My son Jack will be two years old at the end of January. He is beautiful and healthy. He has an amazing laugh. He makes adorable car noises when he plays with his Elmo automobile in the bathtub. He thinks snow is the weirdest thing ever and his mind was blown this week by Jello, which he couldn’t decide whether to treat as a food or a toy. He likes our little 20 pound white Westie dog, but he’s still learning how to pet her gently. His favorite book is Alpha Ducks and, frankly, it’s a dreadful read. Sometimes he’ll be in the middle of playing with some blocks or eating a snack and will stop everything to walk over and give me a hug and a kiss. It only happens about once a week, but when he does that…it feels like the world stops for one perfect moment.
Six weeks ago Jack was diagnosed with autism.
Even now there are tears welling up in my eyes as I type that. In my best moments I am deeply saddened because I know this world is difficult enough without having to start out at a disadvantage from most people. In my worst moments I am deeply saddened because the picture in my mind of what our lives would look like — what we would enjoy doing together, what his interests might be, what his capacity might be — has become far less certain. Autism is an incredibly broad spectrum, and it ranges from severe and debilitating to mild and unnoticeable once someone has had therapy.
The truth is we don’t know what this will mean for him. And we don’t know what it will mean for us. What I do know is this: my son is still the same little boy today that he was seven weeks ago before we got the diagnosis. He’s the same little boy who loves snow and Jello and dreadfully written books. And while he may or may not be able to live what we would consider a “normal” life, he can still stop the world for perfect moments. How many people can say that?
I am learning what it is to be a father in so many different ways, but this latest news brought to mind a comment Henry Nouwen once made about God’s glorious love: “I cannot fathom how all of God’s children can be favorites. And still, they are. . . God loves with a divine love, a love that cedes to all women and men their uniqueness without ever comparing.”
Jack may not ever “measure up” to a standard of grading that the world holds to. Or he may. What I am learning is that he is my favorite. And it doesn’t matter if he makes the grade. I love him with a love so perfect, so pure, that all I know to call it is divine. It feels like a love that I have on loan from God. The love of a father on loan from the Father.