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You can always look to me


Son:


Out of the countless photos mom and I have taken of you over the years, this is by far one of my favorites. Mom snapped the picture shortly before we left the house to go somewhere, I think maybe your grandmother’s place. You were two or three months old. I was a guy who was tentative about everything associated with being a first-time father: feedings, diaper changes, properly fastening you in your car seat. For all I remember, this might have been the first time I’d successfully put all the straps where they were supposed to go and asked mom to capture the moment for posterity (“He’s not turning blue and gasping for air! I did it! I did it!”).


And there you were, looking at me as though I was the greatest guy in the world. For full disclosure, at that time I was the only guy with whom you’d spent more than an hour or two. But there was something in your eyes that said, “I like this dude with the big nose and thinning hair. He knows his stuff.”


I think you’ve long since discovered that isn’t the case.


You think I felt discombobulated on the days when I called mom at work with questions? It’s nothing compared to the day in 2008 when you were diagnosed with Autism. Yeah, mom and I have learned a lot over the last 13-plus years, but sometimes we still feel lost more than we care to admit. There are moments when all hell is breaking loose and we want to help you more than you could ever know, and you can’t tell us how we can fix whatever is wrong.


You’re turning 16 years old on Wednesday. This is the time when fathers are starting to teach their sons how to drive and hoping they remember to hit the brakes and not the accelerator if they’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic. This is the time when dads are passing on to their sons what they know about girls. This is the time when dads start realizing their not-so-little boy is oh-so-close to reaching adulthood and, brief stops for free meals and laundry aside, leaving home and starting his own life.


Me? Sometimes I’m still reminding you to lift the toilet seat before you take a leak. I’m helping you with your coat and occasionally giving you a gentle reminder to stick to what can be a hectic morning routine so you’re ready to board the school bus when it pulls up in front of our house in the morning. I’m realizing the baby who was placing his trust in me to guide him through life will still be doing so as he becomes a man, and as long as I’m drawing breath.


Buddy, please know that you can always look to me.


As reluctant as I sometimes am to send you out into the world alone, you’re doing quite well for yourself. Your freshman year of high school was fantastic – you earned a 3.5 grade-point average and an academic letter – and you’re off to a pretty good start as a sophomore. You’re playing adaptive sports – soccer in the fall, wiffleball in the spring – and you earned an athletic letter. You have a job folding towels at school and you’ve brought home three paychecks since you started in October.


You might have Autism and be nonverbal, but there still is a lot of typical teenager in you.



You like music – in this case, Paul McCartney, Oasis, One Direction, and some European singer who performed at a past Summer Olympics that you discovered on YouTube Kids – that you enjoy playing over and over. You leave lights on after you exit a room (Maybe you could kick in some of your earnings toward the electric bill, sonny. Energy costs are brutal!). Sometimes you just want your space and want mom and dad as far away from you as possible. Sometimes that means taking mom by the hand, nudging her into dad’s office and closing the door, like you did Sunday afternoon.


You have your moments, but mom and I love you and can’t imagine life without you. It terrifies us to think about the day when we are no longer a part of your life.


We talked about that early one morning over the long Thanksgiving weekend. I don’t know what prompted the conversation, but I think we both truly realized that you’re rapidly approaching adulthood. What will your life look like when you turn 21 and there is no more school? How well will we be able to take care of you as we age? Who would be your voice if, God forbid, something happened to us next week? How many family members would be willing to do so? Are there even any family members who would be willing to do so?


Please believe that mom and I are thinking about how to make your future successful. Mom is the savvy entrepreneur between the two of us, and she has some great ideas about things you possibly can start doing before you’re done with school. I don’t yet know what my role will be, but it will be an active role. I hope you think we’re taking good care of you now, and that we will find a way to make sure you’re taken care of after we’re gone.


There are moments when you’ll come up to me and just look into my eyes. Sometimes you even gently take my head and pull it toward yours until we’re eyeball-to-eyeball. These are the moments I’d like to believe that dad is someone in whom you have faith. These are the moments I’d like to believe you’re thinking, “I like this dude with the big nose and no hair. He knows his stuff.”


I don’t pretend to have all the answers, son – I never have and I never will. But I just hope you’ll always see someone who believes in you, and in whom who can always place your trust.

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