The dreams I had for my son when he was born were pretty reasonable, I thought at the time.
Starting linebacker at Ohio State.
Harvard Law School. Stanford medical school.
President of the United States.
Nobel Prize winner.
All of them, I figured, were attainable. This was, of course, my son. He was destined for greatness. Really, don’t all fathers feel this way about their sons? They are the heir to the family name and the one who will carry on the family legacy; therefore, they all must be born into greatness, right?
Of course, the reality is that life rarely works out that way. To the best of my knowledge, there has yet to be a college linebacker turned lawyer turned doctor turned astronaut who was elected president and then went on to win the Nobel Prize. We all come to the realization, at some point, that not all of our wildest dreams will come true for our children.
And, in the end, all we really want for our children — whether it be a a son or daughter — is a chance. An opportunity. The platform by which they can showcase their talents to the world. For some sons and daughters, those chances seem to come naturally. Some kids appear destined to accomplish certain things from the day they are born.
For others, those opportunities don’t always come so easily.
Some sons and daughters, for a variety of reasons, are going to face obstacles and challenges throughout their lives that other children never will. And that’s when, as a parent, you worry — sometimes to the point of not being able to sleep at night — if your kid, the person you love more than any other in this world, will get their chance to shine.
When you are sitting in a room at Dayton Children’s Medical Center holding your 2-year-old son, tears streaming down your face as you are being told by experts your child is on the autism spectrum, it’s something that scares you more than any fear you’ve ever had to face before in your life.
You don’t know if your child will ever speak. Or go to a regular school. Or be able to interact with other kids his age.
You wonder if he’ll ever get his chance.
Eventually, though, you stop worrying about forever and you start worrying about today. You do everything you can possibly do — because truthfully, this is your chance to make a difference — to make your child’s life better every single day. And, slowly but surely, things do get better.
My son did learn to speak. He has been able to go to school. He has been able to interact with other kids his age. And, best of all, he has been able to wrap his arms around his mother and I and tell us he loves us.
And last week, my son Max — who is, in fact, on the autism spectrum — got his chance to shine. Spelling always has been one of Max’s best subjects in school — the repetition and memorization certainly fits well within his skill set — and he’s near the top of his fourth-grade class when it comes to spelling.
So good is he at spelling that his teachers at Heywood Elementary School selected him as one of 16 students to participate in the school spelling bee.
Max had earned his chance. He was going to get his chance. As a parent, that’s all I could ever possibly want.
My baby boy would spend several weeks studying his words every night. When the day of the bee rolled around, Max — perhaps realizing the magnitude of the moment — was more nervous than he has ever been. He did a good job of holding it all together, however.
I, on the other hand, was an emotional disaster.
Max made it through the first two rounds — correctly spelling “garden” and “nearly” — before nerves got the better of him in the third round and he misspelled “hutch,” a word he absolutely knew how to spell, thus ending his run. Max handled it like a pro, however, calmly walking off stage and cheering on the remaining competitors.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop crying.
Not tears of disappointment, of course, but tears of joy and pride. I was proud my son had competed against “typical” kids and had done well. I was proud he had the courage to stand up there on stage in front of hundreds. I was proud he made it as far as he did.
Most of all, I was proud my son earned his chance — and took it.
Reach David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong