This Fathers’ Day, Be Like A Golden Retriever, Like My Son.

(A Postcard of a Golden Retriever, from Paul Simon’s “Father And Daughter”, 2002)

The great singer/songwriter Paul Simon wrote a haunting song—a lyrical poem, really– the year after 9/11, entitled “Father And Daughter.”

In it, he is calming his daughter, jolted awake by a bad dream.  He tries comforting his terrified daughter by reminding her to:

“ follow your memory upstream
To the meadow in the mountain
Where we counted every falling star.”

Then, the father singing to his daughter, makes the wish that many of us fathers have for our children:

“I believe the light that shines on you
Will shine on you forever (forever)…

“And though I can’t guarantee
There’s nothing scary hiding under your bed,
I’m gonna stand guard
Like a postcard of a Golden Retriever

And never leave ‘til I leave you with a sweet dream in your head.”

For the last 14 years, my son has “stood guard “ over his three daughters  “like a postcard of a Golden Retriever.”  Most of that time, it hasn’t been dramatic like the feats of strength or agility performed on Survivor, or American Ninja Warrior—both television tests of performance which his daughters have enjoyed.  

No, his heroics are everyday things that fathers do without recognition or fanfare:  unclogging clogged toilets, soothing a daughter after a bee sting, making sure they wear their masks to stay safe from COVID, and shepherding his children to safety during an encroaching wildfire.

He is resourceful and resilient and able to rebound when things look like they might be spiraling out of control.    A few years back, we all headed out to dinner, to a favorite pizza and pasta place. The three girls were very excited. We arrived at the no-reservations place shortly after they started serving dinner, and there was an hour-long wait. Undeterred and still in high spirits, we walked up the block to another pizza/pasta place, and discovered there was no open table for 3 hours.

Upon hearing that news, the girls started to whine and moan about being hungry.  Keeping his cool, their father quickly ran through several strategies to overcome the latest obstacle thrown in our path.

We walked in the front door of his house, hunger pains growing louder, and this Golden Retriever of a father set a world record for sprinting to the stove and simultaneously whipping up a dinner of scrambled eggs, crescent rolls and pasta, saving the day.  He did this without the glare of TV cameras recording his every smooth move, nor the financial rewards of winning a commercial competition.  Another everyday test of his fortitude and patience and love, and he faced it head-on, and made it look effortless.

Now, this “postcard of a Golden Retriever” father, is facing bigger challenges each day, as he fiercely does battle with forces and institutions slow to serve the needs of his Neurodiverse daughter.  Every single day, often several times per day, he advocates for his child with a school system that struggles to properly accommodate an autistic student; a mental health system with too few mental health professionals skilled in the needs of the Neurodiverse; and a court system that views the best interests of a disabled person from an “ableist” perspective.

Sure, things are better today than they were as recently as 25 years ago for those of us with disabilities, when the knee-jerk response by a society uncomfortable with any differences it didn’t want to face, was to send the individual away to an institution; preferably, someplace out of sight.  A multi-million dollar “troubled- teen industry,” and an often-misused mantra of “mental health services,” have replaced those stark solutions, with softer, more subtle ways of trying to get Neurodiverse humans to conform to a pattern of behavior that’s more “normal.”  Fortunately, even Autism advocacy organizations have ceased talking about a “cure,” and are listening more to the articulate voices of the Neurodiverse themselves, as to what they need to thrive.

So each hour, of each day, my son fights for his daughter like “a postcard of a Golden Retriever,” fending off facile solutions that frequently serve the interests of the institutions, ahead of the interests of the child.

Some have chastised him for his “skepticism” about practices which he knows through his daily, direct observation of her, and the extensive research he’s done as a journalist, would be bad for his daughter.  Raised in the Jewish tradition of always carefully questioning things that pertain to the people you love, he has responded, “it’s not skepticism; it’s called fatherhood.”

So, each day, he stands guard, like “a postcard of a Golden Retriever,” sometimes watching his daughter sleep peacefully, sometimes helping her manage autistic meltdowns, and always demonstrating, through his unconditional love and constant affirmation of her existence, that   “as long as one and one is two, there could never be a father loves his daughter more than I love you.”


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