Down syndrome from a father's perspective.

The R-Word trumps the voice of reason.

I overheard someone use the R-Word the other day. It pissed me off. I had some pretty strong feelings pumping through me; I wanted to teach that idiot a lesson. But instead, I showed some self-restraint.

When your child is involved in extra-curricular activities so are you.

As parents you want to provide ways for your children to develop new skills, enjoy life, etc. My kids have had some great experiences with things like soccer and dance, drawing classes, piano lessons, as well as other activities. I am amazed at all of the options kids have available to them today, a lot more than I had when I was their age (although this can be a negative).

I think sports are a great option for kids. They stay active, learn group dynamics, and get to see firsthand that the effort you put into something is directly correlated to performance levels. There are other lessons that come from involvement in sports as well as other ways to learn these lessons but we tend to be a sports kind of family.

So, we have encouraged our kids to get involved in both school and club level athletics; I spend a lot of time at swim meets and water polo matches. This involvement translates into a lot of time transporting kids to and from practice, meets, camps, parties, fundraisers, potlucks, etc., etc. etc. And it also means that parents are required to log a certain amount of volunteer hours for each child.

Early pastoral marriage advice.

Before my wife and I were married we met with the pastor of our church for some marriage counseling. This was a common practice for engaged couples in our denomination. These were fairly informal sessions with the primary focus of preparing couples for some of the harsher realities of marriage as well as equipping them with some basic relational tools to help navigate those common challenges.

During one of those sessions our pastor said something that really stuck with me. It was one of those comments that would resurface in my head from time-to-time. When I am able to think about it logically it certainly makes sense but when the stress level increases and my emotions are sparking it can be difficult to follow through with.

As Leigh Ann and I sat next to each other on the couch in our pastor’s office he explained to us that there would be times ahead of us where one partner would get upset about something. That person’s anger or other emotion could influence or cause some poor decisions and/or actions.

The pastor explained that during times such as these it was the job of the other partner (the help-mate) to remain firmly grounded; to stay calm and not get caught up in the emotion of the situation. Because it is only when one spouse keeps a level-head that s/he can help the other to be a better person. They are able to help his/her spouse to make wise decisions and avoid the pain involved with rash actions. That was sound advice that my beautiful wife and I were given over 20 years ago.

Time for a food-run.

Our job for this particular day of the swim meet was to sit at the entrance to the natatorium balcony and collect the admissions fee. We were scheduled to work from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM so we were unable to eat lunch beforehand. After a couple of hours and a little encouragement from me, Leigh Ann sent me downstairs to the hospitality room in order to grab some lunch for the two of us.

Upon entering the hospitality room I bee-lined for the food tables and quickly grabbed a couple of cans of pop (soda to those outside the Midwest) and shoved them into my back pockets so I could keep my hands free. I surveyed the layout and then placed a piece of the large party sub on each of the two plates as well as some potato salad on my plate.

Knowing my wife’s priorities, I didn’t bother with any potato salad for her because if she is going to take in calories she would prefer they come in the form of something sweet. However, this is when things can get a little tricky, it’s not the type of decision a husband can take lightly.

Thankfully my options were limited to three choices. Because of what else was available I was able to rule out the cookies. Now the choice was between some brownies and a layered desert in a glass bowl. Leigh does like brownies and these sure looked rich but they were the type you find at the discount warehouse so I ruled them out. Don’t get me wrong, we eat those types of brownies but these decisions are all relative. I opted for the chocolate mousse thing with what looked like crumbled heath bar on top. I turned and headed for the door thinking that I had something my wife was going to really like.

Time slows.

As I was just about to exit the room with our lunch I walked past two officials that were deep in conversation. I have no idea about the topic of conversation but the few words I heard were enough. They were a jolt to my system, like tinfoil against my fillings or maybe a kick in the nuts. The four words I heard as I passed by were, “the long retarded way.”

I wonder if you could visibly see my reaction or if it was completely internal, it felt like I might have done some type of stutter-step. I became overwhelmed by a feeling of deep disgust for this man but I kept walking. I kept walking and thinking.

I am not afraid of confrontation but I have matured enough in my forty years to realize that in situations like this one I really struggle moderating myself. Let’s just say that I don’t always come across as completely in control in this type of situation. With each step I debated about going back and saying something to that “effing-idiot.” The walk back seemed to take forever.

Sometimes I know my wife better than she realizes.

When I returned to the table up in the balcony where Leigh Ann was still collecting admission fees I set the plates down and kind of slumped into my seat. My loving wife looked at her plate and commented, “Oh, I was going to ask you to get me a brownie but I didn’t see you leave.”

I was not in the mood for this so I am thankful that she tasted the desert first. She loved it! I knew she would and yes, I am gloating as I write this. Leigh Ann continued to nibble on her food when she noticed that I had not touched my lunch yet. When she asked me about it I simply told her that I found an official that I really did not like (I used different words).

The spouse that remains calm is the counterbalance.

I elaborated on my revelation about the official. I told her about the words I overheard and how upset it made me, she was also upset. I continued on telling her about wanting to go back and confront idiot. This is when she said, “Well what would you say to him?” I was stumped for a second because I wasn’t sure.

I told her that I wanted to tell him to never use that word again and that I would gladly kick is a$$ and break is effing neck if he did. I wanted to tell him that I thought he was a worthless piece of sh!! and that every breath he took was a waste. That is what I wanted to tell him. That is how I felt. It seems that the older Treyton gets the more that word stings. I hope and pray he doesn’t have any use that word to his face.

Leigh Ann’s response was something to the effect of pointing out how fruitless it would have been for me to unload the torrent of cuss words I had for the ignorant a$$h_-_. She also said something to me that I know I have said to her before as well as written about in a post of two. Her response stung a little. She said, “Think about us before Treyton was born, we used the r-word at times then.”

So what now?

Language matters and always will. I have written about both people first language as well as the use of the R-Word before and I am sure I will again. It is time to end the R-Word.

This post had a lot to do with my ability or inability to handle hearing such a hurtful word. Writing these words has been somewhat cathartic for me. However, it seems like I need to give you, the reader, something more. I don’t think it would be fair to have you listen to my rant and then not leave you with any other purpose than helping me to feel better.

So here are some things that I think can be derived from this experience.

  1. We all need to be able to talk through things like this. If you really cannot find another person write it in a journal, just like you are talking to someone.
  2. We need to be gracious toward others that have not had their eyes opened yet. Being blessed with Treyton has helped me to see things I missed before. I need to be patient as I help others to see how hurtful the R-Word is.
  3. We all need to be active and SPREAD THE WORD TO END THE WORD.
  4. Before Treyton I was ignorant about Down syndrome and other types of cognitive disabilities. Are there other things I am still ignorant about? Are there other words that I use that hurt people like the R-Word hurts people?

The Bottom line.

Before Treyton I was ignorant. Treyton’s birth helped me to see. The R-Word really hurts me now. I need to be patient but active in helping to stop the use of the R-Word and other hurtful types of language. I need to develop a response that I can use when I encounter someone who uses the R-Word, I need to develop that now when I am not as emotionally vested. Join me in this. Become part of Treyton’s Extended Posse and help to create a world where all people have the opportunity to become the best possible version of themselves they can.

Rob Arnold has been married to his high school sweetheart for almost 19 years. Together they have three daughters and one son. He earned his bachelor's degree in General Business from Grand Valley State University as well as an MBA in Strategic Management from Davenport University. He enjoys reading, hunting, scuba diving, and spending time with his family.
  1. Liz Tree

    Great post. I,too, want to have at the ready a great response to the R word beside I’ll kill you! I think I need one for adults, one for teens and one for little kids. I have confronted it before and the worst response was “I don’t care.” so I walked away from that one. The most common is “word police! give me a break” or some such thing………

    so if you come up with some thing good please share……

    • Rob Arnold

      You have a good point about tailored responses depending on age. I will be sure to share what I come up with. As far as the idiot that told you he didn’t care I may have had a very hard time keeping my composure then.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and make a comment. I do appreciate it.

      Treyton’s Dad (Rob)

  2. Rob Arnold

    I am posting this comment on behalf of Little Bird’s Dad. I recently made some adjustments to how my site is being hosted and there may be some issues. Please let me know if you have problems posting like LBD did.

    I am fairly new to all this, but have wondered myself if there is a catch-all response. My favorite, so far, has been simply to say “When you said such-and-such was retarded, what did you mean?” Some stop, think and say, “Oh, I meant, XYZ”, to which I respond “If you’d said that, it would have made your point sound more intelligent.”

    Of course, I haven’t yet run into someone calling another person retarded…I worry that I would interpret that as what Texans call “fightin’ words”. As flippantly as folks down here use the word, I think I should get an attorney on retainer or stash some bail money somewhere. :-)

    On another note, I REALLY liked your point about spouses acting as counter-balances for each other. When my wife and I do that, we’re unstoppable. When we both get caught up in a particular emotion, that’s when trouble finds a foothold!

    Great post, Rob!!