“DAD, I FEEL SAD…”

It was about 8pm on a Sunday night. The end of a rough week. That statement above from Josh put the exclamation point on it.

Josh struggles with many things. He struggles with all things intellectual including memory, learning and social cues.

He also is fighting a battle with his body. Trying to get his body to do what he wants in practical terms i.e., walking, standing with balance or throwing a ball is one thing. Trying to fulfill the desires of his heart physically (think James Bond meets Aaron Rogers meets Captain America) is altogether another thing.

Those two things, the intellectual and physical challenges, really take a toll on the third part of his existence – his emotions. The older he has gotten, the bigger the struggle with his self-esteem. The more clearly he perceives the contrast between himself and others.

I’ll let our conversation say the rest. It actually lasted over an hour but you get the short version.

Josh, is there something bothering you?

“No.”

Are you sure? It looks like there is something on your mind.

“Dad, I’m sad.”

He’s now trying to hold back the tears.

What’s wrong?

“I don’t know. I’m just sad.”

What are you sad about?

“I’m not sure.”

I wait a moment. Trying to gather my thoughts. We’ve been down this road a few times but it is never the same.

Josh, I know how smart you are. I also know how strong you are. I believe you can find the words. I believe you can find the words and tell me what’s at the root of you feeling sad.

A minute passes. When the words finally start to come out. With the words are tears he is desperately trying to choke back.

“Dad, my life is hard. Ever since that accident my life has been so hard!”

A mix of emotions hit me. My personality splits. Part ‘A’ says, “Stay focused. He really, really needs you right now.” Part ‘B’ wants to punch something. And punch it hard enough that I can create enough pain in my body to forget about the pain in my heart.

Hey buddy, I know your life is hard. If I had your life I would think and feel the same way…

I don’t really know what to say or how to soothe him. His pain is real. It’s palpable. It’s heartbreaking. I wait a few seconds hoping his emotions will come down a bit. Eventually I reach over and put my palm on his chest and tell him… ‘It’s OK Josh.’

He’s still sobbing. He is also trying to calm himself. Eventually he blurts out, “But it’s NOT OK dad! It’s not!”

I realize what I said and what he heard are not the same. How do I tell him I didn’t mean “things” were OK? How do I tell him I didn’t mean it was OK for his life to be this way? I just wanted him to know it’s OK that he is feeling the way he is in the moment. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to be sad for the moment.

“Things are hard for me since that accident. I have to wear these boots and this helmet. It’s hard for me to learn things. It’s hard for me in school. It’s hard for me to remember things. My heart feels like it is torn apart.”

My mind is blank.

The tears are full on now. He can’t hold them back nor can he catch his breath. I’m speechless again. My own breathing is shallow. I don’t know what to say to help him feel better. I don’t know how to say anything that will make sense of what happened that day.

I pray for an insight. I pray for the right words.

Josh, do you feel like you are different from others?

“I am different dad! And I don’t like it!”

Yes son, you are different. You are different in ways that are good as well as the ones that are difficult. Your heart is different. You care about others. You understand things that others can never understand. You see things others can’t see. And believe it or not, you will do things others could never do. All of that because you’ve had to go through this.

He’s heard it all before…

I have to believe there is a purpose to all this Josh. I don’t believe it is a mistake or an “accident” that you survived. I can’t believe this is for nothing. I have to believe that this is really…

“A gift dad?”

Like I said, he’s heard it all before.

Yea Josh. It’s a gift.

“Dad, It doesn’t feel like a gift.”

I know. Not everything we feel helps us. And if we focus too much on those feelings we just feel worse.

Now I’m preaching to the choir. I need to hear and remember those words as much or more than Josh.

“Dad, will you always have my back?”

Of course son. I am always here for you.

“Dad, is your number in my cell phone.”

It sure is.

“If I’m feeling sad, and I’m not home should I just call you?”

Absolutely! That’s part of what I’m here for. You can tell me anything you want. If you want to talk, I’ll listen. If you want to figure something out, I’ll help.

It’s quiet for a minute. I decide to let him know how I feel. Not sure if I’m being selfish or not.

Son, your heart isn’t the only heart that’s broken.

“Who else dad?”

My heart broke the day you got hurt. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t fix things. But my heart also breaks again every time you feel sad or I see you struggling. My own heart aches for you and what you have had to go through. What you are going through. It hurts me too.

He sees a tear in my eye.

“Nobody knows our pain dad.”

I smile again on the inside. It’s absolutely amazing what comes out of that brain damaged brain.

Well son, it’s difficult to completely understand anybody’s pain unless you have lived it yourself. But there are plenty of people who try Josh. Your friends, your family, your teachers. There are a lot of people on your side. Even if we feel alone at times, it doesn’t mean we really are alone.

“Dad. Is it OK if I cuss just this one time?”

Sure Josh. Let it rip!

“That truck driver is stupid!”

I smile to myself. A bit pleased that he thinks “stupid” is a bad word!

Yea buddy. I agree.

“Can we talk downstairs dad?”

Of course!

“You know dad, I want to talk downstairs because it’s guy talk and that’s kind of our man cave down there.”

Yep. That sounds like a great idea.

We head downstairs and he grabs the couch. I park it in the chair.

Tell me how you feel about that truck driver, Josh. What do you think of him?

He gets a peculiar look on his face. He actually looks surprised. I don’t know if it’s the question or the answer in his mind or maybe something else.

C’mon Josh. Tell me how you feel about him. It’s fine. You can say whatever you want.

Josh’s lips start moving. I can’t tell exactly what he is saying because there isn’t any sound coming out.

What did you say buddy?

He does the same thing. His lips are moving but no sound.

I can’t hear you buddy. Say it out loud.

Out comes a whisper but I can’t make it out.

Try again Josh. Say it louder.

He does and I’m absolutely surprised by the words I now hear.

“He’s a bitch dad!”

I’m dying on the inside.

He’s a bitch is he?

“Yea.”

Josh has never heard me use the word “bitch.” I’m not saying I haven’t said, “bitch” in one manner or another. I’m just saying he hasn’t heard me say it.

He is so self aware that he can’t ramp up the volume or intensity. I finally tell him to say it as if the truck driver was sitting in front of him. He really looks surprised and tries again. Another mild delivery. I change tactics.

Josh, pretend I’m the truck driver. Say it to me and say it like you mean it.

This is going a bit too far for him. It is clear he is unsure about going through with this. I grab a baseball hat and some sunglasses. Once they are on we try again.

Josh, I’m not your dad right now. I’m the truck driver who caused the accident. You can say anything right now and you will never be in trouble for it. Go for it.

It came out barely above a whisper. “You’re a bitch.”

Josh, you don’t sound like you mean it. Try again.

“You’re a bitch.”

Louder Josh. Say it like you mean it.

He leans in towards me. “You’re a bitch.”

I’m certain by his body language that he is still unsure of going all in. There’s a total lack of emotion. Yet, I can see he thinks he is getting away with doing something bad!

Josh, I don’t believe you. You don’t sound like you mean it. This is your one chance to tell me, the truck driver how you feel about what happened that day.

“You’re a Bitch.”

Again Josh. But louder this time.

“YOU’RE a Bitch.”

C’mon Josh. Again! Louder!!

“YOU’RE A BITCH.”

LET IT FLY JOSH! LET HIM HAVE IT! LOUDER!!

And at the top of his lungs he lets go.

“YOU’RE A BITCH!!!!!”

Good job buddy! That was AWESOME!! Do you feel any better?

“I do!”

That’s great! Let’s get some sleep.

“OK dad.”