Here’s To The Fathers
“OK son. Come here. Put these safety goggles on. Now, put your hand right here. Hold on tight!”
“Bbbbremmmmmm!” The lawn mower roared to life. He was startled by the noise at first but calmed down as I put my hand over his. Hand-over- hand we vanquished any blades of grass that dared stand in defiance against us.
It may not seem like much but I had dreamed of that moment for most of my life. I can remember how proud I was when my Dad first taught me how to mow the lawn. I remember how excited I was when he let me do the entire lawn by myself. Shortly, afterward the magic faded, as the responsibility turned into a weekly chore. I realized Dad’s master plan… when I was old enough to do the lawn he wouldn’t have to!
No matter how hot, or how long it took, he wouldn’t settle for anything less than my best. I had to cut my rows evenly and follow the lines precisely. The lawn, he told me was a reflection on our family. Since I cut it, ultimately it was a reflection (or indictment) on me and my workmanship. I got that. It stuck with me.
I quickly devised a scheme to start getting paid for my efforts. I was quickly reminded by Dad that I wasn’t going to cut anyone’s lawn before I made sure home was taken care of FIRST. Mr. Carl Brown gave me my first job, by giving me a chance to cut his yard. Each time, I’d mow it as precisely as if it was my own. Mr. Brown always had something positive to say and not only did he pay our agreed upon price…he tipped!
Together those men taught me valuable lessons that shaped my character…the value of hard work (sweat equity), providing quality service to others, and the joy and satisfaction of a job well done.
Each of these lessons were filed away in my database, to be passed along to my son one day.
Several years later, sitting in a doctor’s office I wondered if I’d ever get the chance. A very nice lady had just given me the unwelcome news that my child was diagnosed with moderate Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“So what does that mean?” I remember asking. “It’s too soon to know,” came her reply. Questions followed me out to the parking lot. What does this mean for my son? What does this mean for our family? What quality of life will he have? Will he ever be “normal”? Will he ever be able to verbally communicate with us? How does this change my plans for how I wanted to raise my son?
The internet offered up overwhelming amounts of information on autism but nothing that seemed to provide me the answers I was looking for. I was always respectful and sympathetic towards those who were disabled or different. But I never had the patience, desire or inclination to put much focus on them. Now that the “A” word had shown up on my doorstep what was I supposed to do? I didn’t know how to raise a son with autism.
If I’m not around will he be able to take care of himself? How will society treat my boy? At the store I paid attention to the bagger who seemed a little different. Does he have autism? Is this what Grant can look forward to? Can I handle that?
I am tough on my son. Some may think I’m too tough on a little, sweet, autistic child. But he won’t be little or sweet forever. And when he’s bigger and stronger society won’t be as forgiving of some of his behaviors. Not everything he does is because of autism. That’s why I think it’s my job to teach him boundaries now…for his sake, and others. I can’t afford to let him think that because of his diagnosis he can do anything he wants.
I challenge him to speak clearly using the few words in his growing vocabulary. The other day he said “Dad”.
I encourage him to share. I teach him to open the door for his mom and his sisters.
I teach him how to pray and call out the names of his relatives, teachers and friends before going to bed.
I applaud him for hitting the ball. I celebrate when he sounds out a new word.
I expect him to clean up after himself. He makes a mess, he goes and gets a paper towel to correct it.
I don’t talk to him as if he’s a baby. I speak to him as I would any other five-year old.
We spend time together. We run. We wrestle. We slap high fives. We cut the grass…
We cut the grass. Just like any other father and son, WE cut the grass. When my wife snapped this picture I realized that I am raising my son just the same way as I always imagined I would. He has certain limitations and challenges, but we all do.
The scariness of raising a son on the spectrum subsided considerably when I stopped focusing on what my son couldn’t do and started celebrating everything he was doing.
I love my son just as much as I love my daughters. I wouldn’t trade any of them. I don’t know why the Creator saw fit to present us with this challenge, but we will all get through it together.