By Steve Kean
In a previous issue of Current magazine we printed a story that included “An Open Letter to Parents” from a Mom, like you, who has a child with spina bifida. She is just beginning the journey of her child’s life. Her words were incredibly moving and inspired me to write this letter. Looking back at the more than four decades of my life, I wanted to write you to say a few things that I want you to hear.
“I love you.”
Those are the last words that I say to anyone in my family at the end of every conversation and the last words I hear them say to me. It’s a tradition that started when I moved to Toronto twenty years ago, and it endures to this day. Almost automatic now, the words still carry every bit as much meaning. I rest a little easier knowing that “I love you” were the last words exchanged between me and my Father before he died so suddenly and unexpectedly in 2006.
Mom, this is an open letter to you. It is a small way to recognize all that you have done and sacrificed and shared to help me live my best life; another way for me to say, I love you.
I don’t believe in fate. I’m laying out the path before me one stone at a time. When I was born, you told me that the doctors painted a very grim and negative picture of my future. They told you everything that I wouldn’t likely be able to do and suggested that it might be better if you left me in an institution where my needs could be met and your life wouldn’t be so hard. Well, you didn’t listen to them and home we went and started life together. My spina bifida has surely presented challenges and made for a difficult life at times, for everyone. But every step of the way, you’ve been there, even though you may not have felt like you were. I know how incredibly hard it was for you to put me down on the floor and leave me with the other kids at the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre (Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital). I needed to be there at times and you knew it, but that didn’t make it any easier. Because you endured that– more than once – I grew up healthy.
You’ve supported me and held me up. Because of you and the rest of my family, I have been able to chase many of my dreams and I have lived a great life so far. I haven’t always made you proud, but that has always been my goal.
Remember the awkward conversation we had the first time I planned to move away from home? During the summer after my second year of university, I decided that I wanted to experience more of college life and so investigated moving onto the campus of Laurentian University. You found out about my plans when you overheard a conversation I was having with my future roommate. At first you were hurt, but soon realized that I needed to spread my wings and that I was only moving across the city. I’m sure that letting me go wasn’t easy, but you did and I’m grateful. That time taught me a lot about myself and what I was capable of doing and more importantly, what I still needed to learn.
I finished school and began the long search for a career. Like many of my friends, I had to move back home during that time – a challenge for everyone concerned. LOL!! I eventually found a job and settled into the work-a-day world.
Soon after I started that job, I travelled to Toronto to see the famous “People in Motion” trade show featuring products and services for people with disabilities. While at the show, I met a recruiter from Scotiabank. A few short weeks later, they interviewed me and offered me a job. I was in the minority among my university classmates, I now had a job in my chosen field and I was off to make another dream come true – living in Toronto. The confidence to forge ahead came from you, Mom. But, I know in the back of your mind you were probably thinking that I wasn’t going to need you anymore. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
“I need you.”
No matter how “grown up” I get, I will always need you, Mom. Since I moved away from home for good, twenty years ago now, I’ve been able to make a lot of my dreams come true and at least try others. I live in one of the coolest cities in the world, current leadership aside. I met an amazing woman and married her more than 16 years ago and I have tried to become a successful professional photographer in addition to my work at SB&H. Through it all, I have needed your encouragement, support and most of all your love and you have always been there for me.
“I thank you.”
Mom, thank you for the lessons. Thank you for making the sacrifices, many of which I don’t even know about. Thank you for those long conversations we have whenever we come home for a visit. Together we have looked back and laughed and cried over the good times and bad. Thanks to you, I have found a way to balance being my Mom’s boy and being my own man. What I owe you can never be repaid. I love you.
A little note to all the other Moms out there
Although I wrote this letter specifically to express my gratitude towards my own Mother, I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all Mothers of adults with spina bifida who might read this magazine. Your tears and effort and sacrifice made all the difference in our world.
And to the new Mom’s out there, it’s all worth it. When you get the chance to look back on your child’s life, like my Mother can, you will see that you have helped your sons and daughters to become the best men and women they can be.