“I’m just not that kind of person.”
“That’s just not how I’m built.”
“That’s one thing I know I could never do.”
You’ve probably said something like one of the above phrases before, most people do. For me phrases like that are a pet peeve. I can’t stand when someone tries to get out of trying behind an excuse of specialization. It implies that someone can’t do something because they are in fact, awesome, but simply not awesome at this particular thing. But oh, if you could only see them doing one of those other nebulous things at which they excel… just not this.
It’s a cop-out. Maybe that one thing isn’t your strength. People tackle things that they’re not good at all the time. And people take weaknesses and make them strengths all the time. They suck it up, overcome their natural inclination to sidestep this obstacle, and they overcome it. When they do, it’s an even greater achievement because it isn’t a natural strength for them. So when your instinct is to say “That’s just not who I am.” swallow it, and say “I’m not a tool of specialization. I’m a swiss-freaking-army knife. I can have any tool I want, I just have to work harder and be better.”
That being said, like most every other human on the planet, I’m a big hypocrite. When it comes to raising a child with special needs, I can remember over and over in my life saying “I could never do that.” It was the “one thing” I always said I wouldn’t be worth a damn doing. When I saw a parent out in public struggling with a child who had special needs I thought “Oh man, that looks like a waking nightmare.” (And the parent was probably always struggling when I’d notice, because if I wasn’t noticing it, the child was likely being good and behaving. That’s the interesting thing about noticing something. Oh, and interesting that whenever I’d see a typically-abled child blowing up in public I’d think “I’ll be a great parent who won’t have that problem.” Any time it was a child with special needs “Oh man, that looks like a nightmare!”)
Anyway, when we first started receiving markers on ultrasounds, I started freaking out a bit. It looked like the one fastball I knew I couldn’t hit was coming 97 miles per hour right down the pipe at me. Here’s the thing… When it came to parenting, to being a dad, that WAS my thing. I was excited about that. I’ve been excited about that since I was ten. I look back through an older man’s lens and I see now that it was first fueled by my ego. “Hey, you know what the world needs? A bunch of people cut from my cloth and coached by me!” I mean I’m great, right? Shouldn’t I serve the world a second and third helping of how great I am? I think a lot of parents are subconsciously thinking this a little bit, and of course it’s better if it’s recognized, which I do. But a version of myself with special needs? Who does that help? Someone who can’t help anyone, and who themselves needs help from others? That’s not making the world a better place. That’s a burden. So it sort of defeats the purpose of me pro-creating. Right?
Aside from defeating the purpose, look how HARD raising a child with special needs is! Do you see these parents? With frazzled looks and frazzled hair, and bags under their eyes from lack of sleep? Do you see the way they try to talk about how sometimes, every now and then, it really IS rewarding? They’re doing everything they can to stay positive, right? But just look at them… look at them when their kid is 30, 40 years old and still living at home! It’s a nightmare that everyone is being nice about, right?
That’s the ironic thing. Like I said, I thought I was destined to be a super dad. I love kids, I love teaching, I’m a do-er who loves to go out, see stuff, do stuff, hike-over-and-under stuff… I thought I was naturally inclined to be a great father. And yet when it came to something I saw as a challenge… I was like a guy who’s dream was to win a gold medal in diving but was scared to jump off the high diving board. Because nothing says greatness like wanting to take the easiest possible path, right?
Well when the moment of truth came, and the doctor told us that things were starting to get real enough to start using the words… “Down Syndrome” I became a wimp. It happens. It’s happening to some guy somewhere right now. If he reads this I hope he doesn’t think I’m trying to shame him by taking a sarcastic back look at my own behavior. It happens. That fastball that I was so afraid of was coming in high and tight, right at my chin. And I was so sure that I wasn’t built/programmed/designed/capable of doing this… this… what? I didn’t even know what was being asked of me. But I still swore up and down to my wife that this was something I could not do. To hell with being supportive. I was being real.
I talked earlier about copping out with excuses about how you’re specialized for some things over others. People do things they’re not “built” for all the time. They do it by being strong, and knowing that your limits are mostly choices. Let me say that again,
Your limits are mostly choices.
People who choose to think of themselves as limited generally don’t overcome their obstacles. They generally find ways to avoid life’s high-dives and fastballs. The only exception is when they don’t have a choice. Sometimes the kid on the diving board needs a little push. I’ve always prided myself on not being that kind of person. I chase those things that scare me and try to face my fears and be tougher than my limitations if I can. I don’t always succeed, but I try. You only get one go around… you might as well ride all the rides at life’s amusement park. But with this one particular fear, I know I never would have. I’d have avoided it my whole life. But I was taken up the diving board, led to the edge, and pushed off.
Just like that kid getting pushed off the diving board, I may have peed a little on the way down. But I also came up and burst through the surface again, and realized that I’m glad I did it. And I want to do it again, and again. This time no push necessary.
Look at me. I’m the guy who gets to do all of those things that he always hoped to chicken out of. What a great gift.