Anyone with a child these days is familiar with safety gates. Homes with mobile babies and toddlers turn into a maze of latches and lifts. Good luck figuring out how to open one of them. Whoever designed these barriers must have been “over-gated” as a kid, and has dedicated his life to seeking revenge on adults by devising a new, and more complicated, unlocking mechanism for each gate. That, at least, is my working theory. The goal of these gates is simple–create a safe space, and protect your child from the dangers that lie beyond. It is among the most noble of parental goals. It is also one of the most misguided.
A great marine philosopher may have said it best:
Protective Father: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Philosopher: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
Protective Father: What?
Philosopher: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.
|The Tao of Dory
Dads cannot help it. We see the danger lurking around the corner. We see the glass placed at the edge of the table, begging to be knocked over. That anticipation has kept us safe, and those that we care about. Our job is to protect, both body and heart. Yet, that instinct can betray the very objective it is there to achieve.
Eliminate all germs from your child’s life, and their immune system will never have a chance to build up defenses. Keep them from ever having their heart broken, and they will never find love.
As the father of a special needs child, the urge to protect often combines with the fear of embarrassment to form a potent cocktail of isolation. Nate and I can stay home and both of us will be safe from what lies beyond. The front door is our safety gate.
Yet, we work to overcome the fear. Or, at least I do. Nate is naturally fearless. I do my best to put us in situations that have positive outcomes. He still fits in the bike trailer, so we go for a long ride. He still likes to ride in the shopping cart, so we hit Costco. I may never be completely at ease in public with Nate. It is less because I do not trust him, and more because I do not trust myself.
It takes a special gift to handle embarrassing situations with grace and dignity. My wife has that gift. I tend to get angry. The direction of that anger is unpredictable, and the outcome is rarely something to be proud of.
Embarrassment is a self-inflicted wound. Nobody can make you feel embarrassed. Nate is proof of that. Judgment, however, is a weapon everyone wields. Nate has helped us find people that we can be around without fear of judgment. We joke about his ability to find the pure-hearted. Certain people just “get” Nate. People like the Ballingers, the Streichs, the Weicherts create safe places beyond our safety gates. They allow us to experience the world with pride and not shame. We are forever grateful.