A Dad’s Words: It’s just Different


We headed over to the ribbon cutting.

Less than a mile away.

Through the neighborhood and onto the new road.

You could see the firetruck waiting to spray the kids from our house.

Teenagers in band uniforms, unloading their instruments, waiting to play some upbeat song.

I was on my bike, surrounded by a dozen kids. Almost all boys.

Sawyer and his friends. Ages ranging from 5 to 13.

They were talking about the free ice cream.

Apparently that is the draw to get people to come out on a hot, lazy, school night.

My wife had the baby in the stroller.

She was walking ahead because she knew with me being on my bike I’d catch up in minutes.

A typical family heading out to enjoy the neighborhood.

Except, we are different. We always are.

I was pulling my eight year old in one of those baby bike trailers.

I feel his weight resist against me with every peddle.

I tell myself this is good. I am getting exercise.

And I remind myself that we couldn’t do this a year ago. Cooper wouldn’t go to something like this.

Nope. A year ago Kate and I would be watching from the front porch. Sending Sawyer off with the neighbors to go have fun.

We would be sad. We would feel isolated and guilt.

I feel none of that right now.

So this is good. It’s a good day I remind myself.

Except, all the other dads, my friends, are walking along with their wives. Pushing strollers. Talking fantasy football. Watching their sons and daughters bike and scooter ahead.

I hear their laughter over Barney singing about a dentist appointment.

I want you to know I don’t care. I don’t dwell.

The whole severe autism, nonverbal stuff, didn’t hit me as hard as it hit my wife.

For me, I see it just as who Cooper is. And I can’t change it.

But today, this is one of those moments.

My son is different than the other kids. And it feels really loud. Really noticeable.

As we all stand in a group, waiting for the ribbon to be cut, I see Sawyer standing next to the Mayor. I know he wants to hold the giant scissors. That is so Sawyer.

I see my wife with the baby. Smiling. Talking to a group of moms.

I am on my bike. Balancing it from tipping over. Cooper is still watching Barney. It is so loud. Gosh I wish he’d wear headphones.

He is yelling at me to ride the bike. He doesn’t want to sit. He doesn’t really want to be here.

Every few minutes he hits himself in the head. My wife notices. She can hear his agitated scream through the drums and tuba. We make eye contact. I give her the look.

Our time is limited.

She comes right to Cooper and holds his hand. Hugs him. Sets a timer. Uses ‘first-then’ language.

And that buys us some time to be here. In our community. With friends and our other kids.

At every protest people glance over. Their faces show only kindness.

They know us. They know our family. We are accepted completely and entirely.

We are all the same. Except, we are different.

People ask me all the time what it’s like to father a special needs child. And my advice for dad’s of newly diagnosed kids.

I don’t have a complicated answer. That’s just not me.

All I can really say is…It’s just different.

We can go through the motions, be like other families, do what other families do, but it’s just different.

It’s being the only father pulling their 8 year old son in a baby bike trailer.

I have accepted different. And most days it doesn’t bother me.

That’s acceptance. It’s a good place to be.

But some days, like today, different can feel really hard.

Interested in writing for Finding Cooper’s Voice? LEARN MORE

Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook, subscribe for exclusive videos, and subscribe to our newsletter.

Avatar photo

Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

Share this post: