A Special Father’s Day: My Journey With Marley

My oldest daughter is 17 years old, and her name is Marley. I should have known the journey with Marley was going to be an interesting ride from the start. My wife and I adopted Marley from China on her first birthday. The day I officially became a father is the most vivid day of my life.

A Special Father’s Day: My Journey With Marley https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/special-fathers-day-journey/

My wife and I boarded a bus from our hotel in China, and we headed to a government building, and all of the prospective parents sat in one room as they brought each baby into the room with their name pinned to their chest. The anxiety and excitement is something that really cannot be described. When they brought Marley into the room, we knew immediately from the pictures that she was ours.

Marley was clearly overwhelmed, nervous and quiet. My wife held Marley first, and her tears of joy were flowing like a river. My wife then handed this delicate little baby to me, and I gently held her. I told her everything was going to be okay.

I was so excited to be a father and hey, if I am being honest, a bit scared. Marley initially had a tough time adjusting to her new life with us which is understandable considering her first year of life was downright brutal. She was placed in an orphanage pretty much from day one. The orphanage was remote, extremely hot, and severely understaffed.

She was malnourished and had rickets which is a softening and weakening of the bones. Marley didn’t smile ever in those first few months, and her trust wasn’t there yet. However, we started to see progress as she was getting physically stronger and while she wasn’t technically smiling, her face was softening, and she looked more at ease.

Marley over time continued to progress, and about six months later she cracked her first smile as I leaned in over her crib to pick her up. I will never forget that day, and as a father, it is one of those truly special days. My wife and I enjoyed being parents so much that we went back to China to adopt our second daughter Shayla when Marley was three.

Shayla had an easier time adjusting primarily because her first year was in an orphanage setting with a lot more care, resources and one on one time she was able to receive.

While my wife and I were adjusting to life as parents with two kids, we began to notice that Marley was experiencing developmental delays. She was three years old, and while she was saying a few words, she wasn’t developing at a typical pace. She had a difficult time making eye contact, and she had night terrors which are episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep.

My wife and I were concerned and frightened and felt a bit lost. We took her to a specialist where she was diagnosed with autism. I really did not know what autism, however, I understood that this diagnosis was a lifelong situation and it hit me hard. I didn’t feel bad for myself—I felt how unjust that this little girl who had a brutal start to life now has something that appears to be a mountain of a challenge.

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My wife and I didn’t let this diagnosis define us. We actually adopted two more daughters from Guatemala. I kiddingly call them the Kardashians as I am surrounded by female bosses.

Being a father is special and having a child with autism really doesn’t change the game as much as you may think. I see my job as a father as primarily being there and available and learning on the fly. I look at the world through a different lens, and that is because of Marley. I notice kids and adults that are not ‘’typical” and go out of my way to understand and include them.

Being a father to a child with autism is not for the faint of heart. We didn’t have this in our “plan.” There are public meltdowns, strange looks, odd questions and many sleepless nights; however, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Each kid has their challenges, and you have to see these challenges for what they are. It is part of life.

Marley has made me a better father. I have grown so much as a person and about what it means to be a father, and she has been the best teacher. She has taught me patience, how to be a better communicator and simply being more understanding.

Marley thrives on routine and predictability and don’t we all have a bit of that in today’s hyper-fast world. The routine makes her feel safe.  One of Marley’s favorite activities is taking walks in the woods. Marley will simply write the word “Trees” on our chalkboard and point. These walks are primarily something that we do together just the two of us.

These walks make her so happy, and a funny thing happens as we hit the trails. She bucks the routine and likes to go a different way each time and take different paths without knowing where we will end up. Isn’t that just like life? Do any of us know where we are going and what the final destination is? This is a life lesson that Marley has taught me.

Take life as it comes and try different paths and don’t be obsessed with the destination just enjoy the journey. Marley, I want to thank you for what you have given me and for making me a better person and a better father.

Happy Father’s Day.

This article was featured in Issue 89 – Solutions for Today and Tomorrow with ASD


    Anthony Whitaker

    Anthony Whitaker lives in Queens, NY is a husband and father of four daughters, and his primary role is to be the family “Uber.” He writes a blog about Unscripted Life. For more information visit https://tonywhitaker.wordpress.com/.