Richard Haddad, a resident of Westminster, Maryland, is the father of five children, Steven, Jason, Ashleigh, Jonathan and Erin. Recently retired from a career managing support services in the public and private sectors, he has written on the side – articles, essays, fiction and satire – since college. He also founded – and for five years edited and published – American Man, a magazine devoted to seriously exploring the male gender role and the male experience. Rich’s previous contributions to this blog, letters to his daughter Ashleigh and his son Jonathan written on the days they were born, appeared around Thanksgiving, 2011: http://letterstomykids.org/thanksgiving-guest-columnist-richard-haddad-l
I first met you one evening in 1981 when I stopped at the apartment where you lived to pick up your mom for a date. You were almost six then.
I had heard about your cerebral palsy from your mom, so I was prepared to see you in a wheelchair. I also knew that you had severe mental retardation and didn’t speak or understand what was being said when someone spoke to you. But I was not at all prepared to feel close to you immediately.
I was probably falling in love with your mom by then, and that may have had something to do with my reaction when I met you that evening. But for whatever reason, my feeling for you at that first meeting was a precursor of things to come for us.
Your mom and I married a couple of years later, and a few years after that I became your adoptive father and you became a Haddad like the rest of our family members. By then, you were already a very special person to every one of us.
Your mom had been devastated to learn, shortly after you were born, that because of the brain damage that you suffered during delivery, you would have severe disabilities for the rest of your life. Your birth injuries changed her life dramatically.
But in adjusting to your condition, she dedicated herself to giving you the healthiest and richest and longest life possible. From that moment on, her eyes and hands and legs and feelings became yours, and you were guaranteed that your disabilities would never result in your being neglected or suffering unnecessarily.
Your mom’s character was one of the things that most attracted me to her. Her thoughts, her actions, her decisions reflected solid, core values, and consciously so. It’s now clear to me that her character had been influenced by the experience of raising you to that point; she had become a more purposeful and stronger person, and appreciative, as she put it, of “the miracle of a healthy child.”
Your older brothers Steven and Jason assumed a loving, protective posture toward you from the first time they met you. I remember them arguing about which of them would get to push you in your wheelchair when we’d go to the mall together. Likewise, your younger sister and brother, Ashleigh and Jonathan, would watch out for you from the time they were toddlers, always letting me or your mom know when you were fussing about something or other.
And your mom and I understood the depth of the feelings of protectiveness all four of your siblings had toward you when you were hospitalized for pneumonia in 2008 while we were vacationing in Europe. Your brothers and sister immediately and naturally substituted for your absent parents, and were there by your bedside to keep you company and to ensure that you were as comfortable as possible.
All of them, like so many others who have known you, seemed to become more compassionate human beings because of you and more appreciative of the abilities and faculties that they had – walking, seeing, interacting with others, expressing themselves – that you were missing. They seemed to be more appreciative of the very experience of living because of you.
As your sister Ashleigh put it in an entry in her elementary school journal, “I will never forget the wonderful abilities I have. When I wake up in the morning, I can see the trees waving their branches through the window. I can feel the crisp, cool air when I go outside. I can hear the blue jays singing in a tall tree. I can smell the sunflowers in the garden. I can taste the wild raspberries. I have a sister who can’t do many of these things. Her name is Erin.”
P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.