To the Man Who Joked That My Child With Cerebral Palsy Was Drunk

It had been a rather lovely day at the Maryland Zoo’s “Brew at the Zoo” event. My wife, our friends and our two children at the time (we have four now) toured the zoo, and we had just made our way back to the pavilion area when you had to open your mouth.

My son, Connor, stumbled and fell, as he is prone to do, but picked himself up and continued to walk with us on our way to get some much needed lunch. As he staggered, trying his best not to take a hand or ask us to slow down, a man, thinking himself to be hilarious, told me, “You should cut him off,” implying the abnormal gait of a 6-year-old with cerebral palsy was actually caused by alcohol consumption. If anyone at the time was drunk, it was you, whose targeting of a child for your joke would have been in poor taste even if he was able-bodied. But as disgusted as I was with your joke, I was more disgusted by my own actions.

As you cackled hysterically at your attempt at humor, I merely smiled, asked my son if he was OK and continued walking. My lack of action over this incident has bothered me for four years, and while I can’t address you directly, I can still address you.

When Connor was born, having been starved of oxygen and resuscitated, it was clear he would have a difficult road ahead. I remember going numb as the pediatrician on call at the hospital that night gave me a list of potential things that could be wrong with my son, assuming he actually survived the next few days.

Later, when they issued his diagnosis, they gave me another list, this time of things that he might never do, like walk or talk. He has defied those odds, though not without adversity. The biggest of those adversities is how people treat him. I knew from my own childhood that children can be cruel, but I had no idea just how relentless they could be. Between the name calling, the bullying and the physical abuse, I knew school would be constant struggle. What I didn’t know is that an adult stranger could be just as cruel.

No, sir, my son is not drunk. Damage to the motor functions of his brain makes his movements jerky, causing him to stagger when he walks and to occasionally fall down. His handwriting is atrocious, he sometimes stutters, he might not be allowed to drive a car and he might never be a professional athlete. But you know what, I don’t care. He’s an incredibly sweet young man, a dedicated big brother, a straight-A student and has defied every single obstacle placed in front of him. At 10, he already has his sights set on attending Johns Hopkins University and is doing the work necessary now to ensure that happens.

Most importantly, he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. Instead, he makes do with the hand he has been dealt. Connor has dreams and ambition, and not a damn thing you or anyone else says is going to make him change…so stop trying.

two young boys in a stadium

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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