This review will contain SPOILERS (for the SPOILER FREE review, check out my Goodreads review here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9000173-my-dad-s-a-policeman ).
I love Cathy Glass and her books – while they are completely heart wrenching and often leave me on the verge of tears, they are also a reminder of how selfless and good some people can be, and how even the smallest, most damaged children can thrive when they find someone willing to stand with them instead of against them.
Ryan’s mother is an alcoholic. She spends large portions of each day either drinking or passed out from drinking, thus leaving it up to Ryan to look after his young brother Tommy, the house, and his mother. Because he’s been doing this for as long as he can remember, Ryan simply can’t understand why they must go into care – a running theme through the book is him trying desperately to prove that he can look after the family. He also thinks it’s his fault that the family was split up, because he got picked up by the police numerous times for fighting (he has problems managing his anger, but does get considerably better once in the stability of his foster home).
Ryan runs away from his foster home, and then again from the police officers who come to retrieve him. It’s the start of a lonely time for Ryan, made worse when he tries to persuade Tommy to run away with him, only to be met by refusal from the younger boy because Tommy likes his foster home – he has a playmate and enough to eat. I think it’s glaringly obvious how bad their home life was, that this little boy wants to stay with strangers over his family because at least with the strangers he knows he’ll get fed enough.
After some gentle encouragement from his mother, Ryan returns to his foster home but is still desperately unhappy without his brother. The one perk in this time for him was discovering that his foster dad is a policeman – having never known his father, Ryan used to insist to the other kids on his estate that his dad was a policeman (something that was believed by no one but Ryan).
The book ends on a happy note. Ryan’s mother is given a year by the courts to straighten herself out (although Cathy’s website states that it actually took 3 years for the boys to be returned to her), and a judge rules that Tommy should also move in with Ryan’s foster family so that the boys will be together. That’s about as upbeat as these kinds of stories get, and I’m glad that the boys were given a stable home, and that their mother was given the help she so badly needed.
This is the first of Cathy’s books I’ve read that doesn’t actually feature Cathy (Ryan’s foster mother is called Libby). It’s also the first I’ve read that’s in first person perspective of the person in care (Ryan) rather than the carer. I loved Ryan’s voice in this, the strength and maturity, as well as vulnerability and childish understanding of how the world works (Ryan was under the impression that he and Tommy could get a ferry to France on £3 and that he could work to support them, despite only being, I think, 12), all really shine through.
Ryan made me want to sob, while at the same time find him and hug him tightly. They say children in neglectful or abusive homes learn to be so much more resourceful than other children, and Ryan certainly proves that – while his mother did love him and his brother, for a good part of his life she loved the drink more and so Ryan had to take on the responsibility of caring for them all without letting anyone know just how bad the situation had become.
Another thing I loved was that Ryan’s best friend Wayne also got a happy ending (taken from his abusive father a couple of days after Ryan was taken)! Wayne had a habit of staying at Ryan’s when things got too much at home, but now it was Ryan’s turn go to Wayne for help. The friendship between the boys is lovely – they don’t need to ask what’s happened, only what they can do to help each other.
Overall, I’d give My Dad’s A Policeman 3.8 out of 5 – it was heart wrenching while still being heartwarming, and to hear the story through the eyes of such a young child (instead of their carer) made it all the more poignant. To anyone who likes Cathy’s books (or similar ones) I’d recommend you pick this up. At 100 pages it’s lovely and quick to read, and the change of perspective is a good change of pace.
(Note: on Cathy’s website it states that this book is a “novel based on a true story” as opposed to a “true fostering story”, which would explain why it is not from Cathy’s perspective/have Cathy in it.)