“Do you want to hold him?”
The nurse handed your newly born body to me and placed you in my trembling arms.
I remember looking down at you for the very first time and whispering, “I’m your dad, I’m here to take care of you.”
I thought about that experience many times this week as you turned eighteen. In an instant I went from having a child with special needs to being the parent of an adult with special needs.
Where did the last eighteen years go?
We were supposed to play ball together in the back yard in the afternoons. We were supposed to go to ball games together on Saturdays.
We were going to go camping, fishing, swimming and do all the things dads and their sons do together. I had our whole life mapped out before you ever opened your eyes for the first time.
But then together we discovered your profound special needs, and our world turned upside down. Our memories of life together are much different than I envisioned when you were born.
The 14 hour drives to see a doctor who specialized in autism. The endless parade of therapists who came in and out of our home and our lives.
The night we learned about your crippling cerebral palsy and that you wouldn’t be able to walk on your own.
The weekend stays in the epilepsy monitoring unit at the hospital searching for answers to your seizure disorder.
The heartbreak that you have never been able to even speak one word your entire life. The longing in my heart to just hear you call me Dad one time.
I remember every stare, look, glance, and frown that has been thrown our way by people who just didn’t understand.
The sleepless nights, the search for answers, and the constant tension that never goes away.
Fifteen IEP meetings. I never missed a single one because, “I’m your dad and I’m here to take care of you.”
But the most amazing thing happened along our journey together. The more I asked God to change and heal you, the more he has used you to change and heal me instead.
The more I tried to teach you about God, the more you taught me about God and his very character. I never understood unconditional love or grace until God used your life to demonstrate it to me.
I have tried to make sure that you know how proud I am of you, and how much you mean to me. I have made a point to tell you every single day of your life that I love you just the way are, and how thankful I am that God allows me to be your dad.
Despite all your challenges, I didn’t want you to ever doubt that.
See I have never loved you because of anything you have done. And there’s nothing you can do or achieve that would make me love you anymore than I already do now. I love you for one simple reason- you’re my son.
You have become my Garden of Gethsemane where my pain and my purpose collide. You have become my sanctuary where I go to meet God. And your life is the whirlwind where God speaks to me in the midst of the storm.
When you were born I envisioned your eighteenth birthday much differently. I thought we would be sending you off to college and celebrating your becoming a man this year.
Now I ponder the thought that you will still live with us even as an adult. I think about how we still will have to take care of your every need, even now that you are an adult.
I find my thoughts going back to that very first night, when you and I met for the first time and I held you in my arms.
And I find myself once again whispering those same words, “I’m your dad, I’m here to take care of you.”