Mental Retardation: A Father’s View

Mental Retardation-what a scary thing to hear about your child. All the hopes and plans you dreamed have gone up in smoke in the time it takes to say those two words. This is just as true for me, an adoptive parent, who knew that my son had some delays.

Initial Dreams Dashed

I believed that I could overcome the delays with enough love and the right kind of care. Then to go to the doctor’s office and hear it from him, even though I had heard it from social workers-the coming face to face with the reality is like being hit by a Mac truck.

My son, Freddy, is now seven years old and has been a full member of my family for over four years. I can’t say even now that I like to hear the term Mental Retardation used but I have come to live with it. Over the past four years I have changed my hopes, dreams and expectations for Freddy. They started out to be things like having him competing with non-delayed kids, doing the same kinds of things his brothers do, being a productive member of the community, and leading a full and happy life.

No, Freddy is not doing the same things his brothers do and he is not competing with non-delayed kids. Freddy is doing Freddy things and competing with Freddy. In fact, because of Freddy I have changed the dreams and expectations for my other two sons. I no longer compare them to other kids their age, and I no longer set goals for them like I was before.

Happiness and Productivity

Do I see Freddy as a productive member of the community? If by being productive you mean having a positive effect on the community, the answer is a resounding YES.

Freddy is better known in the community than I am. More people know me as ‘Freddy’s Dad than they do as ‘Jim.’ Last week, while we were at Chena Hot Springs on the other side of Fairbanks, I was introduced to another parent. They said, “Oh, I know you. You’re Freddy’s Dad. We see the two of you at Carr’s all the time.”

The other hope I had is that Freddy be happy. I have never seen a happier kid. He could be having a really bad “Alexander” kind of day and is still able to find something to smile and laugh at and make others smile and laugh as well.

Unexpected Blessings

Overall, I know that Freddy has already taught and given me more than I will ever be able to teach or give him. Freddy’s ability to affect me and others is not in spite of his retardation but rather because of it.

Freddy sees things in a different light and he forces those around him to see some things in that light as well. Because of Freddy, I am now able to take joy in something as simple as opening a door or going outside to swing. To you and me these are normal things to do. To Freddy they are major milestones.

Freddy has shown me the many steps in learning and doing the simplest thing that you and I take for granted, like eating regular table food or playing with a toy car. Freddy has also shown me the joy in something as simple as the light and shadow changes caused by the wind blowing or the way a fan blows air through your hair.

To Freddy being mentally retarded is not a disability. It may even be a BLESSING. I now see it as a gift from God and as the reason he is able to have such a positive effect on his environment and those who know him.

I am not so sure what the future holds for Freddy but I am sure of this-his life will be full, productive and very happy. Really isn’t that what we want for all our kids?

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