In 1988, while taking a class at Bank St. College of Education, I wrote the passage that follows about my hopes and dreams for a five-year-old Teddy’s future. “I know the future holds great promise for my child, but also considerable challenge. I see the next few years as making or breaking the possibility of his full integration into “normal” society as he ages. As a young child, I have been able to shield him from many hurts and prepare him for most social challenges. When I have failed, he has quickly recovered and moved on. He may be rejected by his peers – taken advantage – or accepted. I can only do so much to pave his way toward his acceptance” (p. 7.)
In the year 2002, little has changed. I still do not know what the future holds for my son, but I do know that he has expectations of himself not unlike his peers. My son will soon be nineteen, his childhood is over, and his adulthood has begun. When he first arrived in my life, it was a different world for people with Down syndrome. When I desired a future for him that included the potential to be a lover, a husband, a father – it was unheard-of. We recently watched a film titled I am Sam (Johnson, 2002) where the main character had obvious intellectual similarities to my son. Sam works in a coffee shop for a competitive wage, lives independently in a reasonably-kept apartment, and raises a bright inquisitive six-year-old daughter. This story line would have been unheard-of nineteen years ago, and yet, with all this change, the character Sam has no romantic interests. The mother of his child is a homeless woman from a one-night-stand who disappeared from his life right after the child’s birth. Sam may be a father of his child, but he is still depicted as an asexual man. When his lawyer begins to interact with him in a remotely romantic fashion, Sam is clueless. None of the plot important to the perceived message of this movie would have had to change had Sam raised his daughter with her mother, but that would have raised questions American society is still largely unwilling to consider.
If you ask my son what it means to be eighteen, he will tell you, “I be a man now.” When I last asked him what it means to be a man he said, “ I need a get a job to get money in a office. I need to live in my own house. I need a lot of money to have a house. I look sexy. I need be nice to my girl friend, kissing and moving my body and wear condoms. I need be responsible and have a good attitude. I want kids. I be a good dad, but first I get married. I can drink beer and wine, but not too much and no smoking. Eat healthy food to keep me healthy.” He wants a girlfriend, to get married, to raise children, to work. When we watched the movie I am Sam, I tried to point out the potential similarities to Teddy’s life as an independent adult ( working at the same job for eight years, having a child that social services believes you are unfit to parent), but the portrayal of Sam was so unlike himself or any of his peers with similar disabilities in too many obvious ways for him to make the connection I did.