My Father’s Day Pledge

My son Bryson is a gift. His blue eyes and smile light up the world for everyone around him.

He is also disabled.

After years of tests and zero results all we know is that he has a rare but undiagnosed genetic disorder. Almost five, he can’t play hockey or video games or hide and seek or all the other things that five year olds are supposed to do. He can’t even walk or talk or crawl.

But he makes progress every day. Today’s big achievement was that he used a regular sippy cup by himself for the first time instead of drinking milk from a bottle. These are the moments that make me as proud as I would be if he had just scored the game winning soccer goal.

Most importantly, Bryson is happy. And innocent. He’s never had a time out or been sent to the principal’s office or done anything mean to another human being. He is simply incapable.

There are phases of mourning that you go through when you learn that your child is disabled. I’ve been through them all.

I’ve arrived in a place where I feel okay about it, mostly. But once in a while something happens that reminds me that this world is not kind to those who  are different.

Tonight we took our two boys out for dinner to a new Thai/Japanese restaurant that opened around the corner. It’s all-you-can-taste: You order what you want from the menu and they bring it to your table. We brought a thermos of food for Bryson as it’s hard to find food he can eat in restaurants.

We ordered our first round of food and it came quickly – Tom Yum soup, mango salad, sushi, green curry, coconut shrimp, and spicy octopus. The food was hot and fresh and delicious.

We ordered our next round. Mango chicken came quickly. But 30 minutes later we were still waiting for more sushi and barbeque ribs. We  asked our waiter to check on the order.

Despite the wait, the kids were in good spirits. My seven-year-old son Connor was passing the time by inventing a new variation on Pokemon which he called Connormon. And Bryson was communicating with us from his wheelchair the only way he knows how – through songful, deep-throated vocalizations.

Another 15 minutes later we asked to speak  to a manager, who explained to us that the owners were trying to save on staffing costs and there weren’t enough people on duty to service the busy restaurant.

I asked to speak to the person in charge. A few minutes later, a woman dropped by our table.  Naturally, I assumed she was there to hear my complaint. She wasn’t.

“You need to tell your son to be quiet,” she said, pointing at Bryson. “Other guests are complaining that they can’t enjoy their meals in peace.”

We were flabbergasted. We pointed out what we thought was obvious – that Bryson has severe mental and physical disabilities and that we can’t just tell him to be quiet.

“It’s more than one table that has complained,” said the woman in charge, before agreeing to expedite our order and put it in take-out containers.

Fifteen minutes later the food arrived, along with the bill, which the waiter had discounted by 10 per cent. I paid the bill and did something I’ve never done before – I declined to tip.

Before leaving I set out to find the most senior person in the restaurant. I told my story – not just about the food delay but also about the request that we shut up our disabled son – to a man who apologized profusely and offered to credit the entire meal. He also agreed to my request that the restaurant itself pay our waiter a $15 tip. For this reason, I’ll refrain from naming the restaurant here.

We live and love Bryson’s differences every single day. Nights like this one remind me that there are people who can’t accept difference for a single meal.

As Father’s Day approaches, my pledge to Bryson is to be by his side to protect him from the judgments of this world until the day I die.

My single greatest fear in the world is that there will be nobody to protect him after my wife and I are gone.

41 Comments

  1. A wonderfully written post, Keith. Your son is lucky to have you and your family to call his own.

    I’m sorry you had to experience what you did tonight but I’m glad the restaurant was willing to tip the waitress in your place.

    Reply

  2. It’s important that these stories be shared, so we can pull our noses out of our own little worlds to realize that our fellow human beings are a gift … all of them. We need to find beauty in everyone, and be kind, respectful and generous to one another. We need to embrace and appreciate our differences. Bryson will have at least 3 loving protectors surrounding him when he needs it, I’m sure. And hopefully, the legacy of blog posts written by loving fathers will be that by the time you’re gone, Bryson won’t need protecting anymore. Happy father’s day Keith.

    Reply

  3. You should have tipped. The waitstaff treated you well; it was the manager (who is not legally allowed to take tip money) who was in the wrong.

    And you should have named the restaurant.

    Reply

    1. That’s what you took from this post? The fact that he didn’t tip? Wow. Did you miss the part where he insisted the waiter be tipped by the restaurant?

      Great post, Keith. I shudder to think that I may have lost my cool in a situation like that. I respect that you kept your composure, and approached the management. I most likely would have done that, but I also think I would’ve made a scene in the restaurant and admonished the crowd for complaining, which would have been embarrassing.

      Keep being proud of your son – it sounds like you know what being a father and a good man is all about.

      Reply

    2. I can imagine you being one of those people in the restaurant asking Bryson to be quiet !!!! If you can’t leave an appropriate comment, don’t leave one at all !!!!

      Reply

  4. Hi keith,

    Im glad i found this. Was just flipping through Flipboard.

    Im still suprised by examples of such ignorance and selfishness. Almost as though people suspend humanity for a time in order to what? In this case persecute a family for the sake of someone else’s happy dinner. You handled it spectacularily and i hope that is has absolutely no effect on any future decision you and your family make.

    Im blessed with healthy and engaging children, though the fear and anxiety i feel sometimes when they face challenges is heartrending. My eldest, 6, wasn’t invited to a birday party last week. The only kid in her class. Just and oversight but she was terribly hurt and sobbed that night asking why she has no friends (she does, but you know how it is). it made me feel powerless and angry.

    In comparison, its so minor, just a shadow of what i imagine you and your family deal with every day. I wish you the best.

    Mike

    Reply

  5. …thanks for sharing Keith…it is just a subtle reminder of where harmony and understanding can enrichen our world and remove tensions that need not play into our day to day lives…best to you and the family and a very Happy Father’s day next weekend…your boys are very fotrunate to have a dad like you that sets an example for us all…take care

    Reply

  6. A moving and important post, Keith. I’m always amazed by our collective human capacity for ignorance. I’m also always inspired by the dedication and love of people like you and your wife. I have hope that the triumph of the latter will one day overshadow the pain of the former.

    Reply

  7. Thanks so much for the comments. I’m surprised and touched by the the kind words, not just here but on Twitter and Facebook as well.
    In a few short hours our family has gone from feeling very alone to feeling surrounded by support.

    Reply

  8. You handled the situation so well – delighted you spoke to the manager and demanded they acknowledge the way your family was mistreated. I get so fed up with people who have a zero tolerance to kids etc in restaurants. The restaurant staff should have pointed out to the patrons that complained that your family has as much right to be there as they do.

    Reply

  9. Hi Keith,

    Thanks for this. This is friendly reminder that we all need to be courteous of the situation of others around us, and suck it up if we are being inconvenienced.

    A thought on the undiagnosed condition of your son – it sounds similar to a disorder that I helped with a foundation I helped with their web stuff – mitocanada.org and their US counterpart – umdf.org. Let me know if that helps.

    Reply

  10. Very important, powerful story, Keith.
    I have some idea of how you feel. There is always a nagging anxiety I won’t live until I’m 160. I guess your story is also a reminder to many of us to put in place plans — a strong circle of caring — for that eventual future when we won’t be around to talk to folks in charge and set them straight.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Pam @writewrds

    Reply

  11. Hi Keith,

    I read this last night and was speechless. I’ve seen both your boys. they are beautiful and lucky to have parents like you and Laura. It’s unfortunate that some people are thoughtless, insensitive and unkind. Hopefully you go bed at night knowing you’ve done your best to teach Connor and Bryson to make this world a better place for future generations.

    Happy Father’s Week (yes, you deserve a whole week to celebrate this year!)

    Reply

  12. What a fabulous life lesson and opportunity to educate others! And also a chance to appreciate the love, acceptance and enlightenment your beautiful boy has brought to you.

    Thanks so much for sharing, Keith. I will remember this.

    Reply

  13. God Bless you and your family as you come across these people. You are the people who teach others about equity and compassion. Your fathers day pledge is fantastic – know that many stand with you.

    Reply

  14. Hi Keith (and Laura),

    Michelle forwarded this post to me. I was very moved to read it.

    Our older daughter Alice is 3 and a half. She has mitochondrial disease (mentioned above by Matt Graham). We have just moved back to Toronto after 4 years in Europe and have our first appointment at Sick Kids this week. I always find it helpful to be reminded – by reading posts like yours – that we are not alone.

    Thank you.

    Reply

  15. It’s unfortunate that there is still prejudice like this in the world. It IS fortunate though that Byrson has such a loving family to support him through the numerous challenges that face him each day. Happy Father’s Day, Keith!

    Reply

  16. Hi Keith — I’m glad Laura passed me this link. This is a beautiful piece of writing, one that resonated with me because my 17 year old son is non-verbal but he vocalizes too.

    It’s so important that you shared this experience publicly, to give voice and value to children and families like ours.

    It is hard to describe the immense pain our families feel when our children are not accepted, or are in some way excluded or silenced or ostracized. It’s disturbing that people can put social ‘norms’ ahead of basic humanity.

    You did the right thing to speak to the senior person and ensure that never happens to another family at that restaurant. It’s not easy to speak up like that.

    It sounds like Connor and Bryson are learning important life lessons about what it means to be a family and to love each other.

    Would it be okay if I linked to this post from BLOOM, Holland Bloorview’s parenting blog?

    Thanks for sharing! Louise

    Reply

  17. June 12,2011 at 6:51pm
    Kevin and I just read about your sad experience. It breaks our hearts that people treat others in such a cruel manner.
    Bryson and Connor are gifts from God and you and Laura are wonderful parents. Give them an extra hug for us tonight.
    Happy Fathers Day!
    Aunt Patsy and Uncle Kevin

    Reply

  18. Keith: I often wonder what the future holds for my son and our family. My son is almost 3 and your description of Bryson fitted my Ronan to a T. You’re not alone.

    Reply

  19. Hi Keith,

    There are still people that do not understand (I say it this way to be polite) those who are different; and sadly and as much as we want it, it will not change soon. All we can do is show and teach our little ones how to be a better person as they grow up; and maybe in a near future we won’t see this anymore!

    Your son is definitely lucky to have you as a father.

    Reply

  20. This was a heartbreaking incident for you and your reaction was certainly appropriate. Often people react with fear or revulsion to someone unusual, but they might be more accepting if they understand what’s happening. Perhaps you could carry a few cards that explain that your son makes these sounds to express himself, often to say he is having a wonderful time. and that it is beyond his control. You could ask the manager to pass the card to the customers who complained. Maybe it won’t work, but you might feel better having tried to use the situation in some positive way.

    Reply

  21. Kevin I was given the link to your story on Twitter. My heart breaks after reading your story. I am so sorry for how those people chose to act with ignorance instead of compassion. I am teacher of children with special needs and it still amazes me each and every day how much ignorance and simple misundertanding there is in the world. Many blessings to you and your family. Bryson ( and Connor as well) is LUCKY to have a father like you. Have a HAPPY HAPPY Fathers Day!

    Reply

  22. Keith

    Comment #2 (since I was remiss not to mention the obvious earlier): You have two beautiful, beautiful guys and they’re very fortunate to have such a wonderful dad.
    Happy Father’s Day.

    Sincerely, Pam @writewrds

    Reply

  23. Hi Keith,
    After reading your story i am also experiencing immense tears and joy at the same time. I am completely heart broken at the reaction you received. It ceases to amaze me every day that human beings can be so hurtful !! That being said I believe one of the only ways to reach people is for them to see first hand the love that you have for your most amazing son !!!
    Great job Keith and Bryson you should be proud!!
    Happy Fathers Day!!
    Barb

    Reply

  24. I am the mother of three healthy children, which I feel blessed for on a daily basis. Reading things like this makes me even more determined to raise and guide them to treat other people with respect – the way we all ask to be treated. My heart goes out to you and your family. At the same time, I want you to know that you are not alone in this bigger community. Injustices like this hurt all of us. Thank you for sharing this story. As much as it brings me to tears, it also inspires me to lead my family to not stand by and let things like this happen.

    Reply

  25. Hi Keith,
    Truly a sad tale of our society! I admire you for your strength and restraint in dealing with the situation. Your family is fortunate to have a loving and caring father as yourself. Thank you for sharing your story. Happy Father’s Day to you.
    Shame on the patrons in the restaurant to complain about your son. Did his vocals make them feel uncomfortable? Did it make their food taste different? Do they even have children of their own? Shame on whoever you are that complained!
    I would recommend you give the name of the restaurant so they can feel what it’s like to be discriminated against. When we don’t tell the whole story we enable this to happen again without any consequences to the restaurant or their staff and management ( I use that term loosely in this case). I would not hesitate to put the restaurant on my list of places not to dine for a period of time. Kudos to you for not tipping – that in itself is a consequence and highlights the need for the entire organization to do better.
    I am a father of four children and sadly I must admit I would not have handled the situation as well as you – once again kudos to you.

    Reply

  26. I am so sorry that your son went through this experience, but not surprised. People with mobility and cognitive disabilities are so often considered ‘inconveniences’ and ‘nuisances’ in our society by those of us who should know better. I teach high school, and am encouraged by the way that young people today (at least the ones I know) have grown to understand and appreciate the challenges that people with ‘special needs’ face. Groups like ‘Best Buddies’ see able-bodied young people getting to know and growing to appreciate beautiful and challenged people like your son.
    Don’t be discouraged, just keep on loving your son and have faith that times are changing.
    Peace,
    Del

    Reply

  27. Oh my, it is hard to believe that in this day and age such a thing would happen. I feel sorry that you had to experience this. Your calm actions helped raise awareness in a positive way towards children with special needs. I would like to think that this was an isolated incident. You and Laua ROCK as parents. Happy Father’s Day Keith.
    Karen xo
    .

    Reply

  28. Hi Keith – I met your lovely wife on Monday at a workshop she held for CTN. I just received my most recent BLOOM e-letter and decided to read your post after meeting your wife. I cried. The similarities we share make the story that much closer to home. We have 8 year old twins Alex and Jessica. Jessica too has a rare genetic disorder – no names, no idea what it is – only know that it leaves her with much the same disabilities as your son – non verbal, in a wheelchair – but making progress. It’s so very hard to imagine what our beautiful children will do once they are adults and once we are not here – that’s the sentence that left me in tears. I take comfort knowing how many people will be there to support them – they are the same people who are here commenting so positively on your shared story. Thank you for another reminder that I am not alone – and neither is Jessica!

    Reply

  29. I went directly to your blog from the Bloom newsletter, as I remembered Bryson from Laura’s presentation at a Planning Entry to Kindergarten workshop last December. Thank you for all the work your family does for children with special needs. Our hearts go out to the four of you.

    Reply

  30. Keith,

    Very touching post. I’m pleased to hear that there are still people such as your self who stick up for their family in this world, especially in cases like this.

    Reply

  31. Keith – as a father, I commend your handling of this situation. My two children do not face the same challenges that your son does, but I am constantly reminded of the gift of love that I receive from them – as you have from your child.

    I probably would have waited in the alley for the ‘patrons’ who were complaining.

    Reply

  32. Hi Keith. I can feel your heart full of love, your son Bryson is a gift, an angel. only the good people can see it. Hope our country has enough good people. and they wont show any complain as above.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s