TO BE TYLER’S DAD

Andy Hollifield 3-28-18
Psalms 127:3-5 Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. (4) As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of thy youth. (5) Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
Some might would think that this would be better written at Father’s Day. If you have ever raised a Special Needs child of your own then you understand, like I do, that every day is Father’s Day. And in the interest of not wanting to leave anyone out, it is also Mother’s Day. Let me begin by saying that I cannot understand in some respects, how that anyone could possibly walk off and leave a needy individual because they may be “less than perfect physically or mentally” when they need you so much. Before anyone pounces on me, I want you to know that my son Tyler is only mildly Autistic but anyone that has ever walked this road knows that there really is no such thing as “mildly” when it comes to Autism. I know there are different levels of severity and I wouldn’t dare presume to judge anyone about how they handled their reality. I am just natured to get mad, scared, confused and questioning God, and then determined and stubborn when I face a situation such as being given the diagnosis of Autism for my son. It wasn’t so much a case of “I can’t do this” as it was; “This is what we’ve got; how are we going to go about it?” My thought was that I had to try to find the way to give Tyler every advantage I could because the deck was stacked against him starting out. In some ways I have failed and in other ways I have succeeded but since the criteria for success and failure change several times daily with autism, you don’t have time to evaluate yourself too much because you are moving on to the next challenge. I have come to look at it as somewhat of a gift, at least in Tyler’s case, even though there are plenty of times I want to just bang my head against a wall. Sometimes it just takes going outside to walk around the pasture for a few minutes and other times you want to sit and bawl your brains out. That is the daily life of a parent of Autism.
But then, there are the days like today. I am actually writing this late on the 27th which has been my son’s 21st birthday. While most parents of 21 year olds just hope their kid will make enough time to maybe eat supper with them before they run off to start the real celebration with their friends, I have had the privilege of hanging out and watching Tyler all day. Just to give you some background, not of his life but just the last month, everyone Tyler has talked to in the last month knows that his birthday is March 27, 1997. He has told everyone when it is and what time he was born and that he will be twennnty-one years old. That isn’t misspelled, that is how he says it. He holds out the “n” and has a big grin on his face that could swallow his ears if he isn’t careful. The funny thing about him is, he is a people magnet. People are drawn to him everywhere he goes from church to the grocery store. He even has his own cashier, Ms. Peggy, who always has to have a hug every time she sees him. He kind of blows the anti-social characteristic of autism right out of the water. He can talk the letters off of a sign post if you want to listen about game shows and TV channels. Sometimes that part gets a little old but it never gets old seeing the sweetness of the human spirit as folks cordially stand and listen and talk to him even though I know they couldn’t really care less about it. They get so enthralled with seeing how excited he gets talking about it and that is why they listen.
That’s just a little in a nutshell about how he is and other than the stubborn streaks and occasional meltdowns, he is the sweetest, most kind-hearted little guy you would ever want to meet. One of Tyler’s greatest joys in life is getting mail. You can always tell when he has gotten mail. He will walk down to the mailbox and check the mail, look through it, and if he has gotten anything, he will come running back up the driveway with that same ear-swallowing grin. We know before he ever gets back to the house that he has got mail. He also loves to get email. Last year on his birthday, I decided that I would try and get him some mail. I put a post on Facebook explaining his situation and his love for mail and asked people if they had time to just send him a birthday wish. He was blown away last year with all of the tremendous response, many from people he didn’t even know. Now, I have to admit, that familiar lump is rising in my throat as I think about the joy that brought to him last year and the kindness of people. I decided that I would ask again this year. Within seconds after posting, I began to get notifications one right after the other. As the morning went on, the emails even began to come in. Once again, a lot of them were from people that neither of us knew and that was really very special. After the first few came in, I told him he had some messages and he needed to come and check them. When he got to the computer and started seeing all of the messages for him, he got that grin again and was saying “Oh boy!” just like a little kid would. Of course, in a lot of respects he still is one and always will be. That is what makes him so sweet. Of course he has had an advantage. He has had 21 years to become a sweet little boy where most little boys just have a few years and then they grow up. He spent the whole morning just watching the computer messages roll in and every few minutes you would hear those bare feet flying through the house and he would excitedly tell me how many messages and emails and likes he was up to. There is nothing I could have given him that would have gotten that kind of excitement out of him. He is like any other kid in the fact that he does like to get cards with money in them. He calls it motel money. We had a little potty training issue when he was young and a psychologist suggested that we reward him with something every week like an allowance that he could earn by keeping watch on his hygiene. We decided on an order of chicken nuggets from McDonalds. At that time, he could be rewarded 50 cents a day for success and by the end of the week he would have enough money for nuggets. That was a small price to pay for what we were trying to accomplish. When we pitched this plan to him, he said motel money. I asked him “What are you talking about?” He said, “I want motel money to stay in a motel.” When I explained that he wasn’t getting that much he just said “Ok.” At the end of the week, he didn’t want nuggets, he wanted to save his money to go to a motel. He did that for several years starting when he was 6 or 7 years old and still goes on vacation or just an overnight trip with his birthday money and money from aluminum cans or money he has earned.
I could go on and on about how blessed I am to have him for my son even though he has had a part in frosting my hair for me. I guess in that respect he is like any other kid and a whole lot like his daddy. By the time the sun gets up real good in the morning on Wednesday, he will be at Happy Hill restaurant in Asheville getting spoiled rotten again by some of his friends and his favorite waitress Ms. Tracy. We eat there almost every Wednesday morning with several friends we know from State Street Baptist Church and I have been told that surprise plans have been made for Wednesday morning. He really appreciates the little stuff like hearing his name announced on WKJV gospel radio for his birthday and people sending him messages, cards, and even singing “Happy Birthday” to him. He is really kind of low maintenance in that respect. We did get him the one thing that he has pestered us about for months but even it was upstaged by the response he got by email, phone, facebook, and all the attention and birthday wishes he has received.
In closing, I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you that responded with any kind of greeting for his birthday. If you have ever wondered if anything you ever do matters or really makes a difference; this did. It didn’t take much effort to really brighten a young man’s entire existence. I only wish that each of you could have been here to see the sheer joy in his face every time a new response came in. You have even been responding as I have been typing and he will be overjoyed in the morning to see the new messages that have came in. Something over 150 responses for a young man that a lot of you don’t know and each one of them is worth far more than you could ever imagine. I am like a lot of you I guess. I am a little slow to get on board with something I don’t really know the origin of and I know that some of you may not know any of us and this was no scam asking for anything except a greeting. By the time you read this, most of you will have already slept and be preparing for your day. I want to tell you that you can go into Wednesday knowing that on Tuesday you did something that made a real difference in someone’s life. Not just in Tyler’s but in mine also. I know it is talking about different things, but in Matthew 25:40 Jesus said “…as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Thank you for the kindness you have shown to my son and I hope you enjoyed reading and have gotten a little glimpse into what a joy it is “To Be Tyler’s Dad.” May God truly bless each of you. Have a blessed day in the Lord!!!

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