Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Great Expectations

My wife is one of the most caring and considerate people that I know. So, in the midst of the recent snowstorm of the century, she became increasingly concerned about the birds and their inability to find food.

Her answer: Put out as much birdseed as possible in our back yard. She reasoned that doing this would yield two benefits and outcomes. First, she would feed many hungry birds. Second, it would attract many beautiful and delicate birds, like cardinals and sparrows, to our yard. These birds would be sure to return in the spring as well. Sounded like a plan. And off she went with her trademark compassion and her “woman on a mission” determination.

About 20 minutes or so passed after she spread the seeds and we heard rustling and fluttering sounds in our yard. So, we rushed to the window to find the yard filled with very large, and increasingly, very boisterous black crows…about 40 of them. I looked at my wife and her face said it all, but, like a good husband I stated the obvious and remarked, “Not quite what you expected…huh?” My wife paused for a moment and true to form and character retorted, “Well, hon, crows need to eat too…don’t they?”

I just finished reading an advance copy of a new fatherhood book that chronicles the fathering journey of Rodney Peete, a former NFL quarterback, whose son RJ has autism. One of the most poignant aspects of the story is how Rodney had to rework his expectations about what kind of father he was going to be based on the needs of the son. Rodney was fortunate to have a loving and involved father, who, as a football coach, was key to his development into a great athlete. Not surprisingly, Rodney envisioned countless hours teaching his son the finer points of the game that he loved. Nowhere in his fatherhood “playbook” was hours of “floor time” with his son in a struggle to get RJ just to make eye contact with him. It was clear from Rodney’s story that he struggled early with the “play-by-play announcer” in his head that constantly said, “Not quite what you expected…huh?”

The good news is that Rodney threw away his playbook, got on RJ’s team and entered RJ’s world. Interestingly, he and my wife share a similar perspective because they both understand that without great need, there is no need for great compassion. Indeed, compassion is a hallmark of bird lovers and good fathers alike. Moreover, on the fathering front, good fathers know that you can’t be the kind of father that you wanted to have and you can’t be the kind of father you wanted to be. You have to be the kind of father that your child needs you to be. After all, kids with “special needs” need loving and involved fathers too…don’t they?


  1. Beautifully crafted and well said. Too often fathers, (not just ones with children who have special needs) aren't willing to get on the same level with their children. They expect their children to 'do it the right way' instead of doing it whatever way they can and enjoy the journey of doing it. We can all learn a lot from these exemplar fathers of children with special needs!

  2. Rodney Peete's fatherhood journey is instructive on many levels. What struck me is that he has what people in the employment search and job training world call "transferrable skills"; like a good piano player can make a good typist. One of the traits of a good athlete is their ability to adapt to the unexpected and unplanned for by relying on their discipline and their teammates (I've no doubt that his son's mother, and others, are involved in the boy's life as well) to keep their eyes on the goal. Like always keeping an eye on moving down the field, Mr. Peete keeps his on the needs of his son. Parenting is a lifetime endeavor that perpetually evolves so flexibility, adaptability, and resolve are, as Rodney Peete demonstrates, essential fathering skills.


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