One Father’s Day, I’m thankful for the lesson my son has taught me and sorry it took me so long

Dear son, 

Thank you. 

Your mom and I have been stressed, tired, sad, angry and just overall worried about how this pandemic was unfolding and what it meant for your life. 

We dealt with wholesale changes to our own schedules, work, health, and household finances. We saw the country get overrun by an unforgiving virus that brought deadly waves crashing down on everything around us. 

Our lives changed. Your life changed. The fear was honestly too much to carry at times.

You were a constant source of joy and hope while we tried to make sense of a situation that had none to make. Remote learning was challenging for everybody involved. Children with disabilities became increasingly ignored and marginalized across the country. Autistic kids like yourself were no exception. 

You still managed to show the teachers just how smart you are despite being nervous about those Zoom classrooms and being asked to “participate” more. Thank your mom and the great teachers you have for that, by the way. They’re the reason you continued to excel at school this year and were given all the accommodations you needed, without argument. 

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Where you helped me personally the most was with your insistence that we play video games together, as much as possible. I owe you an apology for that, too. That’s coming. But If I’m being honest, some of the most fun I had and normal I’ve felt came while just playing Minecraft and Roblox with you.

I was able to see your curiosity and sense of exploration in real-time and watched your communication and overall social skills grow. You taught me about the games and had more patience than I did when things didn’t go our way. Those sessions became moments of calm once I stopped getting angry or frustrated with things neither of us can control.

My son. (Photo: Louie Villalobos/USA TODAY)

Now, an apology. 

The truth is it took me too long to realize you needed me to be composed and engaging. Parents are often pulled from many sides, stretched to limits we didn’t know existed and it’s hard to remember that our families need us to sometimes just be with them. 

It took me too long to see that you too were stressed and confused by why the world suddenly went off the rails and came to a halt. 

It took me too long to accept that the hours of playing Minecraft together could be a therapeutic exercise for both of us. That me doing something as simple as driving around Washington, D.C., playing Pokemon Go with you would become such a jumping-off point for laughter and excitement 

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It took me too long to understand that me being your father would erase most of the stress and the worry we were trying to shield you from. 

Thankfully, we appear to be on the back end of this pandemic and it looks like your turn for the vaccine is near. 

We don’t know what that means for you long term. We’re still going to homeschool you while we wait. And we’re likely going to stay in a constant state of mistrust while things get back to a less frightening normal. 

But this past year has been one I’ll never forget, because of you. I watched the world get overtaken by a virus. I watched work get harder and harder as we tried our best to report what was going on. I watched friends lose family members, strangers argue over masks and our elected leaders fail at their jobs. 

What kept me grounded through all of that was watching you be the beautiful little boy that you are and learning from you how to live in a space that isn’t always built for your needs. Please know we tried to do our best for your sake. 

Thank you. I’m sorry. 

Louie Villalobos is audience development editor for USA TODAY Opinion. Follow him on Twitter: @louievillalobos

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