“Dad, look at me”

By Chris Carroll

When Jack was a baby, I often wondered what life may be like as he grew older. Would I be able to play catch with him in the backyard? Would I be able to teach him to hit a baseball?

“Dad… Look at me.” 

He exclaims this at least 50 times a day. When he wants me to watch him dance, run, throw, or go down a slide, Jack says with excitement, “Dad…Look at me.”

 Dads don’t get asked too many times for advice on raising a child with Down syndrome. I’m not sure why. It could be a “guy thing” like asking for directions – as dads, we will simply just figure it out. But if I were to write some words of advice, it would come straight from something I learn from Jack each time he says “Dad…look at me!”

Just look at your child when they’re a baby… don’t look too far into the future. When Jack was a baby, I remember feeling swept away with emotion as I thought about Jack possibly not playing high school athletics or getting his driver’s license. But one night, Jack’s big brown eyes simply exclaimed… “I just need my dad… look at me!”

When you start to notice the development gap widen between your son or daughter, and other children their same age… just look at them. When other kids are walking, talking, and starting to run… Just look at your child and admire their courage, their determination and perseverance as they develop too.  Dad…look at your child.  I bet Jack saw all his buddies up and running and wanted to do the same.  Jack is running his own race.

Just look at your child when you are out to play at the park or field. See them run and jump. Observe them as they sort out how to be a kid and explore the world around them. Show them how to be brave, or simply watch them and learn a bit more about bravery yourself. Don’t focus on how other kids may be looking or staring at your child.  Remember “Dad… just look at me.”

And just about every time I turn my head to see what Jack insists I do, I see his eyes. His almond shaped brown eyes. At times they’re matched with a smile or a laugh and other times filled with tears. But I am always drawn to Jack’s eyes. And when my eyes meet his, I’m reminded to see life through Jack’s perspective. What does he see? Does he even notice what I think he could be missing? Does he see what I think he should be doing? I bet not… because he’s running his own race, and like a runner, he’s focused on the finish line –not his competition. And Jack’s finish line isn’t marked by a time or a quantified value that we so often place on kids. His finish line is in how he makes me better. He has shown me to see people. To give people grace and patience. It’s like Jack is playing in front of only one fan in the stands… his Dad! And I’ll admit, sometimes it can be too easy to miss the only player on the field… your child.

Through his determination and effort to accomplish things I often take for granted, Jack has taught me to really watch the game.  I cheered him on for two years to take his very first step  and when he began to walk, we celebrated big time.  I was his biggest fan.  He has helped me to slow down and appreciate the process, not to be solely focused on the outcome.  His growth, my growth. 

So, dads, get your season tickets and really watch your child.   You will discover so much more than quantifiable scores. Don’t miss a game… be their biggest encourager, notice the little things because there is so much to see within the game. And never stop learning, never stop seeing new things.

Remember “Dad… just look at me.”


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