Once I had a specific idea of what parenthood would be like.
I was competitive as a young man, and was sure when my wife Debi and I had children I’d teach them to compete: I’d build a backyard rink and devise fun drills and help them make it to the NHL.
Instead I learned about compassion.
When our first child was born we named him Jaden. We liked the sound of the name. I introduced him to a friend at an Oilers game: “Jaden!” he said, “That’s Hebrew for ‘God has heard.’” We named him Jaden without knowing he would grow up being unable to speak.
At 18 months Jaden was babbling constantly, but never formed words. The pediatrician said, “He’s a boy – he’ll grow out of it.” If I saw a boy like Jaden now, I would know within minutes he had autism.
Jaden was intensely focused. All children play with pots in the kitchen cupboard, but Jaden played with them in a different way. He would avoid eye contact or distraction; you could not break his attention when he played with the pots.
To this day he loves numbers, structure and order. Jaden is better at jigsaw puzzles than you or I; he visualizes the connection of the pieces. He enjoys the card game Skip-bo, understands the rules, and takes his turn faster than anyone else. Jaden never makes a mistake at Skip-bo: bang-bang, done.
He works in the school library as effectively as any 17-year old who is detail-oriented, but likes it infinitely more. Jaden collects the books, scans the codes, arranges the volumes on the cart and runs them to the shelves where he places them exactly where they belong. It is a very repetitive function; he never tires of it.
Jaden loves dogs. He will run across the street to greet a dog without a thought to traffic. If he does look both ways for oncoming cars, he’ll cross regardless of whether there is traffic or not. To him, the act of looking both ways is a purposeless, mechanical function.
He can write and use a keyboard but Jaden does not communicate abstract thoughts. If you ask him if he is happy, he will write “happy.” If you ask if he’s sad, he will write “sad.” He is trying to process the correct answer.
Jaden genuinely likes people. He does not get agitated or take personal insult as most of us do. He doesn’t judge, and is a very engaging boy. He greets strangers with a high-five; for people to whom he feels close, he’ll hold your arm with both hands and sit beside you on the couch. He likes a big hug.
Jaden has a younger sister. She is math and science-oriented. I have been telling her since she was 6 she should think about engineering. We named her Jenae, Hebrew for “God has replied.”
Sometimes in the evenings, in quiet moments, when Jaden and I are close, I wonder: what are you thinking about? Do you dream the same way I do? What are your dreams like?
I have no answer. His thoughts are a mystery.
(Editor’s note: the author is three-term Conservative MP for Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont)