The headline in The Bee told the story: “A night at the movies tests autistic boy’s family.”
Andy Jones, a lecturer in the English department at UC Davis, wrote of his 14-year-old autistic son Jukie, and the incredibly insensitive and insufferable behavior of two 20-something men. Hurtful words directed at a youngster expressing his enjoyment of the movie “like someone singing to himself.”
A holiday family night out became a nightmare.
Reading the piece evoked immediate anger at the two bullies, but also a feeling of gladness for the love between a father and son and the connection they shared.
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It also reminded me of the stories of two friends. One was born in Cuba and came to this country as a teenager. She told me about once going to confession before she was fluent in English. She usually went to a priest who spoke Spanish. But on this day he wasn’t there. So she asked a friend to help her write her sins in English so she could confess them.
“Father, forgive me for I have sinned,” she started, “it has been a week since my last confession.”
Then she looked down at the paper to read what had been written, but it was so dark all she could do was confess, “I’m sorry, father, I can’t see my sins.”
Those two young men, either out of ignorance or just plain meanness, couldn’t see their sins.
That same blindness was true for the aging doctor in Lakeland, Fla., who 35 years ago walked into a hospital room and told Tim and Jean McGuire that their newborn son, Jason, was “Mongoloid or what they now call Down syndrome.”
And then, if that wasn’t brutal enough, he added the words that would become the McGuire family rallying cry through the years, “Some people even take them home.”
Those words were somewhat similar to what Tim’s father, Jim, and his mother, Anita, had heard years earlier from some friends and relatives when he was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congentia, leaving him with terribly crippled limbs.
Think about sending him to an institution, they advised.
Both generations of parents took a few moments to cry and then raised their sons, each son with their own gifts to give to others.
Now, Tim has written a book about the journey he has taken with Jason, a disabled dad and a Down syndrome son. The title, naturally, “Some people even take them home.”
Before continuing, a personal confession: For decades, Tim and I have shared a friendship like brothers, we have been newspaper colleagues, I have known Jason since he was born, and I had the privilege of being an editor of this book.
Tim and Jason’s story is one of struggles and successes, of facing challenges with irreverence and humor, of moments of calm and moments of chaos, of a father-son relationship sealed with laughter and tears.
But most of all, like the Jones’ family, it is a story of love, the love of husband and wife, father and son, brothers and sisters. The love that two guys in a dark movie theater couldn’t understand.
The overwhelming majority of us will never know what it was like for Tim to be mocked as a youngster because he walked with braces on his legs. Or what it felt like to fall from his bike more than a hundred times before he learned to ride.
Or how humiliating it was when his braces were caught in a wire fence as he tried to climb it to face his tormentors.
Or what it is like for Jason, who almost always speaks and thinks like a 5-year-old except for those occasions when he shows the wisdom and the insight of a 35-year-old.
After multiple operations under the care of a dedicated doctor in Saginaw, Mich., Tim went on to college and a career in journalism, eventually becoming the editor of one of the nation’s best and largest newspapers at the time, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He now is a distinguished professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.
Jason lives with independence in a group home, maintains a job, and wherever he goes or whatever interaction he has, this gentle and sweet man is remembered affectionately. As his dad says, Jason does that to people.
So the next time you encounter Jukie or Jason in a theater or a restaurant or on the street, switch on the light of compassion and awareness. Then you will have fewer sins to read.
Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for the McClatchy Company.