If you’ve listened to BreakPoint over the years, you know I don’t talk much about my personal life, my feelings, or my family. Because that’s not what BreakPoint is all about.
But now that my daughter Emily has written her wonderful new book Dancing with Max, about her life with my autistic grandson, it’s time to peel back that curtain just a bit.
In the prologue, I confess my biggest mistake. I had been so busy in politics trying to change the world, that I failed my children as a father. Especially Emily. I was seldom there for her.
But, at the most crucial time in my life, she was there for me.
It was in the 1980s, I was lying in a hospital bed. A tumor and post-surgical complications had me teetering on the verge of death.
And for 11 unbelievably painful, delirious, and yet, beautiful days, Emily was by my side, ministering to me physically and spiritually.
I am so grateful that God not only spared my life, He gave me my daughter back. We have grown together in Christ, and we’re as close as a father and daughter can be. And especially so, because of Max.
As Emily describes so beautifully in the book, Max has been a crucible of grace, trial, and love for her and for our family. And as I’ve said over the past few days, Max and Emily have taught me what true, self-sacrificial, agape love is.
But Max has taught me some other things along the way.
Ninety percent of my time is spent trying to get people to see the world the way I do. That’s what a teacher does. But I can’t do that with Max. For me to connect with him, I've got to think the way HE does. I, Mr. Type-A+ personality, have to stop what I’m doing, step away from the dictation machine, and get down on my creeky old knees and learn exactly why building Legos is a blast. I have to understand why going to the zoo for the umpteenth time really is fun. And I have to be as excited as he is at seeing the same old banana tree—over and over again.
I must admit that Max has taught me empathy. Just last week, I was on the plane headed home, worn out from a busy week. I wanted to rest. But right behind me was a mother with a young child. And of course, the child screamed the whole way.
Before Max came into my life and I saw the meltdowns that Emily had to handle, my irritation with that mom would have known no bounds. But all I could do was smile at her in sympathy.
Max has also taught me to laugh at myself. As I write in the book, whenever Max visits, he stops by the “ego” wall in my office—where I have pictures of myself with important people. Yes, I confess I have one of those. Max loves reciting, “Grandpa and President Bush, Grandpa and Billy Graham.” But Max is not allowed to turn on the ceiling fans in our home. Given his fascination with motors, he’d turn them on and off repeatedly and burn out the motor. Max knows that only Grandpa turns on the fans.
Well, one day in school, Max’s teacher asked him about a recent visit to Grandpa’s house, and Max told him about the pictures. After the teacher confirmed with Emily that I had indeed worked in the White House, she asked Max what his Grandpa did there.
Max simply said, “He turned on the fans.”
I hope you'll read Dancing with Max. Emily proves that no matter how tought life gets, there is hope—hope that your biggest problem can become your biggest blessing.