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Al Roker on the Joys of Fatherhood

The Today show weatherman and co-host discusses the challenges and rewards of parenting a child with special needs.

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Hi Guideposts. I’m Al Roker.

We have three children. I have a girl who’s 31, from a previous marriage, and then we have Leila, who’s 20, and Nick, who’s going to be 17 in the not-so-distant future. And Nick’s got some special needs, but they’re all special in their way, and they all have their own needs. So as anybody who has kids knows, each of your kids have special needs in a certain way.

So for Nick, we find what his interests are. And he’s somehow—we belong to a church on the Upper East Side, and he loves acolyting. That’s his kind of thing. He really enjoys it, to the point where we have to make sure we’re home most Sundays, because he’s now a co-head acolyte and many times is the principal cross bearer. And that’s a big deal to him.

And so he takes a lot of pride in that, and I take a lot of pride in seeing him do that. My parents are gone now. And my mother especially was very heavily involved in church, and the idea that her grandson is doing this would bring her a lot of joy.

I think acceptance is an important trait to have with anybody. I think a lot of the problems we have today are because people are more judgmental than accepting.

And so when you have a child who has special needs, you learn to accept more, but you still have to expect more, to a certain extent. You have to advocate for your child, you have to advocate for yourself, you have to advocate for what you believe they need, and accept that your kid is different, but no less special. And so you find the things that they do well.

And that means, I think, trying everything. I don’t think you put any limits on these kids, because if you do, you never know what they’re going to be able to achieve. Nick couldn’t walk at three years old, and at 12, he got his black belt in tae kwon do. He’s a really avid swimmer, he’s taken up the drums, he travels on the subway system by himself, he has gone to on a couple of church mission trips to Haiti, he’s done sleep away camp—all these things are things I didn’t know that he would ever do, but he does.

I think we accept what his limitations are, but we also accept that we don’t know what his limitlessness is. I think our faith is one of those things that, at first, you think, “Oh, why Nick, why did this happen?” But there are people who are dealing with far worse. And I look, and I say, “You know? I’m blessed to have this son who, in a way, inspires us. He is somebody who God smiled on in a different way.”

And some days—I’m not going to lie—there are some days it’s frustrating. Some days he drives me nuts. But guess what—those are kids, that’s the way it is. My other two kids drive me nuts in other ways. No matter who they are, they’re your children, and on any given day, they’re trying to suck the life out of you—just pull it right out, just leave you a dry husk, barely recognizing that you’re alive.

But then there are other days where you’re bursting, that you can’t believe you could love somebody this much. So if you average it out, it’s pretty good. And if you’re lucky, the great days, or the bursting days are better than the [sucking sound] sucking-the-life-out-of-you days.

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