Happy Father’s Day! I’m writing this letter to let you know how much I appreciate you and the important role you play in my life. There’s no greeting card that could possibly tell you how much you mean to me.
Fathering a special needs child requires inner strength, patience and extraordinary love for one’s son or daughter. Many times, people overlook the contributions of dedicated dads like you. And you’ve been contributing for 21 years, so you really deserve my praise and admiration.
I wish I could speak and tell you everything that’s in my heart. But just because I’m non-verbal doesn’t mean I’m not able to communicate my feelings. As we’ve learned along the years, sometimes a look, a touch, a hug, a gesture or even a “high five” can say it all.
My gifts to you
This year, I wanted to celebrate Father’s Day differently. I didn’t buy or make you a present because I have something much more special in mind. Here are some gifts I know you’ll treasure for years to come.
1.The gift of love
The first one is most obvious, but shouldn’t be taken for granted. I love and would be lost without you. Thank you for your unconditional love and accepting me for who I am. When I was first diagnosed with autism, I’m sure you didn’t know what to expect or how things would turn out. But you stuck with me, in good and difficult times, and I’ll always be grateful. You showed me, by example, what true love is. So always know I feel the same way about you.
2.The gift of health
Raising a child with a disability can be overwhelming. You have so much on your plate to deal with. So it’s important to take care of yourself. I need you to be around for a long time. Try to get at least six hours of sleep, make time to eat properly and exercise.
I’m glad you joined the gym this year. It’ll help work off stress and keep you fit. And now that summer’s here, I can be your workout buddy. We can walk around the neighborhood once or twice a week after you come home from work. And while we’re out, let’s stop at the park and go on the swings. I need to stay in shape too.
3.The gift of friendship
I see how isolating your life can be because of my condition. Between work, home and taking care of me, you don’t have much free time to be with your friends or family. But it’s important to keep in touch with others. So when Uncle Gil calls next week and invites you to his annual 4th of July fishing trip with the guys, you should go. But make sure the boat crew cleans your fish before you bring them home. You know Mom hates the mess you make in the kitchen if you clean them yourself. And don’t forget Andy’s World Series party this Fall. He’s such a good neighbor, and his boneless wings and ribs are legendary on our block.
4. The gift of “being guilt free”
Like any parent, much of your life is going to be centered on your children, but that doesn’t mean you should completely abandon the hobbies, events, and activities you enjoy doing. I’m sure you probably don’t think of it often, but you had a life before me and my autism became the center of your universe.
So when you shoot some pool at the billiards hall with your buddies or take Mom out for “date night,” I want you to have a great time and not feel guilty about it. You deserve a well-deserved break from all your responsibilities, even if it’s only for a few hours.
And I’ll be fine. Aunt Doris keeps asking if we need any help. Let’s take her up on her offer. She just retired and has extra time on her hands. Aunt Doris can stay at our house and help me learn some communication apps on my tablet. And you’ll have peace of mind while you’re gone.
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5. The gift of “us”
We make a great team, so I’m eternally grateful you never gave up on our relationship. I’m sure once you heard the pediatrician say the word “autism,” all thoughts of having a father/son bond went out the window. Your dreams of teaching me how to throw a baseball or dribble on the basketball court were shattered, in a matter of minutes.
Thank you for looking beyond my disability and mobility limitations by sharing your love of other sports and activities with me. I’m always amused when people see us go on the rollercoaster. They look at you like you’ve lost your mind. They’re probably wondering “What is that father thinking, taking his disabled son on such a dangerous ride?” And when the ride ends, and we’re laughing as we exit, there’s a look of utter bewilderment on their faces. The same thing happens with the bumper cars. It’s as if people can’t believe a kid with autism could actually enjoy an amusement park ride. We prove them wrong every time and unexpectedly break some stereotypes in the process.
I always have fun watching sports with you. It’s our time. It doesn’t matter if we’re watching the Superbowl, NBA Finals, or a local sports team. Just hanging out on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn in front of the TV is fine. I may not understand all the players’ moves and rules of the game. But when I see the joy and enthusiasm in your face as you root for your favorite team, it makes me glad you’re sharing it with me.
6. The gift of “being human”
You’re human—not perfect. You’re allowed to get angry, frustrated, resentful or even a little sad at times. Mom, you, and I are on this lifelong journey together. We’ve overcome a lot of things in the past but know there are more challenges ahead. So cut yourself some slack every once in a while. After all, that’s what you always tell me when I get upset or discouraged for failing to achieve a goal.
7. The gift of appreciation
Wow. Where do I begin? There’s so much to say. First, thank you for stepping up and accepting the challenges of raising a child with special needs. Because of your determination and advocacy, I have a good life. That’s worth patting yourself on the back about.
I know it isn’t always easy. Every day, you have to put on an invisible armor of protection when you walk out the door. You have to constantly shield yourself and, at times, Mom and me, from the blatant stares and critical remarks of people who look and judge us without knowing our situation.
You have to battle with school bureaucracies to ensure I receive a fair and appropriate education. You have to fight with insurance companies to pay for my medical necessities.
Bottom line: You didn’t sign up for this when you became a father—my father. You didn’t sign up, but man did you ever step up!
I would name a street in your honor and present you with a medal for bravery if I could. You are my hero, plain and simple.
I’m still a work-in-progress, but who knows. One day, I might be able to do something magnificent. That’s what you taught me. Never give up, do the best you can and always have hope.
So in the meantime, I’ll give you this heartfelt letter and say “Happy Father’s Day” and many more to come. You’re the Best!
With much love, Lorenzo
P.S. Confession time. I wasn’t completely honest about not getting you a gift. I bought a frame for you to put this letter in. I want to hang it in our living room, so you’re constantly reminded of what a wonderful dad you are.
This article was featured in Issue 76 – Raising A Child with Autism