Pretty early on Owen Edward Simons and his father Edward established a special bond. Its cornerstones are patience and humor. Owen’s dad is loooong on patience generally speaking, a trait he has had opportunity to develop during his years as father to a blended family of six with a ten year gap in the middle. That gap probably helped, but Owen is a master at teaching patience. For starters, as a fussy baby he spent hours hanging over his father’s burly forearm in the “colic grip,” secure and peaceful, the heel of Daddy’s hand strategically placed in his abdomen.
Edward chooses patience, most of the time, and approaches difficult things or people with a twinkle that generally unravels situations into smiles. He has a gift for optimism. He likes to see things and people for their potential. He says he figures we have a guaranteed angel in the household, and even when Owen isn’t acting much like an angel that thought seems to center him.
Long ago Owen’s dad realized that Owen loves and responds better to funny voices or accents, and so when he talks to Owen he rarely wastes time with an everyday voice. He has a particular voice for Owen – “He’s a little gerky guy!” “Hello big fella!” “Owee! what if a big shark was coming to get cha’?!” And Owen’s dad taught Owen’s mom how to turn the frustratingly slow efforts at communication into something funny, instead. How to get a waked up face for her efforts, instead of a blotto one. Turns out laughter is really Owen’s best language.
I remember Edward wrestling and tickling Owen on the lawn when they both were a lot younger – one of Edward’s ways of letting off the parenting stress I suspect. Sometimes I wasn’t so sure about the rough play, how it felt from Owen’s point of view. I have come to know that the worst thing in Owen’s world is to be tuned out – which tends to be my survival mechanism. Being squished into the lawn and tickled into squeals is great stimulation, a lot better than being ignored.
One evening years ago after getting all the kids in bed Edward and I watched a rented 1995 movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” both of us moved to tears. Mr. Holland in the movie is a successful and creative music teacher to high school students, also a composer, who struggles to relate to his deaf son’s music-less world. In the darkened foyer on our way up to bed after the movie, Edward and I sobbed on each other’s shoulders, and my husband confessed some things that I would never have guessed. He told me about his sadness about Owen, and he whispered his shame for past feelings of embarrassment about Owen, that it was his mentally challenged son who shared his own name. It was a very honest and powerful moment to share.
But most moments are not powerful like that, not epiphanies, nor beautiful dreams of future angels. Most moments made of the steady day to day of washing and meal getting. Although Owen’s mom and dad may not agree about how everything gets done, Owen can always count on his dad to be there, dressing him for his day (“Ouch – honey? do those greens go together?”), making sure he gets his nutrition, spoonful by spoonful (“Edward! he can feed himself!”), helping him change clothes one more time (“Thank you!!”). Owen’s dad’s special undertaking is directing him through a job, like clearing the supper table, item by item. “Look, here’s a dish, Owen. Take it to da kitchen. Ok, come back. Now get another one…take it to da kitchen. Ok Owen, now this one…” Owen’s dad is the rock of the family, calm and emotionally present — except when a little nap takes him away for a peaceful moment’s rest, or he tunes us all out for some Facebook time…
So although Owen’s mom may gag over Owen’s dad’s fashion sense, and object to his tendency to spoon feeding, she and Owen are very grateful for Owen’s dad. Lucky boy, really. Blessed with a dad who understands laughter.