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When I Watched a Man With Down Syndrome Dance With His Dad

Parents of children with special needs can get used to the stares of strangers when they’re out in public. I must confess that at times I’ve let my gaze linger upon certain families, but not for the reason you might think. My eyes are drawn to them because I’m also a mother of a child with special needs. I feel a certain kinship with other families and wish I had time to learn their stories. I also look at them because I see the love in their interactions and the beauty in their children. I hope if they did happen to notice my gaze, they’d see it was one of friendship, and I try and share a smile with them whenever I can.

One family in particular stands out in my mind. I saw them one hot summer night when my family attended an outdoor concert. The music was wonderful, but watching this family dance was the best part of the evening. An older father had brought his adult son who had Down syndrome, and I found it difficult to take my eyes off them. I didn’t mean to stare, but the moment was one of the most beautiful, precious things I’ve ever seen. I desperately wanted to talk to them, but out of respect for them and their joyful evening, I simply admired from a distance, tears in my eyes and a smile on my face.

The son was awesome; there are no better words to describe him. His gleeful abandon as he experienced the music and his love of dancing was infectious. He clearly had rhythm, keeping right in sync with the drumbeat he so obviously loved. There was even a colorful Slinky he waved around in time to the music. I was concerned at one point that other concert attendees might have been looking at his unique dance moves with scorn or derision, but that didn’t occur. There was simply happiness and laughter and music, and the rest of the crowd seemed to appreciate his enthusiasm.

The father looked to be in his late 50s or so, with salt-and-pepper hair and a kind face. He danced with his son and watched him freely float about the dance floor. Since his son was an adult, I imagined this father had been parenting for many years, yet there was no weariness visible in his eyes. I saw only love, and it seemed to me as he looked at his son that he still saw him as his little boy. The father smiled as his son lost himself in the dance, and his child’s joy became his own. I took note of the way he sometimes watched from a distance and allowed his son space to express himself, yet gently guided him in the right direction when needed. He was amazingly tender and patient and attentive. Any child would be lucky to have a father like him.

The scene got even better when even more family members arrived on the dance floor, including grandbabies. It was touching to see how excited the son became when his little nephew arrived and to watch him lovingly stroke that little head. I watched the father wrap his arms around the toddler and his son, and then the three of them danced together. It was a beautiful dance. He looked like a doting grandfather leaving an incredible legacy to his grandchildren through his positive example. I believe they will grow up knowing not only how to be kind, compassionate people, but also how to be more accepting toward those who may be different in some way.

As other relatives continued gathering on the dance floor, I saw a family united. I thought how wonderful it was that someone with Down syndrome could be born into such a caring, close-knit support system. They all seemed to treat each other with acceptance, respect and love. Perhaps they’ve had many incredible adventures together over the years, like the exuberant dance party that weekend.

I don’t know if that father will ever read this. I wish I could tell him, as a fellow parent, that I admire him. It was a privilege to “meet” him and his son, even if from a distance. In those few moments I learned a lifetime of lessons, and not just about special needs parenting. Watching the father’s behavior made me want to be a better parent and a better person. I want my eyes to shine with the kindness and joy I saw in his. I want to experience the deep connection he seemed to have with his children and grandchildren.

I also want to dance like I saw the son dancing: full of enthusiasm and free of inhibition. I want to love my family the way I saw him love his. Both he and his father looked like people I would like to know, and watching them inspired me and touched me. On days that I feel discouraged or weary I recall their dance, and my spirit is lifted.

So, dear father and son, thank you for showing such beauty. I wish you all the best and hope you keep on dancing.

A version of this post first appeared at Seriously Not Boring. Jennifer can also be found at her Seriously Not Boring Facebook page.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images