As a father of four boys, one of my many goals is to spend as much one-on-one time with each of them as possible. I do not want any of my boys to feel like they were the forgotten son. This “forgotten son” scenario is, sadly, a common story as cares and worries eat up hour after hour, leaving many important relationships left unattended. As I spent a delightful afternoon with my oldest son Nate, I realized that my experiences with him are somewhat unique and worth sharing.
Let me say a few things first. I have always liked Nate, not just loved him. Dealing with some of his eccentricities has been a real trial for Rachel and I, but I have always had a sense that it was not his fault and that it’s our problem, not his. Also, I am fully aware that the time we spent together yesterday was made possible by God’s Grace shown to us through our Son Rise team of volunteers, both past and present. Truth is, a couple years ago it would simply not have been possible. I tried and failed many times as I realized that he was happiest at home where life was predictable and safe. Now, through all the hard work, he looks outward for fun and adventure. I am humbled to know our team and to be Rachel’s husband.
I wanted to give “you”, whoever is interested and whoever keeps reading, a glimpse into what a Daddy and Nate afternoon looks like.
First is the announcement that he and I are going to the store. He’s jumping and shouting “Can you come with me?!?”, which is his way of asking if he can come with me. When he understands that he and I are going together he is so happy. Understand that Nate often goes where he does not want to go and does what he does not want to do. With his Autism, many activities are completely uninteresting, uncomfortable or flat-out painful. Those of you who know Nate can guess his favorite store. A land where sliding doors reveal a wonderland of fans and sprinklers. A place where bathrooms echo and toilets flush at just the right pitch. That’s right; The Home Depot.
The first order of business was the garden center where there are lots of fans and sprinklers ready to spin and spray. They were all off, but that did not stop Nate. He quickly followed the conduit and found the switch. Relying on the old adage “better to get forgiveness then to ask permission”, I allowed it. With all the fans spinning he now wanted to run around and count them all, which we did. When one fan appeared broken he asked several puzzled customers if they could fix it. We then moved on to the fan section. It was here I thought to record a bit for fun as seen here:
After HD we headed to Pets Mart where they had puppies and kitties to pet. I also needed some crickets for the lizard, but that was only a brief distraction from the dogs and cats. After lots of petting and after repeating to Nate that we could not “Get a tiny puppy for us and for Nate”, we headed on to Wal-Mart.
This one is neat to me because Nate used to be scared to death of Wal-Mart. (He was scared of Home Depot at first, for that matter, but all fears melted away with the news of fans and sprinklers inside.) Understand that in these stores, it is not; “Hold my hand, Nate. Stop that, Nate. Come here, Nate. Put that down, Nate”. We just have fun. He’ll lay on the floor and look at the cool lights. He’ll take some pins wheels and run to make them spin.
Passing one lady he reached out and just quickly and gently grabbed her hand for a second. She melted. I heard “Oh my, he is so adorable!” from behind us. I patted his blond head and said “You are one handsome little dude!” The comments I hear are not all friendly, but we don’t care. We’re not here for the old guy that thinks I should discipline him more, or the lady in whose way we are in. On our way to the van he stopped to find and adjust the sprinkler heads he could find. I had to fight the “eww gross don’t touch that” instinct, but hey, there’s always soap and water.
“I love you, Nate”. (Nate) “I love you”.
As a black Escalade zooms past the slow minivan, our window rolled down and his pinwheel in the wind, I remember the day I relaxed with Nate. I took him to Publix a couple years ago. He really wanted to lie on the floor and look at the lights. My self-centered soul said “No! They’re all going think he’s weird…and that you’re a bad father” but I just smiled and said “Cool Nate! You’re on the floor! Neat lights!” Since then I just smile at the looks we get from people. They don’t understand, nor should they. It makes no difference to us. We are having fun together. We are making memories of love and fun, not of suppression and control. He knows that I really like him, not just love and put-up with him.
It would be a lie to say that I do not look forward to some of the “classic” son-father stuff with Nate. Truth is we are getting closer and closer every day to camping, fishing and things like that. He’s already enjoying hiking now. I can say with all honesty that I will miss our silly adventures in Home Depot and Wal-Mart when he’s beyond this stage. Perhaps then we will be visiting irrigation systems at huge farms and wind farms in the mid-west. You never know. However, I will always remember running with pinwheels and finding baby fans at Home Depot.