T.J. struggles with the pencil in his left hand, pushing it carefully up and down on the notepad that sits in his lap. My middle sister, Kellie, has asked him to write the word “Mommy” on the paper to show my younger sister and me what he has recently learned in school. The pencil stop moving. T.J. yells “Mommy!” and turns the notepad around to show us the scribbled letters M-O-M on the paper. We all clap and cheer at his accomplishment, and we watch as a proud smile spreads across his face. This may seem like an insignificant feat, but for T.J., it is a milestone. He just learned how to spell “Mom,” and he is ten years old.
My little brother, T.J., was born on my first day of high school. My parents were in their early forties at the time, and it was a surprising situation for all of us to have a new baby in the house. My dad, Tom, was the most excited of all since he finally had a boy to balance out his houseful of women.
When he was three, my family discovered that T.J. was not developing language skills at a normal rate. The doctors did not have any answers as to what could be causing the delay.
T.J.’s disorder put a strain on my family, and our household could be a tense place to live during some of the years that followed. As my brother got older, it became more apparent that his disabilities reached beyond simple language skills.
My mom spent a lot of her time trying to find a solution. My dad reacted in a very different way. He embraced his chance to be a father to his son. They would go for haircuts, hang out at the mall, or just drive around listening to sports radio in the car. T.J. loves these outings with our dad, and the minute he returns from work, my brother pulls on his shoes and waits by the door. He and my dad have developed a bond that goes beyond my brother’s “problem,” and have become buddies who struggle every day to maintain a semblance of normalcy.
There was one day in particular when I realized that my father had fully accepted T.J. for who he is, and it was this same moment in which I saw the true depth of my father’s love for my brother. We were sitting on a bench by the lake – the three of us – and my dad was making funny faces to make my brother laugh. In the midst of the laughter, T.J. stopped and reached up to softly touch our father’s face. My dad looked down at him and said almost so softly that I couldn’t hear, “Well, kiddo, it looks like it’s you and me for the rest of my life.” There wasn’t a sense of sadness or burden in my father’s voice, only acceptance and unconditional love for the little boy who sat beside him. It seemed that T.J. understood this, too, in his own way, and he smiled and touched our father’s face again.
T.J.’s condition has yet to be fully diagnosed. My parents continue to help T.J. express himself with words, pictures, and sounds. My dad and T.J. however, have become a duo, and when it’s time for them to go “cruising” in Dad’s car, we all know that it is strictly boys’ night out. The women in our house know that T.J. loves all of us, each in a different way, but the love he has for his dad is written in a language only he understands. All of us have the privilege of speech, but only the two of them speak their language, and it requires no words.
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