In late 1991, I found out that I was going to be a father for the first time. As an energetic 21-year-old, I thought about all of the cool things we would do. I pictured my son and me watching football together, teaching him how to throw a ball, and someday helping him select a college. These were the things that I thought would be important.
Just before Thanksgiving, everything would change. Tests would show that he was not developing normally. He had pockets of fluid around his brain that were compressing it, likely causing severe damage. As the year came to a close, his prognosis continued to get worse. It became evident that our son would not survive until birth, and even if he did, he would be severely disabled. We were beyond devastated. Our little baby was fighting for his life and we were virtually powerless to help him.
Tyler was born surgically in February of 1992. Within minutes of birth, he had to be revived. A day later he would undergo surgery to relieve the fluid compressing his brain. This would be a preview of the many surgeries and procedures awaiting us for years to come.
From those events in 1991, I immediately began learning what it really meant to be a father. I decided from the beginning that the selfish dreams I once found so important no longer meant anything. The only thing I could think about was how to protect him and give him a good quality of life.
As a 21-year-old new father, I was facing a challenge that I couldn’t even wrap my head around. Looking back, I was still learning how to adequately take care of myself, much less a baby with very specialized needs. I knew that life would never be the same again.
The only thing I could think to do was to use my instincts and love him as much as I could. Perhaps if I tried to make every decision with his care at the forefront, he would somehow be alright.
It’s now 26 years later. Tyler is a relatively healthy and happy autistic young man. The journey thus far has been an ebb and flow of triumphs and heartbreaks. I’ve learned how to be a negotiator, a guardian and an advocate. But most of all, I feel as though I’ve learned the important things about being a father. It’s about being there for him during the best and worst of times. It’s about helping him adjust to the world around him and showing that world what a special person Tyler is. Most importantly, it’s about showing him the unconditional love he deserves.
To every new father, I would give this advice: No matter what the circumstances are, there is nothing more important you will do in your life than being a dad. Treat your children with a selfless love and devotion that will serve as their example for a lifetime. In a world desperately needing heroes, be one to your children.