Every family has a story. Some are more complicated than others. In Tom Murray’s documentary, Dad’s in Heaven With Nixon, narrative threads are woven together to create impressions and nuances. Patterns arerevealed, facts emerge, truths are laid bare.
When I interviewed Murray by telephone, he related that when he began his film the focus was on his mother and his brother, Christopher. It was tentatively titled, A Light in His Eyes, and recounted the story of how Janice Murray had refused to accept the diagnostic doomsday verdicts put forth by the Park Avenue doctors and psychiatrists she had visited in search for answers about her son.
The film is being featured on Showtime during April, Autism Awareness month. Currently, an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States present with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. When Chris was born in 1961, the whites of his eyes were totally red – a sign of oxygen deprivation. Recent laboratory studies have shown that oxygen deprivation is a cause leading to autism. In 1964, years before mothers felt they had the right to question medical authority, Janice Murrray rejected the directive to place her son in an institution. Instead, she embarked on a regimen of what is now termed “early intervention.” She engaged her son in exercises involving “creeping and patterning,” utilized vitamin therapy, and fed Chris “wheat germ cookies and Tigers milk powder.” She involved all the siblings in “a campaign to pull out” all of Chris’s potential. The only person she couldn’t get on board was her husband, Thomas E. Murray II, who was in denial about his son’s issues.