The Miracle of the Boy and the Wooden Letters

Wooden letters


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 28, 2019.


According to C.S. Lewis, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” Recently, my faith has been lacking so I was missing the miniature and miraculous letters forming a story before my own eyes. I have previously written about my family’s journey of finding out our youngest son, Josiah, has autism spectrum disorder, but I will provide a short recap for any new readers.

Josiah’s Journey [So Far]

In the summer of 2017, my wife and I noticed our son struggled to make sounds and form words. Because Josiah could not communicate with us he started to  bang his head on the ground when he got frustrated. This habit became so bad that we were basically homebound unless both my wife and I were off work at the same time. On good days we could only take our son out for one errand as any transition proved too overwhelming for him.

We knew something had to change—he had to get better help then what we could offer at the time. In December 2017, Josiah was evaluated and diagnosed with autism. We enrolled him in a birth to three program offered by the city. He received speech, occupational, and development therapy. Eventually, his speech therapy was increased to weekly hour long sessions. It took a lot of time, focus, and diligence, but with consistent therapy with professionals and reinforced at home Josiah made tremendous gains. He was able to learn to talk and show us his needs for water, food, a preferred toy, and diaper changes. This summer he said his first 10+ word sentence!

Hello My Name is

Power of Words

Over the weekend, Josiah hit another milestone goal—telling me his full name and recognizing the letters to his first name. As I was in the playroom getting him dressed, Josiah pointed at the letters on the wall. For each kid, my wife and I hung their names in wooden letters in their rooms. We recently moved Josiah into the older kids room so the wooden letters remained in the “new playroom” (formerly Josiah’s room). Our exchange centered around those letters:

Me: “Yes, Josiah that is your name on the wall. What letter is that [pointing to the ‘J’]?”

Josiah:  “J, O, S, I, A, H!”

Me:  “And what is your name?”

Josiah: “Jo-sia-ah, Fabian, Sha-qin [Chicoine]!”

Practice Makes Progress

Some people have told my wife, “Aren’t you hoping that scientists find a cure for autism? Then you won’t have to waste all the time doing therapy.” This is the wrong thing to say to a parent of children with autism. Thankfully, my wife is quite professional and always tactful otherwise a vicious verbal exchange may have ensued. Autism is not something to be cured. Instead, it is something to be explored. Different does not mean diseased. Unfortunately, people naturally fear the unknown and sometimes treat it with disdain.

The reason I continue writing daily and sharing my thoughts is because I want to provide hope, perspective, and joy to families and individuals going through similar situations. Our world does not readily accept differences. I want to be a help change that. I want to bring tangibility and reality as to how autism looks in our little boy.

The Gift of Healing

Rainbow Baby

Before he was born, I struggled mightily with depression. Our previous pregnancy due to miscarriage. We named our unborn child Jeremiah. Josiah proved to be God’s healing gift to us. His name literally means “healer”.  All our triumphs are intricately tied to our struggles, doubts, fears, and worries parenting Josiah. We all have a cross to bear. Our cross is not more difficult than most people’s. It is merely different. Josiah’s smile and giggles are infectious.  Hearing him tell me his name meant everything in during that moment in the playroom.

Do you have special needs or have a family member with special needs? I would love to hear your story. Please feel free to share in the comments.

Miracles do happen we just are too busy to see them sometimes. Our son’s special needs forces me to slow down and view the world differently. I am thankful that I embraced that change of pace this past Sunday. I pray for the strength and humility to be more willing and ready to learn from my son in the future!

Related Articles

Miscarriage and the Sacrament of Time

A Humble Hue: My Story about Autism

Thank you for sharing!

How Playing Paper Football Led to Prayer

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 5, 2018.


Albert Einstein once stated, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Simplicity is an attractive quality. I experienced simplicity in a unique and seemingly ordinary way—through a game of paper football with my 4 year-old daughter!

Too often I strive for the complexities in life—whether that be in solving difficult problems or seeking joy in extraordinary things. Technology is also a double-edged sword, its purpose is to simplify human life, however, because of the explosion of technology in the 21st century we face a digital deluge—I feel the daily pressure [that I impose on myself] to constantly check my social media and blogging sites.

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Why do I inflict such frivolous constraints upon myself? What do I need to prove by keeping up with the trending blogger scene and marketing on various social media platforms? Will my family love me any less if I fail to hit my target goals for views and monthly posts? Certainly not! My struggle is that I tend to implement false activity to mask my slothful tendency.

Raising children—especially children who recently suffered continual fevers—takes a toll on a person. The daily grind of parenting wears on a father, mentally, physically, and spiritually. While I strive to live a virtuous life, I fail, and fail often as a father. Love for my children is replaced by a mindset of viewing children being burdensome. When that occurs the seed of sloth blossoms into a tree of acedia!

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Paper Football and Prayer

The Holy Spirit conferred graces to help me withstand and eliminate my slothful nature through the simplicity of a paper football game. Triangular paper footballs are becoming common in our home. I recently renewed interest in the classic middle school table-top game. Football is my favorite sport to watch.  And I always enjoy football to help keep the stresses of life at bay during the icy winter months.

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Having to stay home [YET AGAIN—at this rate I may be burned completely out of my PTO before spring 🙁 ) with my children because of low-grade fevers, unbeknownst to me a fantastic, yet simple encounter with love. After dishing out a bowl of cereal for my daughter, I sat at the kitchen table with her. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the paper football and flicked the triangular toy across the table. This simple gesture turned into several minutes of laughter and great fun!

Find Joy in Play

St. Mother Teresa speaks of joy in this way, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” I’m not sure if  my daughter will remember this simple and joyful experience of playing football paper. I’m confident this memory will stay with me forever. Both the Holy Spirit and my daughter taught me that play and prayer do not have to be mutually exclusive, instead God intends to use all types of interactions to draw us closer knowledge and love of Him.

got joy.png

Thank you for sharing!

Use Imagination to Relate to Your Children Better

Tolkien quote about imagination

💡Dadhack #123—Think like a child to relate better to your children

Someone made a comment to me that everything is rainbows and unicorns to me.

Initially, it upset me. But after thinking about it I realized he was right.

The young don’t have a monopoly on imagination.

Thank God for it because reading only the news or talking about serious stuff makes me curmudgeony.

Amelia had trouble sleeping because of her brother making noise (she had a long week at school)

I hugged her tight and told her,

“Tonight you’re a caterpillar. I’m wrapping you tight into a cocoon. Tomorrow you will be able to fly like a butterfly. Maybe we will see a butterfly and say, ‘Is that Amelia?'”

🦋 She gave a sheepish grin and a tired laugh.

I could have easily got frustrated (it’s been a long week and I have failed in similar situations in the past).

🌈 But I think the Holy Spirit gave me patience and the ability to summon up silliness (who doesn’t like butterflies or find them calming?) to help her calm down.

Imagination isn’t merely child’s play or silliness. It’s living life open to the possibility of a higher reality—a world where anything is possible.

Unicorns rhinos

I did end up replying to that comment 👇

🦏🦄I do believe in real unicorns (rhinoceroses).

😊😂😆

How does imagination help you as a parent?

Thank you for sharing!

On Autism and Fatherhood: An Exclusive Interview with Andrew Garofalo


Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted via email communication in September 2019. Some of the answers provided by the interviewee were edited to provide clarity for the reader. The integrity of Andrew’s answers was not compromised in the editing process.


Describe the special needs of your daughter

Evangeline was born with tethered cord syndrome (lipomyelomeningocele), which is a type of spina bifida. At 4 months old she required a surgery to detach her spinal cord from a large lipoma on her lower back.

At 3 years old she had a second surgery for cosmetic purposes to remove the large lipoma at the base of her back. Hopefully, there are no other surgeries for the future (the cord could re-attach, but it is unlikely in her case).

When was your daughter diagnosed with autism?

At about 3 1/2 years old Evangeline was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She has been delayed mostly in speech, but due to her spina bifida, she has also had physical therapies to strengthen her legs and improve her walking. She walks very well, but she still does not have the lower body strength and mobility of a normal child her age.

Overall, Evangeline is doing well. Though a bit delayed in certain areas, once she gets the hang of something, she usually excels at it very quickly.

What challenges do you face as a parent to a child with special needs?

My wife and I face many challenges. Evangeline is able to receive most of her therapies at her school (she is currently enrolled in a special needs pre-school program), but she still has many regular appointments with various doctors and specialists in addition to her normal pediatric care (e.g., orthopedist, neurosurgeon, neurologist).

Evangeline looks a little different than most other kids and her behaviors stand out. Because of this, we are aware she may be teased by other kids as she gets older. Though Eva is well-behaved most of the time, she has certain ticks (she might make a strange noise now and then). She has certain rituals too. Some include singing a song she heard in a cartoon when the microwave is on or closing the front door anytime someone leaves our house.

If she is not able to do her rituals or do them the way she wants to, she often becomes distressed and cries. We try not to accommodate her rituals because we don’t want to reinforce them, so we patiently allow her to go through the process and console her when she is distressed.

How do you think these issues will change in the future?

My wife and I also have some concern over Eva’s future. We don’t know how well she will fit in with other people as she gets older and also how she will fit into the workforce as an adult. And sometimes I think about how she will be cared for after my wife and I pass away.

Hopefully there is a lot of time before she has to deal with that (Julie and I are in our 40s), but it is a reality that I still think about. Evangeline has two older siblings who love her very much, so when my wife and I pass we hope they will be there for her if she needs it.

How has raising a child with special needs impacted your approach to the liturgy?

We have not had parishioners with similar struggles approach us, but we have a group of close supporters we are linked to through a retreat called Emmaus here in the Miami area. When Eva was going through her surgeries we had a strong prayer community within the Emmaus men and women at our parish. Our friends at the parish are still interested in Evangeline’s progress. They love her!

Eva has been generally well-behaved at Mass, but sometimes during quiet times she will make strange noises (not like “normal” fidgeting or talking that young kids do) or she may want to sing a song (not so quietly). She seems to be growing out of that now. We have noticed that her peculiar behaviors usually come and then go after a while.

We have had to leave Mass early only once and we have had to take her outside to quiet down maybe a half dozen times ever. Thankfully, Eva shows an interest in the parts of the liturgy including the Our Father and some of the music. I think Mass is just part of her routine now.

What trials have you experienced?

Those uncomfortable moments when Eva is disruptive during Mass and I get the feeling some people around us might be annoyed and not understand she has ASD. Mostly we do our best to be respectful of the Mass and the other people there. We  ignore any unfriendly looks we might receive from a very small minority of people there. It is harder when we are away from home and visit other parishes because they do not know her there.

What joys have you experienced?

Seeing Eva put her hands in the prayer position during the Our Father with a big smile on her face and seeing her become enraptured by any particular song during the Mass.

We are united in constant prayer for Evangeline and all other special needs children. God bless you.

 

Thank you for sharing!

Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 29, 2018. My wife and I gave birth to our rainbow baby daughter late 2018.


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Life events such wedding your best friend, celebrating an anniversary, graduating school, overcoming major illnesses, and learning to overcome addictions normally lead a person to joy.

Usually such cathartic experiences bring incredible joy—joy that cannot be contained! However, I am currently struggling to bring myself to seize the joy of the anticipate birth of my fourth child. Let me provide a little background to clarify my hesitancy.

Past Miscarriage Losses Make Current Joy Tough

Dating back to late 2017 and beginning of 2018, my wife and I lost two children due to miscarriage. Because of the previous loss, and the insane amount of pain associated with it, I conditioned my heart, mind, and soul to be cautious. In fact, I guarded my expectations to prevent possible pain of future loss. As a result, I am neutral, stoic, non-responsive to the current joy in my life!

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Sifting through writings, thoughts, and quotes about miscarriage I came across profound wisdom from the great C.S. Lewis,

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

Okay to Feel Joy Again

While I am not a mother, the Christian apologist’s words still pertain to me and my fatherhood [really any father who suffered the misfortune of having a child not survive pregnancy. A lot of my writings over the course of the year relate to my suffering, pain, distress, worry, and ultimate purgative experiences with miscarriage. Along with the pain and memory of hope dashed, I struggled mightily with letting my guard down to feel joy, to reacquaint myself with happiness of a birth announcement, and to re-orient myself toward hope.

According to Bishop Robert Barron in his book Catholicism, “We say something is beautiful—a face, a painting, a golf swing—when it hangs together as one (it has wholeness), when all of its parts work together in consonance (it has harmony), and when it shines forth as an archetype of what such a thing should be (it has radiance).” A family missing a member(s) cannot reflect the truth and power of the Holy Trinity. I sense that same is true for my family now.

God is in control

God Always Has a Plan

Gazing at my three children playing at the park and helping each other go up the various climbing apparatuses or going down the slides, I imagined a fourth playing. Difficult to describe this scene it occurred more in the inner recesses of my heart that actually a physical vision or daydream.   During my wife and I’s engagement we talked about being open to life, raising a larger family, and we both seemed to desire [at least open to the desire] for at least four children. We cannot describe this desire in mere words. I just believe God’s Providential plan is at work in my life.

I pray for continued support, strength, and opportunities to unleash the joy of the Gospel during our family’s time of anticipation and cautious yearning for a safe birth and delivery of our child!

Related Links

How to cope with the fear of losing another baby after miscarriage

Miscarriage Prayer

Miscarriage and the Sacrament of Time

A Letter to Jeremiah

Thank you for sharing!

Tip to Be a Better Father AND Improve Family Life

💡Dad hack #43—Use playtime with your kids as a way to get in exercise time as well

Ex: The kids were playing school this morning and it was time for “gym class”.

💡They used my arms as a pull-up/monkey bar (I supported my arm in a doorway).

💡Next my older kids climbed over me like a jungle gym. My triceps, quads, and laterals got a pretty decent workout in.

💡Lastly, my older kids completed some gymnastic workouts as I acted as a pommel horse.

💡 Laughter, smiles, and andrealine resulted as my kids and I had fun indoors.

Bonus benefits— Have your spouse or significant other exercise simultaneously (at a gym, outdoors weather permitting, or in another room) to make the most of your time.

This way you wont have to feel rushed later in the day! 🙂

💪What creative things have you done to get in exercise while spending quality time with your kids?

Share your experiences in the comments ⤵️

#Dadhack #Parenthood #parentingtips #fatherhood #dadlife

Thank you for sharing!

Unexpected Joy in Expected Suffering

“Is your happiness contingent on whether the cat peed on the carpet or not?” This question was posed to myself, other catechists, and parents by our parish’s Director of Faith Formation. She was referring to events that frustrate us on a daily basis where we may question the purpose of these interruptions in our daily life. Her unique query provoked some thoughts about my recent attitudes towards situations that appear to evade my control. Over the past week and a half, my two-year struggled with allegories, constipation, and changes with his schedule. As both a toddler and someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my son certainly hated these disruptions. Consequently, these sufferings spilled over into our family life. Chucking of food items and toys ensued when he did not get his way or when my son could not fully communicated his needs.

For a control freak, such as myself, toddler temper explosions wreak havoc on my patience levels. Is my happiness dependent on whether everything is in my control? Would I be truly happier if my toddler followed my commands robotically to the “t” and never had meltdowns?  This question about the source of my joy and happiness continued to sow its roots into my heart, mind, and soul.

The work week began with the traditional Monday agitations: technology issues, annoyed customers, and confusion. To add to these annoyances, I woke up with an intense headache that lingered throughout the day. What is more, my personal goal of finishing the month with an impeccable quality score hit a potential hurdle when I failed at a complex call. Hopefully, the quality monitoring team does not review that call! Despite these expected sufferings, an unexpected joy [and peace] existed within my being. My natural inclination to messing up on a call or the craziness of home life would be to develop an anxiety and anger at things outside of my control.

Something provoked me to change my attitude from focusing on the suffering to looking at the opportunity for joy to be found in the suffering. More accurately, Someone provoke me to look deeper beyond my suffering and see the purpose of pain. St. Madeline Sophie Barat declared, “As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” God cannot get more real, as He is the fullness of all reality, but through the trials of our life we can enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The grace of unexpected joy in my expected suffering cannot originate from my own willpower—it is a free gift granted by the Holy Spirit.

I desire to impact the knowledge of peace and joy to my children. Among caring for their primary physical needs, I am charged with passing on the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, safeguarded in the Catholic Church to them. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2223,

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.32

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.33

What struck me most telling about this passage from the catechism is that the home is likened to an apprenticeship. My children will learn how to love others and God from my interactions with them. While home life seems like corralling a bunch of elephants, lemurs, birds, cheetahs or bears depending upon my children’s mood, I am able to control my emotional state. This morning I failed by provoking my kids to anger unnecessarily—my own pride failed to humbly step away from the situation and to listen to their pleas for help.

Actively picking up our crosses daily will not be easy, Jesus never guaranteed this, however freely choosing to embrace suffering instead of fleeing from it will provide an immeasurably and unexpected joy. Still impressed with the candor and articulate manner of phrasing, I am going to conclude with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s list key items for embracing freedom [and as a result joy too!]. “The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom” (CCC 2223).

Is the lack of suffering the driving force of our happiness and joy? Do we only love life when things go our way all the time?  If you let the Holy Spirit into your life, be prepared to experience an unexpected joy in expected suffering!

Thank you for sharing!