I met him when he was a baby, having known his mom and his grandparents for years. In many ways the omens were good. He came from a nice family that worked hard. He had Irish background; he was born on St. Pat’s day; his hair was blond and he had blue eyes. One could forgive his father and grandfather for being thrilled that he was a boy. There has been so much discrimination against female babies for so long, one feels compelled to say “I don’t care” when one is asked the “What are you rooting for?” question. But there’s something special about a dad’s relationship with his son, and this writer won’t blame the boy’s dad for feeling especially proud on that day.
All babies are beautiful, but this one seemed to be destined to be particularly handsome. All of them surprise us when they reach their milestones a week early, but this child shattered all expectations. As he grew he proved to be a smart, funny, mild mannered little boy. His teachers loved him; he had many friends; he could hit a baseball; his grandparents enjoyed every minute that they spent with him. Not because of the color of his hair, he was the golden child that almost every couple in this country has at one point held in their arms while feeling an enormous sense of gratitude for having being blessed with this unbelievably gifted present.
Of course there was the burden of responsibility. I was witness to many moments of illness and trauma. A few times I was recruited as a science project advisor, or a hitting coach, or an emergency counselor on growth and development. But I could see that his parents’ efforts bore good fruit. The child had a knack for caring. He took care of his friends’ needs before he tended to his own. I was particularly impressed by how he dealt with girls. Instead of the usual revulsion many little boys feel for their female classmates, from a distance I saw that he formed very solid friendships with most of them.
There was this one day that convinced me that he was special. My wife and I took him and a friend to a ball game. On the way to the stadium his friend told us that his neighbors had to be removed from their house because their father was abusing them. Always the teacher, I took this opportunity to remind this special child of how lucky he was.
“When you hear this story, doesn’t it make you glad that your parents are so good to you?”
“It makes me sad to know that there are little children who’re made to suffer like that.”
Wham! I swallowed hard, as I digested the humiliation one feels when a child teaches us a lesson.
The teenage years went well, with the usual assortment of pimples, changes in voice, changes in girlfriend, frequent changes in behavior. He found a talent for music, which surprised the heck out of his musically inept parents. He thrived at martial arts; again his wimpy parents were floored. His teachers continued to rave about him; his friends frequently used him as a sounding board; he quietly became the centerpiece of his closely knit family.
Perhaps it was inevitable that something would go wrong. College was a disaster. I missed some of the details, but the total picture was not pretty. There was steep academic decline, and many parties, and a smoking habit, and money that was spent entirely too fast. There was academic probation; later a dismissal.
His parents were beside themselves. More significantly, I felt, so was he. When I spoke to him I realized that he did not have any idea of what had happened. He was obviously traumatized, but he did not have any control over his actions. It was as if a different spirit had taken over his will.
He went to work in a succession of jobs. He stabbed at a few community college classes. He seemed lost, and alarmingly, sad. I saw that he had no plan, and maybe little urgency to acquire one. It was hard on everyone. His parents never seemed to know how hard to push, and they received contradictory advice from every source they consulted (and from many who were not asked). There was one redeeming feature that gave me hope: many, many people cared deeply for this young man. There had to be a reason why.
Things slowly sorted themselves out. An old advisor/ professor pulled some strings to get him readmitted to college. He had a few minor achievements, followed by more of increasing significance. He continued to work part time and did well. Most significant, he developed strong friendships with many good people. More than half of them were sweet, smart, kind young women, much like he had when he was a child.
Eventually he finished college. As I expected, he chose to devote his life to service. Today, on his 27th birthday, he lives half a world away, in a country with an unfamiliar and complicated language, very different customs, and forbidding weather. He teaches English to many young children with vigor, humor, and unmatched creativity. They worship him. Twenty years from now they will look back and love English (and America) because of his positive input. He’s a leader. His supervisors have recognized this fact and have offered him more responsibility. His friends now come from all over the world. As in the old days they look up to him and confide in him. His special ability to listen to and understand women has paid off: he has a bright, beautiful, special friend who has also been raised in a culture of service and shares his ideals.
Please allow me to use today’s space to pay tribute to my son. Twenty-seven years ago, as his mother was writhing in pain and labor threatened to become complicated, this otherwise very competent physician stood in the labor room numb and expressionless. I had a deep and very hard to explain feeling of panic come over me. Today I sit in my snug and comfortable office and I am so, so grateful that things turned out the way they have.
We tend to use our children to validate us. It’s so hard to raise a child; there are so many things that can and do go wrong, that when the flower blooms we feel that this beautiful result is all our doing. It was just as hard for him, and he did not have the benefit of having a career and a steady lifetime source of income like his parents did. He had to figure it all out by himself. He deserves every bit of the success that he enjoys now, and I’m here to say that he should keep all the kudos.
From tens of thousands miles away, Miguel: happy birthday. May the special angel who brought you into our lives continue to smile down on you. May you continue to grow and serve; may you always be a source of joy and comfort to those who never had as much of a chance as we have. May you be proud, and smart, and strong.
We love you.
I just looked back on my blogs. We’re on the verge of starting our eighth month. It has been fun and the feedback wonderful. I’m grateful for my “followers.”
I’m in the process of writing my second book. It will consist solely of stories about abused and mistreated women. This past week has been devoted to raising consciousness about the demeaning behavior that millions of women around the world have to endure. In recognition of this event I pledge:
I will try to get the next book published by a large editorial house, so that the issue of abuse will receive widespread publicity.
If I tell the big corporation that my wife and a few friends follow my blog, they will not be impressed. I will need thousands of followers. I’m asking you to entice two friends or relatives into following this site. They in turn can do the same.
On the lower right hand site of the blog page there should be a tab that says “Follow.” Click on it, write your preferred e mail address down and click again. The blogs will come to your mailbox weekly. If my book is accepted I pledge to donate ALL of my proceeds to causes that will educate little girls at risk, so that they’ll never have to depend on anyone. Education is the best preventive for violence.
Please talk to your e mail contacts; I promise it will be for a good cause.