Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dad's Day

His face was full of concern.

He just happened to come to one of my lectures here in B.C. One of his son's 'workers' mentioned the training and he decided, on a whim, to come along. He sat at a table a couple in with a few staff who seemed a little uncomfortable to have him there. Almost like he was invading their space, intruding on time that was theirs. One of the staff grimaced almost every single time I made a joke, or used any kind of 'cuss' word. She'd glance at him in fear and then at me in reproach. But this was a tough old goat and, as he wasn't worried about anyone's sensibility, laughed a lot during the whole thing.

At the end he stood in line to speak to me, brushing away the staff who suggested that they all head out for coffee. Finally he was standing in front of me, he glanced around, found a chair and sat down. 'I like to look a man in the eye,' he said by way of explanation. 'I heard all the others ahead of me asking you questions, I don't have a question. I want to tell you something.' I relaxed back in my chair. He had, in a simple gesture, honoured me, and I was ready to hear what he had to say.

'My son has Down Syndrome,' he says. 'He's lived with me his whole life.'

I nodded for him to continue.

'I was thinking while you were talking that maybe I made a mistake ...'

I started to say something reassuring, but he brushed away my attempt at kindness.

'No, no, let me say my piece.'

I nodded.

'He's a good boy, my son. All his life, I've taught him to do what he's told. Now, I think the problem is, he does what he is told. I didn't want him to be a problem to anyone, and the problem is, he'll never be a problem. I already see him get left behind because he'd never complain. Other kids, I call them all kids ...' he smiled looking at me, 'I'd call you a kid. Anyways, other kids who act up if they don't get what they want, well I see that they get what they want. My boy gets what's left over. He's a good boy. He does what he's told. I made a really big mistake.

I didn't know what to say. I said that.

'I'm not asking for any advice. I just want you to make sure you tell other parents, of young kids, not to do what I did. I raised a good boy, I should have raised a strong man.'

'It's not to late,' I said.

'I think it is,' he said.

'I beg to differ. Inside that boy, is the man he wants to be. Many of us, disabled or not, wait for the day our parents greet us as adults. When that happens it changes things. It's not to late to start.'

He paused to consider, and conceded to think about it by saying only, 'Maybe, maybe ...'


Kristin said...

I agree with you. I don't think it
s too late at all and I bet that dad's good boy will grow up into a fine young man very soon.

Heidi said...

Much as I feel for many of the blogs you post, this one really got to me and I'm sitting here all welled up...many years ago a friend who is blind complained to me that people expected her to be very, very "nice"...she was not expected to hold controversial views, she was not expected to swear, she felt she was expected to be "nicer" than non-disabled people in order to "make-up" for the fact she is blind. Today as I continue to work in schools (both mainstream and segregated -I refuse to call them "special")i regularly encounter children who maybe only have 2-3 words/signs/communication symbols, and one of those few precious words is almost always "please" - in one school, the other cert. one is "thank you" ...if we could only be given access to 3 words, would we choose "please" and "thank you"? I know I wouldn't!

Anonymous said...

This post gave me such a rush of emotion! I could be that dad in a few years.
Tell him I hear him, I hear him LOUD and CLEAR!
At the moment my son isn't doing as he is told! And today I learned thats just fine!

I love your advice to the dad about parents greeting their child as adults for the first time.....I'm still waiting that day with my parents but I damb well will greet my kids when their day comes.

Powerful post!
Love Linda ( LinMac)

Andrea S. said...

Heidi, your post reminds me of a book a read some time ago called "Blind Rage" -- if I could find my copy of the book I would also give you the author's name. It is part biography about Helen Keller and partly letters from the author describing her reaction. This book tells the REAL story of Helen Keller, not the sanitized, stereotyped, restricted story of "girl learns to say water" but the woman who apparently may have almost eloped with a man, who firmly believed in socialism, etc. She held views (such as the socialism) that were controversial for her time, but the public would only accept a near child-like "innocent" image of her: if she espoused controversial beliefs then people accused her of being innocently misled by hearing, sighted people. She is sometimes held up to people as a near saint of patience, etc. and thus a model for how blind people should behave, but of course was as human as anyone else.

As a sighted deaf person, I didn't get the Helen Keller message drilled into me as much as the author of "Blind Rage" apparently did, though I'm not sure if it makes a difference that I was sighted and deaf or just that the adults around me when I was growing up chose not to use the sanitized version of her as a "role model" with which to instruct me.

Belinda said...

Wow, what a conversation. To have that impact must be so gratifying--and to give that father hope that it isn't too late...He sounds like such a fine father. No it isn't too late.

ivanova said...

I love this.

Joyfulgirl said...

poor dad and poor son. we have such power as parents - it is truely frightening.

Princeton Posse said...

Oh, goosebumps...very powerful message here. It's never too late.

Kasie said...

We need to teach children and young adults how to say "no"; that it is okay to say "no" and that we will respect their "no"!
It is critical to our safety and self respect throughout our lives to understand that we have choices.

Anonymous said...

Half of me is so frustrated when Lauren expresses her defiance against what we have to do and half of me is very happy that she knows I'll respect her opinion.

Anonymous said...


Nancy I. said...

Dave, this resonates so very much with me. I cringe every single time I hear educators use the word "compliance." This is why.

Anonymous said...

Love it, Dave! Now how do I make that happen?

Team Lando said...

Love this! How am I just now discovering this blog? I teach Special Education and have a daughter with Down syndrome. I need to read this more often!

erika said...

This is like gold.

Anonymous said...

I am just now catching up on posts after a week away. Great story and oh so true. Knowing when you are not getting what is fair and right whether it be getting the dessert you really wanted, the movie you chose, the activity that you sad to be a go along-get along person to the extent that your needs are not met and you can not speak up. What a challenge for parents to find the balance. I know many children who have ended up in foster care because their parents would not set boundaries or limits on bad behavior when their child with a disability was young and then were not able to deal with the consequences when the child became an adolescent. The other extreme, complete and total compliance, how sad to live a life like that. I wonder how many of us would cherish the opportunity to discuss the long term consequences of how children are guided and how it impacts adults with intellectual and other disabilities. Than YOU for all that you willingly share with us Dave

kiwiaussie said...

Yet another Wow from me! We brought up our first 6 kids with an 'instant obedience' mindset. Something I deeply regret. When my youngest was born 9 years after the last one, my mindset changed. I became proud when she was 'naughty'. I no longer saw it as naughtiness, but 'hey, look at that, she's showing her independance!' So for me, it was my disabled child who finally got through to me how wrong I was with my older children!

My mother works in a group home with some men with DS, and she talks about one of them as being naughty. Now, admittedly, he was raised to the other extreme, and therefore always wants his own way, even when it would be dangerous. But it really made me think what a horrible word it is. Using the word naughty to describe a man in his 50's!

When my mother again has internet access I will send her this article, and suggest she follows your blog.

Thank you, once again Dave!

Keenan Wellar said...

This is one of my favorite posts for ask of 2011. A person with a disability is not an opportunity to develop the workd's first non complaining fully compliant terminally happy human.