Autism awareness can lower a few raised eyebrows

I knew very little about the autism spectrum back in 2006, when I met the young boy who would become my son. My wife and I had been dating for several months when we decided it was time to introduce each other to our children. She explained that he had Asperger’s Syndrome and likely wouldn’t make eye contact — and to not take it personally if he avoided any physical contact like a firm handshake.

“And whatever you do, don’t tousle his hair,” she instructed with a squeeze of my hand. “He really doesn’t like that.”

Autism is a neurological developmental disability with symptoms generally appearing before age 3, impacting the development of the brain in areas of social interaction, communication skills and cognitive function.  Continue reading

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Because the women in my life make every day worth celebrating

imageSitting on the edge of the bed this morning, I looked over at my wife’s slowly stirring figure. I watched her stretch beneath the blankets and finish with that little squeal that means it was a good stretch. She yawned, covering her mouth with the back of her hand like she always does. Her eyes focused and she slowly smiled at me.

I smiled back, knowing in that moment I was exactly where I was supposed to be in my life.

Before heading to work, I slipped a note into her lunch:

You make every day better because of loving you.

It wasn’t until arriving at work that a Facebook post informed me it was National Women’s Day. It made me think of how the women in my life — especially my wife, daughters and mother — are a constant inpiration, and how the gift of their presence is something worth celebrating every day.  Continue reading

Special Delivery: A cautionary Christmas tale

A blogger friend named Randall Willis once posted a beautiful poem that I’m always reminded of this time of year. In his poem, he used snow as an analogy for the magic that is constantly swirling around us — and how, like snow, it can quickly melt away and go unnoticed unless we make an effort to see it. What follows is a Christmas tale based on a true-life experience that I tell each year around Christmas. It’s a mixture of fact, whimsy, hope and my belief that a heartfelt wish is the cornerstone of life’s most important magical moments.

That said, my sincere thanks to all of you for sharing the magic in your own way, every day…
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imageHe looked very out of place sitting alone in the flight terminal, his arms folded over a Superman backpack, and large brown eyes peering out from beneath his baseball cap. A few seats away, a keyboard recital was being performed by a businessman wearing Bluetooth headphones and chastising someone at “headquarters” about overspending.

“I said gifts for the immediate staff only. That means Carl, Jody, Jessica and what’s-her-name — the gal we hired last month,” he instructed, keyboard clattering continuously. “Yeah, her — Loni. But that’s it. I never said anything about the sales department. What? Of course you’re included with the immediate staff. Get yourself something.”

The boy shifted, causing his plastic chair to squeak a bit as he leaned toward the businessman. “Hey, Dad…”

For the first time, the man’s fingers left the keyboard, just long enough to wave his son to silence.  Continue reading

Seven more minutes of childhood: a father’s wish on 9-11

imageI’ll never forget how I felt this day 15 years ago as an American, a firefighter and as a father — and how each held its own kind of hurt that has never completely healed.

But of the three, being a father watching the sparkle in my then six-year-old daughter’s eyes noticeably fade just a bit continues to be the memory that lingers most. Each year on this day, I post this in memory of those innocent lives that were lost, as well as for the loss of innocence we all experienced in some way or another…

 

My alarm clock went off the same as it always did back then, coming to life with the morning news — my preference over the annoying, high-pitched alternative of chatter. Instinctively, I swatted the snooze button and bought myself another seven minutes of sleep.

In the years since, I’ve thought a lot about those seven minutes, and how the simple push of a button postponed a bitter reality for just a little longer. When the news came on again, word of the first airliner crashing into the World Trade Center stopped my hand just short of another seven minutes of blissful ignorance — a time span that now seems like an eternity.

Lying there, listening to the details, I regretted not pushing the button one more time.

A hundred more times.

A thousand.

In that same moment, I also understood that the impassive gaze of terrorism could only be averted for so long, and that, eventually, I’d have to meet it — along with the questioning gaze of my daughter.  Continue reading

The women in my life make every moment matter

imageSitting on the edge of the bed this morning, I looked over at my wife’s slowly stirring figure. I watched her stretch beneath the blankets and finish with that little squeal that means it was a good stretch. She yawned, covering her mouth with the back of her hand like she always does. Her eyes focused and she slowly smiled at me.

I smiled back, knowing in that moment I was exactly where I was supposed to be in my life.

Before heading to work, I slipped a note into her lunch:

You make every day better because of loving you.

It made me think of how the women in my life — especially my wife, daughters and mother — are a constant inpiration, and how the gift of their presence is something worth celebrating every day.  Continue reading

There shall be no eye rolling on Father’s Day

Child rolling her eyesI am a father with three teens. As a result, if a priest were to visit my home and witness the amount of eye rolling that occurs, he would schedule an exorcism faster than you can say “The Conjuring.”

I realize this is a teen thing, and that it’s not easy going through physical and emotional changes generally reserved for a full moon. I understand how the Molotov cocktail of hormones created during this time makes everything annoying, particularly when I say something insensitive such as, “Hi.”

However, come Father’s Day, I will remind my them about the recently discovered 11th Commandment, in which God said unto the teenagers of the world: “Thou shalt not eye roll thine parents. Tis truly annoying.”

They will immediately Google it and discover I’m making up this Commandment, at which point the whites of their eyes will begin that slow, exaggerated roll they know drives me nuts… and then they’ll remember:

Oh no, It’s Father’s Day.  Continue reading

Finding the meaning in little flags

(Though we live in a time where the lines that divide us seem more clearly drawn than ever, for today I hope we can unite in solemn appreciation for the men and women throughout our nation’s history who sacrificed themselves so that we can live — and even disagree — as Americans. As adults, we tend to complicate things and ideals. It’s days like today that I am reminded that a child’s pure, unbiased perspective is sometimes our best source of wisdom…)

image It’s been 15 years since I introduced my oldest daughter to the meaning of Memorial Day. She was seven then, but I still remember the short gusts of warm wind on my neck, the earthy smell of the fresh-cut grass, and the hushed snap of small American flags standing like sentries next to dozens of tombstones along the hillside.

“How come some of them have little flags, and some don’t?” my daughter asked.

It was near sunset as we strolled through our local cemetery. Though we didn’t have any family members buried there, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain the meaning of Memorial Day to her.

“Do you know what war is?” I asked.

“When people fight,” she answered, then clarified herself; “A whole bunch of
people.”

“That’s right, but do you know why they fight?”

She thought a moment, then shook her head. Continue reading

Latest trend in grad gifts has parents going for bust

image After reading about how the parents of LuLu Diaz gave their daughter $6,000 breast implants for her high school graduation gift, I couldn’t help but be shocked by the idea of a father agreeing to anything that would make his teenaged daughter more enticing to teenaged boys.

As luck would have it, I actually spent several years in my teens. Because of this I can tell you there are many teenaged boys who still haven’t made it past the “breast” portion of this column. Sadly, some may never finish reading it because, in order to break them out of their current hypnotic spell, it will become necessary for a close friend or family member to light them on fire.

Let’s face it: This is the nature of most men until the aging process inspires a level of physical maturity that dethrones sex as the main motivator. While there is no set timeline for this transformation, most experts agree it begins anywhere between six and eight months after death.

Until then, at least from a father’s perspective, men can’t be trusted.

Continue reading

It takes manliness to crawl under the house, even if you’re screaming

imageThere comes a time in every man’s life when he must set an example for his son by crawling under the house to fix something. This must be done with apparent fearlessness even though he knows whatever needs fixing is going to be located in the darkest corner of the home’s underbelly, probably behind a spider web the size of a commercial fishing net.

Several years ago, I used plywood to seal up the underside of our home and stop what I suspected were nightly “rave” parties hosted by our cat. These parties generally started around 11:30 p.m. and were held directly beneath our bedroom floor, where it sounded like 20 cats playing Twister. Naturally, I had no choice but to break up these parties by getting out of bed and shoving our 60-lb. Labrador headfirst through the crawl space in our closet floor.

My point is this: Sealing things up stopped the cat parties. Unfortunately, it also turned the crawl space under our home into a frightening black void where, thanks to evolution, a species of hairy, sightless, spider-like rodents with large fangs and the ability to mobilize telepathically has nested, colonizing into the hundreds.

Possibly even thousands.

I know this because I’ve shined a flashlight down there and — this is not an exaggeration — I’m pretty sure I saw something move.  Continue reading

What an escaped hamster taught me about crisis management

imageWhen you find yourself force-feeding Pepto Bismol into your child’s constipated hamster, you figure you’ve faced one of your greatest challenges as a parent. In fact, over the years, it has become the measuring stick by which all family crisis is measured:

“He backed the car into a tree? Well, I suppose it’s still better than dealing with a constipated hamster…”

In fact, the only crisis that has come close — appropriately enough — involved the same hamster. It was a moment that began with a simple statement from my daughter.

“Dad, I can’t find Squiggles.”

Those words, uttered just three nights after the constipation incident, transformed a quiet Wednesday evening into a full-scale hamster hunt. Within minutes, our team was assembled around the kitchen table for a briefing.

“There’s no telling how long he’s been on the outside,” I said. “There’s a good chance he’s already assumed a new identity — perhaps as a mouse or gerbil. Keep you eyes open.”  Continue reading