Struggling to accept the fact that my son is a special needs child, something I have finally begun to do, unleashes a memory from my past, an experience that honesty compels me to go back and visit. And it also unleashes a fear; a fear I must confront.
First, the memory. His name was Bobby Talbot. That’s not his real name, but it’s the one I will use. He was thought of as being weird. He was picked on by many of his fellow seventh graders, he was made fun of, he could not do all of the things the rest of us could.
Though weird is not what Bobby was. In those days, “weird” was the best word we kids could come up with to describe him, because we weren’t sure exactly what was wrong with Bobby. Today, he would be known as a special needs student. But that’s not the way it worked in junior high, nearly 50 years ago.
I don’t remember picking on him, but I do remember laughing while others did — and saying nothing. You may have had the same experience if there were such students in your junior high; not being part of it but not being apart from it.
What resurrects the experience for me, causing a recurring jolt in my heart, is that today I am the dad of one of these special needs kids.
Today I see that Bobby faced challenges every single day of his life, as did his family — and how much worse it must have been with classmates taunting him and him finding no refuge among friends. I understand the fear we used to see in his eyes.
Now, for my fear.
Though, thankfully, today we live at a time where there is much greater awareness and sensitivity to special needs children and their families, my remembrance of what was reminds me of what could be. Will my son, once I can no longer protect him, fall victim to those who are cruel, egged on by others laughing and doing nothing to intervene?
Far-fetched? Not so. I even have a friend today, and I am in my 60s, who loves to go back and talk about the good old days and makes laughing references now and then to picking on Bobby. I think he forgets in that moment that I have a special needs son.
I wish I could forget about Bobby. I’m glad I can’t. Yes, it’s painful. How ashamed I am of myself today — simply for doing nothing.
But if there is one thing I know about life, it’s that you can’t go back. But you can go forward. This is why I am glad I can’t forget about Bobby, because along with the memories come reminders.
Be kinder and more caring; understand that the person you are making fun of could be you or your child one day; love with an open heart; be sensitive, always, to the challenges others face.
And speak up.