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By the Way: Bensalem author shares wisdom from his “dad heart”


In the decade since Jay Armstrong learned he had an incurable disease that was causing a part of his brain to shrink, he has lived more lives than most of us — and shared more love.

“My brain speaks a language my body no longer understands,” he said.

Sure, he walks with a cane he calls “Clark-able.” He stumbles sometimes and falls. His spoken words sometimes falter when they should flow — but he’s alive and his message is strong. He’s sharing his wisdom: “Move forward.”

Jay is an author, blogger, speaker, writing coach and outreach leader in a program for those with similar medical conditions.

He is 43 years old, a retired teacher. He and his wife, Cindy, also a teacher, are the parents of a daughter, Haley, 15, and sons, Chase, 13, and Dylan, who is 10.

The Bensalem man was 33 years old and teaching English and coaching soccer at Robbinsville High School in New Jersey when he was diagnosed with cerebellar atrophy. The cerebellum controls motor skills, coordination, vision and balance. The diagnosis, Jay said, offered “a veritable smorgasbord of potentially fatal complications.”

The condition did progress to a point until it came to a halt, but it did force retirement in 2020, only four years after he had been named Teacher of the Year by his school district.

A born storyteller, Jay has since sought refuge in writing. He said, “Stories, with all their alchemy, allow us to recognize each other. To connect to each other. To breathe together in times when air is in short supply.”

Jay said, “My biggest regret as a father is that I can’t play sports with my sons. I’m just a suburban dad who knows my present choices will ripple far into my kids’ future lives.

“I want my children to know that their internal voice is the most powerful thing they will ever own. Do not let other people’s external voice trump your internal one,” he said.

Two years after his diagnosis, he created, a series of posts — vignettes really — that he said, “slow time, and make me glad to be alive. These stories are real. I believe, deep in my ‘dad heart’ we all have stories worth sharing.”

He calls parenthood “that weird mix of hilarity and sadness.”

The stories are messages, words he fears he will not live to speak to his children — and they range from amusing to sad. They are touching, intimate, funny and, most of all, weighted with wisdom.

Those stories are the basis for his book, “Bedtime Stories for the Living: A Father’s Memoir About the Power of Love,” published in 2021. Much to his surprise, he said, “It won first place in the nonfiction/parenting category of the 2022 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Contest.”

Although written with Jay’s children in mind, the wisdom he dispenses so freely is a prescription for adults as well.

“I want people to have the courage every day to take one step forward,” he explained.

For example, he said, he forces himself to take his dog, Maggie May, for a walk each morning.

“I don’t want to. I want to sit on the couch,” he said.

It is often a struggle, but once he has done it, he is inspired to move forward.

Moving forward for Jay has included writing a second book, His “Ordinary Hero: The Power of Building Character One Step at a Time” reveals his teaching skills and his undeniable ability to inspire.

He shows how facing down the deadly disease gave him a new perspective on life. Critics call this book “raw and honest,” and claim, “He teaches us how wisdom is waiting for us in the pearls of our daily routine.”

Jay’s first book is available in Kindle and paperback editions. “Ordinary Hero” adds hardcover to the mix.

I’ve just finished Jay’s “Bedtime Stories” and I’ve already loaded “Ordinary Hero” onto my Kindle. These are books for all of us.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township. She can be reached at

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