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Sunday Lifestyle

Santi and Mike - my role models

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano -

A role model is simply a person that you regard as a good example to follow. When people are asked about their role models, they often refer to their parents, historical figures, like Jose Rizal, Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, etc., and nowadays, particularly for young folks, celebrities. However, if you ask who I’ve been looking to for guidance and inspiration on how to live my life, I’d have to say that my two sons, Santi, age 9, and Mike, age 6, are pretty good role models.

Of course, this is a case of role reversal, since it is the father that should display the appropriate behavior for their children. But seeing my own children grow and watching their personalities emerge, I realize that I could learn a thing or two from both of them. Each individual is unique and both my kids have specific qualities that I appreciate, aspire to, and attempt to emulate.

For Santi, these are his qualities that I try to imitate and embody in my actions:

1. His general sense of happiness despite his challenges. Santi has autism and, as his doctors have explained to my wife and me, children with autism experience the world very differently as compared to so-called normal children. Some describe it as an overload of sensory information, hence the need for sensory integration therapy for some kids, and the general sensitivity to sound or light for others with autism. Simply put, I can see how incredibly difficult it is for Santi to do the normal things required of most children, such as going to school, doing lessons and interacting with other children. As a father, I can sense his struggles and his stress, particularly as he tries to keep up academically with kids in his grade level. Yet despite his stress and struggles, Santi maintains a generally happy disposition — always ready to smile, hold your hand, or laugh when something tickles his funny bone. When I compare my personal problems and challenges with Santi’s, I can’t help but feel ashamed at getting ill-tempered because of work or deadlines. My work-related problems all have expiration dates; Santi faces autism 24/7.   

2. His self-control. It is because he struggles with autism that Santi must exercise a very strong degree of self-control. When he was younger, he would hurt others by pulling at their hair or even biting. I think it was because he was in pain and since he had trouble expressing himself, he would manifest it by hurting others. Now, I see him controlling his urge to pull other’s hair or to hurt members of the family. He will grit his teeth and sometimes jump up and down in a successful effort to control himself. Certainly, there are many times that I wished I had exercised the same level of self-restraint and stopped myself form doing or saying things that I later regretted. Santi’s successful struggle with this aspect of his autism inspires me to exercise more self-restraint in my life.

3. His simplicity. By this I don’t mean that he is simple-minded because academically Santi is doing well in school and in fact even excels in some of his exams. I need to clarify that because the stereotype of children with autism is that they aren’t very smart. This is simply not true and some high-functioning persons with autism even obtain PhDs. What I mean about simplicity is that it takes very little to make Santi happy. Being with his family, watching TV in his room, and playing with his colored pens are more than enough to keep him contented.

For Mike, these are aspects of his personality that I admire:

1. His total self-confidence. Mike believes that he can do anything he puts his mind to. For example, even before he learned how to swim, he’d be diving into the water, splashing around, and waiting for me to lift him up for air. Additionally, he believes that he is the smartest, most charming and handsomest kid. I, of course, cannot help but agree but I’m biased. And sometimes I fear for him because I know that as he grows older, he will realize that he can’t succeed at everything, that there are others with more skills and talents than him, and that there will be many people who will very much enjoy squelching his confidence and self-belief. But for now, I appreciate his confidence and fearlessness and it reminds of the great power of self-belief and that this is truly the “first” power: meaning that before any achievement is accomplished, it has to be predicated on self-belief — the basic confidence that you can do what you set out to do.

2. His fascination with life. Mike is curious about everything and the world, seen through his eyes, is a wondrous and fascinating place. Just last Wednesday, we saw from our Condo window a beautiful rainbow. And it was because he was so excited to see it that I, too, appreciated it. Most times, I would have just looked at it, perhaps acknowledge that it was an uncommon sight, and then went on with my current chore. But with Mike, he made it seem like the most exciting and wondrous thing he’d ever experienced. I’m sure most children are similar to him in this and there is a great lesson to be learned with this curious attitude. Specifically, that the world is an awesome, interesting and beautiful place. That, particularly for a middle-aged man like me, I shouldn’t lose my curiosity because it is that quality that enables people to keep learning and, hence, keep growing and developing.

3. His expressiveness, particularly in his affection for his family. If I bring home a box of donuts for Mike he’ll proclaim that I’m the best father in the world. He’s never shy to give me, his mom or his kuya Santi a hug or a kiss. His affection for his family is real, palpable and infectious. As a man, I do have to take some effort to remind myself that it’s okay to be affectionate with my family, particularly since my own father was not a very physically, or even verbally, affectionate man. Of course, Mike taking the lead in being affectionate makes that a lot easier.

Finally, not only wisdom can come from the mouth of babes but also from the qualities of children. As parents, while we should endeavor to inculcate the values that will make our children good, kind, virtuous, moral, and patriotic citizens, let us not forget also to watch them and learn from them. They too have great values and lessons to teach us.

AUTISM CHILDREN FOR MIKE FOR SANTI IF I JOSE RIZAL MIKE SANTI SELF TEDDY ROOSEVELT
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