Editor’s Note: City Dads Group is proud to occasionally feature writing from members of The Handsome Father, a support community that helps connect, prepare and inspire gay fathers. In this inspirational piece, Craig Peterson writes about his special-needs son, Andrew.
From the day I met my adopted son Andrew at age 5, he liked to walk in front. He wanted to lead.
Meanwhile, my two younger sons were in no hurry. They liked to walk hand-in-hand with their new father and didn’t want to share me with anyone – including their older brother. But Andrew didn’t mind. He’d be off on his own and out of sight, if I didn’t keep an eye on him.
He had so much energy – and was always smiling, since he hadn’t learned to use words.
Although Andrew’s brain damage from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome left him clumsy and afraid to ride a bike, I persuaded him at age 9 to run a 3K race with me.
“Stay with me. Don’t stop.” And with constant encouragement, he did just that for the entire 1.8-mile course. I wasn’t surprised. Pleasing others came naturally.
Two years later, on the same 3K course, my son ran by my side without me saying a word. I saw his potential and told him to run ahead – leaving me behind.
He had found his niche.
Yet in middle school, the cross-country coach was convinced that my sixth grader wouldn’t be able to follow directions. Andrew showed him, becoming the second fastest runner on a team that included seventh and eighth graders.
For the next five years, he and I spent countless weekend hours working on his running form. Many early mornings found the two of us at the track near our home with him completing intervals and me recording his times.
He never complained. Not once.
By his senior year, my son Andrew showed everyone once again. He became the first student-athlete in his school to earn four varsity letters in the same sport – even as many people still focused on those things he would never be able to do because of his intellectual disability.
Yet he didn’t rest on his laurels.
Through his decade of involvement in Special Olympics, he raised the bar for every participant. At the 2014 USA Games in Princeton, N.J., he dominated the distance events – earning three gold medals. He also achieved three personal bests over four days of competition, including a very impressive 4:47 in the 1500.
Andrew set a new goal in 2014 – to be on the cover of Runner’s World magazine. From 2,000 entries he was one of five male finalists. And although he didn’t win, his picture appeared five times in the December 2014 issue. He was a finalist again in 2015, gaining the most votes in Reader’s Choice category, though the cover still eluded him.
Never one to be discouraged, Andrew found another outlet to share his gifts. He confidently took his message of respect and inclusion to 60 Indiana high schools – eventually addressing 60,000 students with his inspiring message.
Not one show of nerves, as he spoke from memory for 15 minutes.
Craig Peterson became the first openly gay man to adopt through the Indiana foster care system in 1998. He is finishing a memoir on raising his six children with special needs to be called Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, and maintains a blog by the same name. A version of this article first appeared on The Handsome Father.