These weekend wintry early mornings in which at times I’m feeling a little drawn—hardly inclined to roll out of bed, bundle up, and get out into the forest and nature—are probably the most necessary times to get up and walk through the woods.
I know that, and I’m skeptical I would still have the discipline for it very often were it not for promises made to my son Nicholas the night before. Or simply the wordless promise of what I owe him each day.
That’s true with so much in my life. I have great friends I love, work that’s very meaningful (well, sometimes), and live in a place of ancient mountains and rivers that resonates deeply and feels right. But my son is my organizing principle. I can’t imagine what I’d be without him.
Sometimes I struggle to understand the perspectives of burden or mourning that often are expressed by nonautistic parents of autistic children. I recognize this as a failing of my empathy. I work on it, even as I’m more inclined to empathize with their children.
I’ve had such gratitude for my son every single day for all these 19 years of his life, during his hardest times as much as during his happiest times.
Nicholas is autistic, and he is intellectually disabled. He has diagnoses of severe mixed expressive-receptive communication disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was self-injurious for years. He has had very serious medical crises and has ongoing medical needs.
And I’m so lucky to be his father. I’ve never once thought anything else about my son.
I help take care of my son. God knows, he takes care of me, too. Every day he gives me far more than I could ever give him. His love and affection are precious and exquisite.
I feel that way, and I tell him. I never want him to have any doubt that he is appreciated—treasured—exactly as he is, for exactly who he is. What a privilege to be his father, and what a joy. I tell him this, too.
Nicholas is 19, and he leads as much as follows now. He chose the little hike at Moore Cove Falls in western North Carolina this morning and to stop at nearby and icy Looking Glass Falls beforehand. We typically stop for breakfast—or lunch on some days—and when we get back I watch football while he takes a nap. He comes out eventually, sits on the other couch, chooses a team from the graphic he sees on the screen, and watches the game with me.
I look over at him while completing a job application, writing to a friend, or finishing an article or blog post. I marvel at how blessed I am, for so many reasons, and for one.
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