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  • Writer's pictureDedan K. Bruner



Father of 5

Greenbelt, Maryland

“It is one thing to accept defeat. It is another thing to give up.” I got that from my grandfather, Eugene B. Williams – father to 12, faithful husband of 45 years, WWII combat vet who participated in the March on Washington in 1963 -- one of the two greatest men I will probably ever meet in my lifetime.

On March 10, 1991 at 12:43 PM our second child, James M. Williams, III, was born. My late wife and I, with a burst of joy and relief, were told while our son had a mild case of jaundice, he was healthy! As we lost our first child in my late wife’s eighth month of pregnancy, we were overjoyed.

Fast forward a year-and-a-half later. James was not communicating, refused to play with others, avoided eye contact, only ate certain items in specific ways, and began to bite, grab, and assault other children in his day care center. After visiting over 35 doctors, we met with a psychiatrist and pediatrician who cut through this Gordian knot of numbing numbers and analyses.

“Your son has autism.”

“What does this mean?”

“He will never go to the bathroom by himself, have friends, a job, go to school, speak, eat on his own . . . “

At this point, his mother literally fainted. I caught her before she hit the floor. Our son was still in the corner, lining up his trucks as was his behavior. “I strongly recommend you send him to an institution," the doctor said. "There’s nothing that can be done for him.”

Fast forward 25 years.

James is a proud graduate of the Kennedy Krieger School, after earning an honorable discharge from the Young Marines. He moved out of our home November 6, 2013 into a home with two other disabled individuals. He works two jobs 40 hours per week, works out three times per week, volunteers at a local soup kitchen about four times per year, has been named MVP of his Special Olympics basketball league for two consecutive years, is building up funds in his pension and visits me and his new mom every other weekend.

The diagnosis of autism, combined with the other intellectual challenges our son faced, made me feel defeated. I selfishly wanted what all men want for their children – to play basketball, swim, run, fall in love, become a leader, to grab their greatness. Once I put aside my petty, insignificant “why me” pity party, I was able to lead my late wife, and James, toward a new definition of greatness.

What worked for me? Among admitting I needed, and solicited, help; faith in my late and current wives; love; prayers and hope. Simply this.

Sometimes victory doesn’t go to the smartest, strongest or best-looking person. Often, victory goes to the person who just doesn’t give up or quits.

Through James’ willingness, on some days, just to get up out of the damn bed after an arduous day of physical, occupational, vocational or food therapy, his actions spoke louder than the words has never uttered -- “I am not quitting on you.”

You will be defeated. Your progress with your children will not be linear. There will be set backs. You must not give up. Realize that your progress, at times, will be infinitesimal to others. Taking a step forward, no matter how small, means you’re not in the same place. As long as James kept his promise to us, we will keep – and have kept – our promise to him.

What have I learned from a boy, a child, a young man who can’t speak, communicate, and has other intellectual challenges?

Don’t give up

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