The Moment My Son Taught Me What It Means to Dance Like No One's Watching


The author and his son We left the pool earlier than my son, Darrin Khan, wanted, but on Sunday the pool closes at 6 p.m. We sat by the side of the pool for a while hoping the lifeguards would blow their whistles and invite the one remaining child back in. After some convincing, we headed for the showers. DK enjoys this part because unlike at home, he can use as much foamy soap as he wants. I’m still not sure what he does with it, but he really likes it.

Eventually we head for the lockers where I get him dressed. This day, we picked lockers that were right in front of the large mirror above the wall of sinks. Once he had his socks and underwear on, he hopped up on the bench facing the mirrors and started dancing to the overhead music. I don’t recall the song, but Chubby Checker would have been impressed with his moves. I enjoy watching him dance and I love that he gets so much joy from it. But I have to admit — I had mixed emotions this day because of the two other members in our locker area. I confess, it’s my own hang-up, but I have a chip on my shoulder about people judging my son, who has autism. Their smiles put me at ease a bit and DK wasn’t about to pass up a chance to dance to cool music with mirrors present. Then one of the men said to me, “That’s what we all would do if it was politically correct.” I’m not sure about the politics, but I understood his meaning just fine – and he was right.

It took me almost 40 years to be comfortable enough to really be myself. Part of my shyness as a kid came from the understanding that other kids were judging my every move. One of the reasons I loved sports was because I could increase my social rank without saying a word. I envied the kids who seemed to be oblivious to the judgment all around us. So, while I often find myself right back in middle school, aware of the judging eyes all around my son, I’m also in awe of my son’s complete lack of concern about it. For his entire life he’s embodied one of my favorite quotes: Dance like no one is watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like no one is listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth. — William Purkey

The author's son wearing a yellow shirt I would be lying if I said my son’s style makes life easy for him. But conformity is a necessity in school and many aspects of life. The education system was not designed for kids like Darrin Khan and his desire to literally dance to the beat of a different drum meets conflict with a system that requires kids “get with the program.” So therein lies the dilemma that parents with kids who don’t fit the model of modern education face. We fight for the ideal while coming to terms with the fact that “not that bad” might be the best we can do – even in the best schools. Kids like DK are the first thing we think about when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we think about when we go to bed at night. They light up the lives of those around them and they consistently steal the hearts of those who get close to that light.

Last night we took him to a mixed martial arts class for the first time. The instructor is amazing and knows Darrin Khan. True to form, DK found joy in the experience while failing to meet the class objectives. What can I say? He’s a dancer, not a fighter. Communication is more than just speech and we would do well to listen with more than our ears. I would tell him to “dance like no one is watching,” but he’s already there. We need to catch up. It does seem odd that we spend so much time teaching our kids to conform while spending the rest of our adult lives teaching people to be authentic.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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