By Hackie Reitman, M.D.
You’re a dad. Though maybe you didn’t recognize it at the time, your child has a brain that’s a bit different. You know that when she was growing up you could have done some things differently. Even though you had the best of intentions you could have been a better dad. Don’t beat yourself up this Father’s Day.
That’s my job.
My 33 year old daughter Rebecca has Asperger’s. She often reminds me: “Dad, sometimes good intentions are not enough.” My only child tells the truth. “If you don’t want the brutal truth, don’t ask the question,” she says.
I can’t help it, but in the days leading up to Father Day, when I should be focused on celebrating with my wonderful daughter, the mistakes I made as a dad loom up like an elephant in the room. I can’t help but shake my head and think “If only I knew what I know now.” But I was clueless about so many important things when Rebecca was growing up. Why couldn’t I have…
Just as I am beating myself up, I receive an e-mail from Rebecca:
I smile and realize how lucky I am to be Rebecca’s dad. Suddenly, I am smiling, totally looking forward to my Sunday time with Rebecca.
Every year, Rebecca gives me a heartfelt card and two great gifts for Father’s Day.
One gift is a bottle of the Original Mennen’s After Shave. As Rebecca knows, when I was a toddler, every morning, my dad would hug me and press his clean-shaven cheek to my cheek before leaving the house to work at the family gas station. I think of my dad every time I slap on the Mennen’s. The scent transports me.
The other gift is a numerical “Rebecca’s Father” T shirt. Yes, I have the whole collection. And this is year 34!
It’s not just her Discrete Math Degree from Georgia Tech that dictates that I meet her at 11:56 am– it’s the way her brain works. The careful choice of a specific number, her hyper-interest in mathematics, her desire to apply that to life in general… It all makes sense to her, and it is making sense to me more and more. The more I learn, the more all the dots connect.
While she will not share specifics with me ahead of time, I suspect she’ll treat me to a breakfast at the Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner from her apartment. We’ll probably go for a walk, and maybe chat about some of the issues in her grad psych classes. The whole time will be quality time, one-on-one with her dad, just how she likes it. She’ll even be nicer to me than usual. I will look at her, and be grateful that I am now appreciating more and more the amazing human being who is my daughter. If this Father’s Day is like the others, it will end with a big hug, and a blissful dad exclaiming, “Rebecca, this is the best Father’s Day ever. I love you all the time no matter what.”
Aspies aren’t the only ones who tell the truth.
Different Brains® Inc. founder Harold “Hackie” Reitman, M.D. is an author, filmmaker, retired orthopedic surgeon, former professional heavyweight boxer, the past chairman and president (and current board member) of The Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County, and a neurodiversity advocate. However, it was his role as a father that led to the creation of the DifferentBrains.org website.
Hackie’s daughter Rebecca grew up with epilepsy, 23 vascular brains tumors, and underwent 2 brain surgeries before the age of 5. Her struggles and recovery put him on the road to, through 26 professional heavyweight boxing matches, raising money for children’s charities (to which he donated every fight purse).
Rebecca eventually went on to graduate from Georgia Tech with a degree in Discrete Mathematics, and Dr. Reitman wrote and produced a film based on her experiences there (The Square Root of 2, starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s Scandal). After graduation, Rebecca received a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Hackie, shocked at his own ignorance of the topic despite being an M.D., embarked on years of research that culminated with his book Aspertools: The Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Neurodiversity (released by HCI books, publishers of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series).
This experience revealed to Hackie the interconnectedness of the conditions that fall under the neurodiversity umbrella, while alerting him to the in-fighting and fractured relations that often plague the organizations tasked with serving the community. Convinced that overcoming these schisms could help all of society, Hackie forged the Different Brains philosophy of inclusive advocacy: “Supporting Neurodiversity – From Autism to Alzheimer’s and All Brains In Between”.
In the company’s initial years of operation, Hackie self-financed all of the content on DifferentBrains.org, all of which offered free to view to the public. Currently he is the host of our weekly interview show Exploring Different Brains, writes blogs for the site, and tours the country speaking at conferences, conventions and private functions, all with the goal of improving the lives of neurodiverse individuals and their families, and maximizing the potential of those with different brains. Separate from Different Brains, Hackie is the founder and CEO of PCE Media, a media production company focusing on reality based content. He recently co-executive produced the documentary “Foreman”, the definitive feature documentary on legendary boxer and pitchman George Foreman.