Somewhere along the way I became a parent. I’m not entirely sure why but all of a sudden, it just hit me like a ton of bricks.
Was it when my first child was born? No, I don’t think so. At that point, I became a dad, sure. But for the most part, waking up to bring the baby to his mom for feedingss and changing some diapers really didn’t make me a real parent. I was responsible for this little, very much dependent and fragile life but that wasn’t it.
Perhaps it was I had to start putting my name in the “parent or guardian” forms at schools and hospitals… I remember looking at those forms and thinking to myself, I can’t believe my name goes here. But even that wasn’t really it. That was just paperwork.
I know it wasn’t when my son was diagnosed with autism because that made me feel like anything but a parent. I was feeling more lost and scared than most times in my life that I could remember. I got over it quickly though as I learned more and my son impressed me all along the way but still, that wasn’t it.
I really thought the moment that I became a parent was when my boys would do something wrong and I’d open my mouth only to hear words that I thought only my mother would ever say. I was suddenly watching my own childhood from a totally different perspective. I had, in effect, put myself in my mothers shoes and at that point, I thought to myself, “wow, I must really be a parent now”. That was a very good start but that wasn’t it either. That was me playing the role, I think. It slapped the thought across my face but it still hadn’t sunk in quite yet I think.
Then, as I became more involved in the autism community and started getting more and more information fed to me by an ever evolving social media, I started to come across stories like this one, where a 12 year old boy with autism saved his family, only to die in the fire himself. It’s not the story itself that got to me, although it is tragic. It’s one sentence in the story, that made my heart sink. It was this:
Fighting back tears he said: ‘I yelled inside the window and I heard him call to me, “Daddy I can’t breathe!”‘
I didn’t read the rest of the article beyond that until the next day. I couldn’t. All I could think about what how hard that must have been, to hear his child… the most precious and important thing in his life ever, calling out to him, in pain, and being powerless to do anything about it.
I’ve read stories like this before. It never hurt me like this.
It’s been happening a lot lately too. Stories that would have saddened me before but never felt like a knife in my heart like it does too, are crossing my path at an ever increasing rate.
Another example was the Sandy Hook shootings, in which the entire ordeal was a tragedy… but what really hit home the hardest was little Dylan Hockley, a 6 year old boy with autism. In this story, once again, I was reading it with a heavy heart as I normally would but then I got to this part and I just felt crushed:
“He said that Anne Marie Murphy had been found with her arms wrapped around Dylan … that is what we had hoped for — in a very strange sort of way to hope for something.”
“She loved him and he loved her and she would’ve looked after him no matter what,” she says, fighting back tears. “To know that he was with her, and that he wasn’t alone, that gives you a huge peace of mind … to know that he was loved even in those last moments.”
I can’t stop seeing, in my mind, what it must have been like to be terrified, holding this little boy that is terrified too, despite having no idea what is going on and to know what’s coming and then…
I keep putting myself in these people’s shoes. I can’t help it anymore. I can’t not see the little innocent faces with so much life left to live and their parents that were powerless to help them.
I can’t imagine what those people are going through but it doesn’t stop me from imagining it’s me anyway. It doesn’t stop me from thinking about how much it hurts just to think about that happening to me… to my own child.
That’s how I know I’m a parent. That’s how I know I’m not just some guy looking after some kids.
I can’t read these stories like I used to. I can’t watch the videos like I used to. It doesn’t just sadden me anymore. It hurts. I really really hurts.
Before I had children, even for a while after, when other parents would tell me that your perspective of the world would change, that the way you feel about a lot of things would change, I thought I understood. I didn’t.
I can’t read the last words of a dying child anymore. Not without shedding a tear, or more. Not without profound feelings that will affect me for a while after.
That’s how I know I’m a parent.