A Letter to My Autistic Daughter to Be Read at Her Graduation

On your graduation day, if I say to you, "Are you happy, Lily?" and you respond "I happy, daddy," then I'm happy too. And if you can't tell me that, then I will do everything in my power to fix that.
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Every blog post I write is something of a letter to my children to be read in the future: here is what we did; here is what we did wrong; here is what we should have done.

Recently, we received an assignment from school to put together a time capsule for Lily, our youngest daughter, our autistic daughter. I love the idea. I don't know what else is included in the project, but what I'm focused on here is: "A letter to Lily for her to read at graduation."

This cuts right to the heart of it all, doesn't it? The future many of us cannot come to terms with or even allow ourselves to imagine. Assignment accepted.

Dear Lily,

2014-02-04-peach.jpegHi, Peach. When you read this, 11 years will have gone by. The first thing I want to tell you is the last thing I say to you every night before you go to bed: I'm proud of you. I love you. I believe in you. Past. Present. Future.

It seems to me that by writing this I'm attempting to predict the future. Nobody can do that. The parents who think they can are misguided. Whether they think their child will be a doctor or football star, an engineer or a pilot, a stay-at-home parent, live in assisted-care or stay at home all his or her life... no parent knows the future, regardless of their child's neurology. The hoops and hurdles God places in the paths of all His children are always different and are never leapt through or over (or stumbled across) the same way by any two of us. The branching results of all our decisions, good and bad, lead us each down a path that is unique to our own experience. And utterly unpredictable.

You work so hard. You jump through all the hoops and over all the hurdles we as parents place in front of you. Sometimes there are so many. Sometimes we don't even understand why we think you need to jump through them. We do it because we think they'll help. We do it because we're told they're necessary. We do it because "research indicates that...." We don't know. We don't have the answers. We just want what's best for you, and we pray the decisions we make will help lead you there.

But I want you to know this...

You, 8-year-old Lily, child of the present, are such a happy child, so full of life and energy and joy. Watching you spin and jump and play, a broad grin splitting your face, an infectious and mischievous giggle bubbling up and over as we tickle you or play with you -- we can't help but be happy, too. Every day when I bundle you up and walk you out to the school bus, we hold hands and I tell you to stand in the driveway to be safe from cars, and you get so frustrated with me and I worry that you're going to have a meltdown, or throw your glasses or refuse to get on the bus. But when the bus gets there, you tell me, "I happy, daddy," and climb aboard. On graduation day, this past Lily is the future I want for you in adulthood, the present you now inhabit in childhood: Happy Lily.

If you never become a doctor, if you never graduate from college and get a job, if you never go to college, if you never leave our home, if you never learn to read this letter, if you always need help to eat... but are happy? Then I will be happy. This future is certain and fixed and utterly predictable. This future is unchangeable because it holds within itself all the possible divergences from my "expectations" that don't matter when compared to your happiness.

I may not be able to predict what you will one day become. I may not be able to forecast how far you will go, or how much you will change from the sweet little peach you are right now, but after working so hard and jumping through so many hoops, after all the drills and therapy and frustration, when graduation day comes for you, if you say nothing more than, "I happy, daddy," well then I think we'll consider those 11 years time well spent.

I promise I will always have that end goal in sight. I promise not to lose sight of your happiness while chasing after misguided expectations of a future that cannot be predicted. I'm not saying you won't still be frustrated with me. I'm not saying you won't still have to work hard to jump through my hoops (the ones that make sense and the ones that don't). I'm just saying that those branched paths of your life within my control that don't ultimately lead to your happiness will be pruned if they can be.

Every night after prayers as we lie in bed I tell you I love you, I'm proud of you and I believe in you. No matter what the future holds, I know how hard you will have worked to make it there. And I love you, I'm proud of you and I believe in you.

On your graduation day, if I say to you, "Are you happy, Lily?" and you respond "I happy, daddy," then I'm happy too. And if you can't tell me that, then I will do everything in my power to fix that.

I love you, Lily.
I'm proud of you.
I believe in you.
Do what makes you happy.