“Daddy does not know what it is like to have to be a father to your mother. “
It is always an adjustment when a parent is deployed, but what happens when a family is held together by one parent and that parent leaves? In Joseph by Shelia P. Moses, Joseph’s father is deployed to Iraq and his mother, a drug addict, cannot cope. In fact Joseph, a boy mature beyond his years, ends up looking after her. When they are evicted he gets a chance to go to a better school although he is terrified that his new friends will learn that he and his mother are living in a homeless shelter. Joseph is torn; he is a good student who wants to do well in school and wants to take up tennis again, but he also wants to protect his mother and is suspended for three days for fighting with boys at school who insult her. Joseph’s parents were estranged before his father went away but the deployment makes it impossible for his father to offer any support to Joseph, except financial support. And that goes wrong when his mother uses Joseph’s father’s money to buy drugs rather than food or utilities. Joseph’s father knew about his wife’s problems and was trying to get custody of Joseph, but had missed two court dates because he was deployed, so may never get custody.
Joseph is a gritty book, not holding back from Joseph’s mother’s degradation and the negative effects on Joseph. Joseph’s mother is not at all likable, while his father is physically distant and therefore unable to help. Joseph is all alone. When some of his old school mates pick another fight with him: “When they read me my rights they say I can make one phone call, but I have no one to call. Daddy is halfway around the world; Momma’s cell phone is off.” p75
Ultimately it is Joseph’s Aunt Shirley who saves him until his father returns, showing the importance of extended family in this sort of situation. When a military family are in crisis like this there are programs and people who are meant to help. I know that sometimes they are not as helpful as they are meant to be, especially in a case like this where Joseph and his mother live away from a military base. Isolated families face the same pressures in having a parent deployed but it is more likely that they will fall through the cracks and be missed by the military assistance.
The author Shelia P. Moses was a National Book Award Finalist and a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Recipient for her 2004 novel The Legend of Buddy Bush. In 2009, Joseph was nominated for the NAACP Image Award.
I recommend this book for adults and older teens who want a glimpse into the sordid life of addiction and the effects on children. It doesn’t talk a lot about what many people think of as a military lifestyle but does highlight that thousands of American children, far from military bases, have been affected by the recent wars as they have seen a parent leave.
Check the WRL catalog for Joseph