In the fall of 1991 I stood as a 19-year-old young man in one of the many lecture halls on the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, with 12 others I would eventually call my brothers. We stood, staring at a gold lamp burning oil, shining the only light in the dimly lit auditorium. Slightly uncomfortable, we were all wearing a suit and tie or sport coat and it seemed just a little too warm that night.
Many of us had family present and the atmosphere was one of somber reflection. Our chapter advisor Bradford C. Peabody read to us about what it meant to be a brother in Lambda Chi Alpha. I was about to meet my big brother, who, to this day is a dear friend. More importantly I heard for the first time “Chalepa Ta Kala: Naught without Labor.” Or that which is worthwhile is often difficult. That statement struck me as significant that day. Through my association and initiation I came to feel the importance of those words, and today I truly live them.
Fast forward to 2011 and I am a 39-year-old husband and father. I know many of you reading this today can identify with that statement. It doesn’t really seem to need much more explanation. Being a good father and a good husband is rewarding but rarely is it easy. Now, factor in my additional challenge – my 6-year-old son Mikey has autism. I know many of you reading this today identify with that statement, too.
Two of my roommates from college were Phi-Delta chapter brothers as well and both have children “on the spectrum.” To brothers out there dealing with the daily challenge of a child with autism I ask you to look to your brothers for support. We are out there and we will help you. To brothers out there who are unfamiliar with autism or don’t know much about it, I hope this will help you understand and inspire you to action.
Autism Spectrum Disorder or “ASD” for short is a neurological disability affecting one in every 110 children in the United States. In many respects my son is a typical 6-year-old boy. He loves Thomas the Tank Engine, Legos, and watching baseball with his dad. He loves to swing on the playground, and going to Chuck E. Cheese’s is hands down his favorite treat.
To see my son you would never guess there is something different about him. In many respects he is anything but typical. When Mikey talks it is difficult to understand him because he learned to speak much later than others, and most of his language is what they call “scripted.” In other words he repeats things he hears on television and radio. Mikey is extremely routine based. Everything must be done in a certain way at a certain time by a certain person.
This may not sound so outrageous, but just suppose your normal routine is going grocery shopping and buying a box of Cheerios which happen to be out of stock. With my son, this is a catastrophe because he doesn’t know how to cope with such a dramatic change, and it is difficult to teach him to accept such diversions in his routine.
A simple change like this can derail him for the entire day and evoke tantrums, meltdowns, and even violent behavior towards his family. Consider this as well, Mikey is a 6-year-old-boy without friends. He goes to school with other autistic children and is unaware of the concept of friends. Eventually he will understand the concept but then we will have a new problem; teaching a child without social skills to make and keep friends.
As a father, this is a frustrating existence. You deal with it every day and, on top of that, you spend an enormous amount of time explaining to friends and family what autism is. Despite all of your explaining, they still don’t get it. They don’t deal with it every day. When they do see you with your child it is in small, controlled doses, often under ideal circumstances to make the experience as pleasant as possible (for everybody). You as the parent often feel alone and exhausted.
The words “Chalepa Ta Kala” apply to every walk of life but I have taken on a new challenge to truly embrace the sentiment of these words. On May 19, 2012, I am going to run 40 miles to raise $40,000 for Pathfinders for Autism, a Maryland-based non-profit that supports families dealing with the daily struggles of autism. I started a blog www.40milesforautism.blogspot.com to chronicle my progress towards the run.
When most people learn what I am doing their first response is “are you nuts?!” Many people have pointed out to me just how difficult running 40 miles will be, and I do not disagree. But I also feel that it has to be difficult and it has to make a statement in order for people to take notice. I decided to take on this burden because I want to make a difference.
Our Coat of Arms also says “Vir Quisque Vir” or “every man a man.” I have always taken this to mean that we must all be accountable and that it is not enough for us to simply get by, but that we must also contribute for the good of others. As true brothers I believe it is our calling to do something in this world to make a difference. I have chosen to make a difference with something that impacts my family.
“We have come together through Delta Pi and we stand together in Zeta Alpha Chi.” When you’re 19 these words just sounds really important. When you are 39 these words truly become a mantra for how to interact with people every day. My hope for each one of you reading today is that this will become your mantra when you are closer to 19 than 39. I welcome every Lambda Chi I meet with open arms. We all have our faults, but through those faults we all can find our greatness, through the light “of perfect brotherly love.” Thank you.