While Amanda slept, I snuck out. A quick jaunt to the house for a much needed shower and return with her favorite Chinese dishes from our favorite Chinese place. Neither of us had slept much in the past 72 hours. She'd earned the rest. We dined. I stood and looked at him as he lay there in the hospital crib. "What do we do with him now?", I asked. Her next three words said it all: "We raise him."
At home, I got Amanda into the bed, and placed Connor in his crib for the first time. He seemed no larger than a football, sleeping with his arms and legs tucked. That was just last week, or so my heart tells me.
He graduates high school tonight. His solid B-average reflects an intellect that found school marginally interesting on the whole. Curly blonde locks have been replaced by close-cut brown. Over-sized, pinchable cheeks gave way to the countenance of a thoughtful young man. His infectious laugh and show-stopping blue eyes remain.
Saturday mornings at IHOP, while Mom and "Naytan" slept have given way to long talks on the porch. From recording sessions while he slept on the studio floor, to finding cartoons in every notebook, to proud band parent at every home game, I've watched him "try on" different arts to see what fit. Food is his canvas, spices his paint, a chef's knife his brush. Yea. I'm proud. It matters far more that he's found "his art" than that he follow me directly into mine.
He is his own man now. Connor's influences are undeniable. Friends, family, Scouting leaders and parents, band directors, and of course his brother and parents can all be seen in who he is becoming. No parent asks for a special child. In like fashion, Connor didn't ask to be the brother of a special child. He's gained much from the experience, but has paid a great cost. Only a fool would believe it hasn't.
His role with Nathan was thrust upon him. He never blinked, never flinched. No matter the situation, we knew if Connor was with him, Nathan would be just fine. When they were old enough to be left alone together, Connor cooked for Nathan without being asked. On church youth trips, chaperones found that when they checked on Nathan's needs, Connor had already covered them in total. They were still brothers and fought like them. Connor was patient while Nathan learned that Connor only cared about helping him in social situations and not spoiling his fun.
Having a non-neurotypical dad hasn't always been a blessing either. No child should have to deal with a parent with anxiety issues and severe, clinical depression. My hope is that both of my boys learned quickly enough that my dysfunction is not and has never been a reflection of them or what I think and feel about them. There will always be a part of me that believes that my wife and children deserve better than I can give them. Far from a pity party, it is a reflection of my love and admiration for them. It's one facet of my gratitude.
My first-born's graduation tonight comes far too soon. There's still much I want to teach him. A part of me wants "my little buddy man" back. The rest of me is proud. He's a kind, compassionate, opinionated, thoughtful young man. I fully acknowledge that he's gotten there both because of and in spite of me.
Congratulations Brian Connor Batey. You're making dad extremely proud.