In this new series, we bring you personal stories and heartfelt musings that we hope will lift our spirits and bring us closer together as a community. Our first guest is Jamiel Owens, an autism dad and the host of The Ausome Show. Jamiel shares his journey of becoming a father with the help of his son, Shayne. His authenticity and self-honesty touched us immediately.
My Son Was My Start Over – A Dad Reflects on What Parenting a Child with Autism Taught Him
By Jamiel Owens
“My sons are not a punishment or an accident. Just a little abstract masterpiece of what the master did. I try not to doubt the power of prayer, but sometimes I just feel like the power ain’t there…” (Sho Baraka, 2016, “Words 2006”)
I have the greatest son in the world. God knew that I needed my son Shayne to ultimately find my purpose here on this planet. Learning to understand and celebrate him challenged me deeply. It also made me the man that I am today.
It was around the time that Shayne turned three that his mother and I began to notice something different about him – his offset to imperfections in the straightness of his toys and his screams when he wanted to move around the house for hours on end but his mother or I placed him in the crib instead. We thought that he would “grow out of it” and that it was “normal.”
I remember clearly the day when I knew that Shayne would not grow out of it. That day, as he lined his trains up to the edge of a radiator in the house, he started “stimming” so rapidly that I can only describe it as my son looking possessed. Alarmed, I walked up to him and pushed him away from the trains. He looked at me, and without words I saw his eyes say “Why Daddy? Why did you push me?” I paused as he got back up and began stimming again with those trains. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. All I could do was sit down on the corner of the couch and cry.
When Shayne’s mother came home from work, I was ashamed to tell her about the incident. I feared that I would be seen by her as less of a man, not man enough to handle the situation and also being seen as abusive to my son. But I was so scared, and I didn’t know how to say it. As it turned out, my marriage eventually dissolved from this silence and my inability to take responsibility for what was happening with our son.
I was the happiest and most anxious I had ever been in my life when Shayne was born. To say that I was NOT happy when Shayne’s mother told me she was pregnant is one of the most transparent statements that I can admit to you. I wasn’t ready for any of it – marriage or the pregnancy. I had just lost my job. My own mother, who struggled to raise me on her own, was living on the streets and I couldn’t find her. My great-grandmother, who was my stability, had just passed away. If you look at pictures of me now, versus the pictures of me back in the day, I never smiled.
I had to learn how to be a parent. I had to learn how to fit into my son’s world. It is infinitely more complex than putting on 3D glasses in a movie to see more dimensions. As much as Shayne is now the center of my life, it was a process of personal growth that got me there. I had to come to a breaking point in my life and asked God for his help. I laid bare all of my hurt, my pain, my frustrations, my wants, my needs, and what He gave me in return was His love. He showed me how a transparent person is supposed to be. How to love and be loved correctly. And the center of all this work was Shayne, always Shayne.
Shayne was and continues to be my “start over.” He is smart, articulate, and has a great sense of pride and humor. He is the most loving boy that a father can ask for. He loves to make everyone he comes into contact with feel special. He loves to give hugs and laugh. He sees only your heart, not the color of your skin, not the scars that you carry. He has taught me how to give to the world after giving so little to it. He is my chance to make the world a better place by shaping the world with his love, God’s love.
Shayne and I have built a new life. He is twelve years-old and doing exceptionally at everything his heart desires. I could only use the phrase go-getter to affirm his overzealous attitude towards these preteen years, school, and life in general. We talk on the phone everyday just to see how each other’s day was. A goal that I have been working on with him, is to make a new friend every day. Some might see that as added pressure, especially during COVID, but I see it as motivation to come out of his shell. In an age where life revolves around a cell phone, interpersonal skills are becoming a lost art to many as they want to hide behind technology. Our children are not trying to hide. They reside in a separate world without pain, depression, vanity, and lies. I come to think of his world as being a time before us that we only read in biblical text, the garden of Eden. Making friends everyday will have Shayne opening up his mind and his heart – the garden – to others.
I’m remarried to a supportive woman who embraces Shayne and me. These days, I have the luxury to think about the future. Shayne will become an adult very soon. I expect that what he will accomplish will be nothing less than extraordinary. He and other autistics like him embody the principles of humanity and they are perfect that way. It is we who must feel and create the space in our hearts and minds for them, for though they may not always be accessible to us, they are always present with us. They are “ausome.”