An Open Letter to Dads
June 7th, 2019
To Dads Everywhere this Father’s Day:
First of all, thank you for being you. Most of you are probably trying to balance the challenges of work life with the needs of your families. Some of you are spending your free time coaching or schlepping your kids to dance, piano, gymnastics, or art classes. Some of you work countless hours doing complicated algebra assignments or cheering your child on from the stands. And many of you are doing what my husband Dan has done – spending every free moment ensuring that your child with Autism is getting every opportunity to live a beautiful life. And even going beyond the needs of your own child by volunteering at the very program that makes that beautiful life possible for so many other children with special needs – in our case, Anderson Center for Autism, which is where our son Joey resides full-time.
Wherever and however you’re investing your time as a Dad, your children are so fortunate. They have you in their lives and the moments you spend with them today will shape their futures in ways you cannot begin to imagine now.
Just six weeks after my eighth birthday, I lost my own father, Joseph (for whom our son Joey was named), to a tragic accident. He was the greatest man I’d ever known: funny, smart, and creative – with far too many talents to list here. Most importantly, he was extremely generous, unfailingly kind, and lived life to the fullest. Although our time was cut far too short, he taught me so much in the 8 years I had with him, lessons I’ve especially needed as a mom of a child with Autism, including the value of hard work and the mindset that you never, never, never give up. A skilled craftsman who graduated NYU with honors, he pursued his passion and became a NYC firefighter after college. He was a ladder rescuer (which in and of itself provides insight into the type of person he was), and Dad put his heart and soul into everything he did – loved by ALL who knew him. Countless people through the years mention how Dad would do anything for anyone. I’ve often heard things like, “He’d give you the shirt off his back with a smile on his face.” Could there be a more beautiful legacy than that? It’s the kind of legacy that has helped me make important choices in my life, among those – who I married, my caring and supportive husband Dan, and what setting would provide the best care and expertise for Joey: Anderson Center for Autism. It’s Dad’s legacy that has opened my eyes to the importance of what we teach one another in all of the small moments.
I have so many fond memories of watching Yankee games with Dad, enjoying pony rides on his back, and so much more. Every memory is etched in my brain. He was so present to us and our needs that once in a while he’d even sneak my sister and I junk food when my mom wasn’t looking! And he was as sensitive as he was playful. I specifically remember how he was always there to help others when in need. One particular memory is that of being out to dinner and someone trying to break into our car. He asked us to wait in the restaurant and I remember thinking about how much he loved his Chevrolet and we were all worried about what his reaction might be. Nervously, I peeked out the window and witnessed him handing cash to the stranger (who appeared to be homeless) and then shaking his hand. That’s the kind of guy he was. And that’s the kind of man I knew I wanted for my own kids. And the kind of person I want on staff caring for my child with Autism.
And I’ve gotten all of that because I’ve known exactly what to look for because my dad led by example, just as my husband does with many of Dad’s characteristics and so many other qualities that are uniquely his own. And all of you out there who have the gift of time with your children are leading by example when you share the best parts of yourselves with them. Your kindness, your passion for life, your willingness to give to your kids and all of those around you – it all makes a difference. The messages you share today will resonate long after you’re gone. Trust me. Everything truly matters.
For me, I have my mom, our relatives and friends to thank for keeping my Dad’s memory alive by sharing stories and mentioning how much I remind them of him. He left for work one morning & ran back into the house to tell me my favorite song was on the radio and to tune to the station… kissed me goodbye again…and that was the last time I ever saw him.
But today, when I look at my son Joey, who ironically looks very much like Dad – I think of the unique journey we live in context of having a child with Autism, I know my dad lives on. I see Joey and think about the lessons from my father: the importance of caring for others and the fact that life is truly precious, fragile and meant to be enjoyed as much as humanly possible. These lessons are driven home by my husband as he fathers Joey and our other children. They are driven home as I carry them forward to the next generation. They are driven home by the staff, teachers, and therapists who help optimize the quality of life for our son at Anderson Center for Autism.
Your lessons will come to life in extraordinary ways as your kids come of age. May that bring you the deepest sense of purpose you’ve ever known.
And may you have a wonderful Father’s Day, knowing that time itself is about the greatest gift any of us have.