggle, especially with their faith in God still intact? The Caleb Years: When God Doesn’t Make Sense, by David Ingerson, is the personal story of a dad who does just that.

The Ingerson family was expecting baby number four. The beginning of the pregnancy was rocky, as there were signs and fears of miscarriage, but as the second and third trimesters progressed, all fears went away and they expected nothing less than a healthy baby. At first cry, they thought they had gotten just that, until Dad had a gut feeling that he needed to inspect his newborn son himself. As odd as it seemed at the time, even to himself, Ingerson stepped in amongst the nurses, busy wiping and measuring the newborn, and checked his newborn son’s behind. To his amazement, Ingerson found that his son, Celeb, was born with no anus. After alerting the doctor, who was still attending to Ingerson’s wife, of his findings, Ingerson soon learned that such a condition was also usually accompanied by heart defects. And so the whirlwind began!

The Ingerson’s faith is clear throughout The Caleb Years, from their prayer through the miscarriage scare, to the Holy Spirit-sent gut feeling to check out his son, and in the hands-on way that their church family supports them from the second they hear the news of Caleb’s birth defects. Ingerson is straight forward with his faith in Christ, and his witness to others in the waiting rooms with their own children’s health battles. He is also straight forward with the fact that he did struggle at times with fear and doubt and feelings of faithlessness that would swell behind his strong, brave front. It was somewhat refreshing that, though he could have written his story in any way he wished, leaving out many details that may cause some to gasp, “and he says he’s a Christian! huh!” he chose to let his readers see himself and his family “warts and all”, as they say. Good for him! Statistics show that many marriages don’t survive the stress, isolation, heartache and instances of misdirected anger that come right alongside of dealing with children with medical handicaps. Theirs did, but Ingerson doesn’t shy away from the fact that it was not always easy and sweet.

Besides his faith, the aspect that most struck me concerning Ingerson’s dealings with his son’s medical issues is that he didn’t just sit back and let the medical world dictate (or even fail to dictate) to him what approach they would take with Caleb. Ingerson was constantly asking questions, demanding answers and updates, educating himself, introducing himself to every nurse and attendant, arranging his own doctors and appointments, and never just sitting there, blindly trusting that what one doctor said was the only answer. I love this! Perhaps I love it because it confronts the stories that have come to the surface in the last couple of years involving the mistreatment of parents, and their children, who dared to question the doctors appointed to see to the child’s medical issues. Parents must be not merely involved with their child’s care, but in charge of it. So many parents do not take up this role, but Ingerson would not leave it to anyone else, even for a minute, and his son’s time on earth was quality because of it.

Having read a few books that describe a parent’s or grandparent’s experience of a child with medical handicaps, I find that such memoirs often have a somewhat awkward start, and can have a difficult end. I am sure that it may likely be attributed to having to sort through and relive the experience and emotions in order to communicate the story without getting bogged down in the beginning by the ending that you know, as the parent/author, is coming. The Caleb Years is also somewhat slow to get off the ground but once Ingerson gets the story moving, he does a great job of communicating the struggle without darkening the pages beyond readability or foreshadowing too many of the details to come. I was honestly very shocked by some of the twists their story takes.

No memoir involving the medical struggle of a child is an “easy read”. I cannot even call such books “good” reads, really, but Ingerson’s The Caleb Years is well done, very real, and touching.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Alyssa Katanic is a wife and homeschooling mother of 7 children under 11 years old. She loves reading and collecting great books to share with others and knows that one can never have too many!

Review copy was provided by David Ingerson.