I am married to a man named Joe.
We have four boys and one girl.
Our second Jack is diagnosed with autism. He is eighteen.
What can I tell you about my husband?
He doesn’t have a middle name.
He loves calamari, Wordle, board games of any kind, the Buffalo Bills, and watching thunderstorms from the front porch.
Although a dentist by trade, he is a teacher at heart.
He has taught his five kids everything he could think of—how to fold a sheet, where to keep your money, the way inflation works.
How to make pasta, pray in church, find Bolivia on a map, calculate the tip in a restaurant.
My husband is a Forever Father.
For eighteen years, he sat through doctor appointments and academic meetings and listened to all the things his complicated son won’t do.
He clenched his jaw, looked down at the paperwork, and cleared his throat.
Then he walked out the door and into the sunlight. He squinted against the glare, and he figured out a plan.
He stood at the bus stop for an entire year, staring as the bus pulled up the street.
He stood there as orange leaves covered summer’s green grass.
He stood there through winter snow and spring sleet.
He stood there with his arm outstretched, patiently waiting, for his son to wave back to him.
A few months ago Jack graduated from high school.
When it comes to post-high school programs for kids like Jack, there are very few options. After a lot of research, phone calls, virtual interviews, and applications, he was finally accepted into one.
For weeks—no, months—Joe and I sat up late at night, debating if he was ready. We ran through every scenario and possible outcome.
We argued. We disagreed. Many times, we went to bed angry—unable to see one another’s side.
You see, raising a vulnerable child is messy business. It doesn’t always bring out the best in us. It magnifies our flaws. It triggers our own insecurities.
In the end, we decided to try it. We decided to hope for the best.
Two weeks ago, we moved Jack into his room.
We smoothed the blankets on the bed.
We unpacked the pancake griddle, the extra toothbrushes, the bath mat.
When it was time to go, we all trooped out to the parking lot. We said our quick goodbyes.
As our son turned and made his way back to the building, my husband openly wept.
The thing is, a mother’s grief is loud and colorful. It takes up space. It fills the room.
A father’s grief is often quiet—internal.
It’s easy to forget about him. It’s easy to forget that he had hopes and dreams all his own when it comes to his son and our family and the future.
It’s easy to forget how, through the ages, men have been told they have to be brave and stoic and strong. They are not supposed to show emotion, or be vulnerable, or cry.
Watching his complicated son walk away, my husband could have stood tall, kept his shoulders back, and held his head high.
Instead, he wept.
He wept in front of fellow parents and incoming students.
He wept in front of his wife and his children.
He wept in front of strangers.
He stood tall.
He kept his shoulders back.
He held his head high.
And he wept.
Tears streaming down his face, he wept for a boy who, in his very own way, is taking flight.
This man taught his children everything he could think to teach.
Geography, money, politics, heritage, religion.
As he stood beneath the hot summer sky, he taught them how to cry.
Life is full of a million special moments, and a thousand small hurts, all mixed up with tender mercies.
Which is a stupid way of saying life with children is messy and ordinary and terrifying.
We work hard to make sense of what is expected of us, and who we actually are.
We live forward.
We worry about what’s coming, what’s next, what we should do after the thing we just did.
We try to predict the outcome, the risks, the possible drawbacks to every decision.
It’s only when we look backwards that we begin to understand it at all.
He waited for a year.
The last week of school, a tiny wave from the window of the bus.
To the father who leaves nothing unspoken—who threads through the labyrinth of hurt and fear with steadfast devotion.
Who is the safety net beneath the high wire of autism.
Who has grieved, and wept, and hoped, and tried.
You are important.
You are brave.
You are fearless.
I see you in the stillness.
I see you in the heartache.
As you set your armor aside and face the world with a wide, wild heart, please know.
Young eyes are watching.
From you, they will learn how to become men.