In the May issue of Redbook, Celebrity Apprentice star Holly Robinson Peete and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, reveal their rocky past that brought them to the brink of divorce and how they found strength to face their son RJ’s autism diagnosis.
Holly, on dealing with their son RJ’s diagnosis: “We went through this emotional connection, and we just cried in each other’s arms. We didn’t know what the hell this autism thing was. We were both in denial for a few weeks.” Rodney adds: “I stayed angry and blamed the doctor and was still in denial—while Holly basically rolled up her sleeves and did what needed to be done.”
Holly, on how they disconnected after RJ’s diagnosis with autism: “We did have conversations, but Rodney shut down. Part of being in denial is that you don’t talk about your feelings. I would do these all-nighters with him, and the poor guy would just lie there in bed curled up. I’d say, ‘Are you listening to me?!’ until 3, 4 in the morning. He wouldn’t respond, so I felt disconnected from him. He didn’t understand what I was going through, or what his son was going through — or he wasn’t trying to. I don’t think we had any conversations that could get us anywhere because he hadn’t come to terms with his feelings.”
Rodney, on how autism started to consume the marriage: “The situation consumed us; all other conversations didn’t matter. Everything led back to, ‘What are we doing about R.J.?’ And Holly telling me what the reality is and what I should be doing — and me not wanting to believe it. It started driving a wedge in the marriage.”
Holly, on how she tried to connect with Rodney: “I would send him books upon books so he could read about what’s going on in this kid’s head. There were no dad books like the book Rodney has written; I looked all over. I would say, ‘Please, can you just start trying to understand?’ And I would stand there with my arms crossed and say to him things like, ‘Do you even know what autism is? Could you explain it to somebody?’ I mean, I always challenge Rodney, but later when I read his book, I thought, Oh, my God, I so went out of my way to emasculate him.”
Rodney, on how the experience has transformed him: “It made me let my guard down and be vulnerable. That was hard for me, because I had been expected to be strong and show confidence always—when you’re a quarterback, that’s what you’ve got to do…In retrospect, it’s also made me think how ironic it is that my whole life has been spent on team sports…That’s what it takes, a team, and that’s what Holly was trying to get me to understand.”
Holly, on what they’ve learned as a couple: “The problem with autism is that you don’t know if things are going to come out fine. You just have to tweak the expectations. And that’s what I knew I needed Rodney for—I needed a partner in that journey. We still have our issues, but there’s never any talk of our marriage being over, or any of that stuff we used to talk about.” Adds Rodney: “It’s Team Peete.”
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