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I was 25.
I had a daughter just over a year old. I was doing the best I could figuring out this “new dad” gig.
And then, on June 5, I had a son.
I had long dreamed of this day. I think every father has hopes of warm summer nights teaching a son to pitch, hit, slide, throw, catch, and tackle. I know I did.
This young son grew.
He started smiling, saying a few words, and being social with others. As it is with young children, it was heartwarming and I smiled with satisfaction as I imagined those times on the front lawn when the ? and ⚾️ would come out.
A high fever that couldn’t be controlled; even the strongest of medications would not curb the fever and accompanying ear infections.
Running ragged from specialist to specialist trying to find some sort of answer.
It finally broke. A week later.
Those early few words? Gone.
Whatever potty training he had completed? Left almost overnight.
He started being enamored by the rotation of spinning the wheels on his toy RC (the toy car from Toy Story).
He started flapping his hands (self-stimming).
On his second birthday, exactly 22 years ago today, my oldest son, Andrew, received the diagnosis that, to this day, still causes me to break out in a cold sweat.
(At the time, he was 1 in 10,000 children. Today when parents hear that diagnosis they understand their child is about 1 in 80.)
Needless to say, the ? and ⚾️ on the front lawn during those warm summer evenings did not take place. What replaced them were countless hours of watching him in a secluded world that others, including myself, could not often penetrate.
An occasional passing smile and short gaze into my eyes would confirm my son was there—somewhere. But just out of reach.
He started watching snippets of his favorite Disney films and rewinding these VCR tapes TO THE EXACT SAME FRAME every time he watched them (I have so many Disney scenes seared into my brain I will never recover).
But he was indeed out of reach. It felt like he was eternally unreachable.
I longed for two minutes inside his head so I could see how he was wired—how I might somehow reach him in a meaningful way.
As he grew, my expectations changed and altered for him and myself. I decided either I could continue in the mode of self pity and focus on what he (and by extension, I) didn’t have. Or I could start to look for the unique and wonderful things Andrew has to offer the world, his family, and me.
And that, to me, has made all the difference.
What I’ve discovered is Andrew is a young man that has a laugh that is infectious. He is smart (a self-taught speed reader, although you have to train your ear to understand what he is saying). He is gentle soul—loving and kind. He makes immediate friends.
Sometimes, I still (selfishly?) long to throw a ball to him. Have him catch it and throw it back.
Take him to college and drop him off at the dorm and smile with a tear as I wave goodbye.
See him find someone who makes him as happy as Jenny Noonan Dye makes me and with whom he can grow old in warm companionship.
But I realize the warmth, love, and joy he brings is because of **WHO** he is. EXACTLY as he is.
Andrew, my son, happy birthday.
Thank you for changing my world.
Thank you for teaching me patience. And unconditional love.
Thank you for exposing me to so many Disney movies (over and over and over) my mind might explode. ?
Thank you for being my burden—and my blessing.