The Square Root of Father’s Day

By Hackie Reitman, M.D.


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Hackie holds a young Rebecca after a boxing match

You’re a dad. Though maybe you didn’t recognize it at the time, your child has a brain that’s a bit different. You know that when she was growing up you could have done some things differently. Even though you had the best of intentions you could have been a better dad. Don’t beat yourself up this Father’s Day.

That’s my job.

My 33 year old daughter Rebecca has Asperger’s. She often reminds me: “Dad, sometimes good intentions are not enough.” My only child tells the truth. “If you don’t want the brutal truth, don’t ask the question,” she says.

I can’t help it, but in the days leading up to Father Day, when I should be focused on celebrating with my wonderful daughter, the mistakes I made as a dad loom up like an elephant in the room. I can’t help but shake my head and think “If only I knew what I know now.” But I was clueless about so many important things when Rebecca was growing up. Why couldn’t I have…

Just as I am beating myself up, I receive an e-mail from Rebecca:

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I smile and realize how lucky I am to be Rebecca’s dad. Suddenly, I am smiling, totally looking forward to my Sunday time with Rebecca.

Every year, Rebecca gives me a heartfelt card and two great gifts for Father’s Day.

One gift is a bottle of the Original Mennen’s After Shave. As Rebecca knows, when I was a toddler, every morning, my dad would hug me and press his clean-shaven cheek to my cheek before leaving the house to work at the family gas station. I think of my dad every time I slap on the Mennen’s. The scent transports me.

The Reitman family's gas station, circa 1958.
The Reitman family’s gas station, circa 1958.

The other gift is a numerical “Rebecca’s Father” T shirt. Yes, I have the whole collection. And this is year 34!

Gifts from Rebecca for Father's Day 2011
Gifts from Rebecca for Father’s Day 2011

It’s not just her Discrete Math Degree from Georgia Tech that dictates that I meet her at 11:56 am– it’s the way her brain works. The careful choice of a specific number, her hyper-interest in mathematics, her desire to apply that to life in general… It all makes sense to her, and it is making sense to me more and more. The more I learn, the more all the dots connect.

While she will not share specifics with me ahead of time, I suspect she’ll treat me to a breakfast at the Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner from her apartment. We’ll probably go for a walk, and maybe chat about some of the issues in her grad psych classes. The whole time will be quality time, one-on-one with her dad, just how she likes it. She’ll even be nicer to me than usual. I will look at her, and be grateful that I am now appreciating more and more the amazing human being who is my daughter. If this Father’s Day is like the others, it will end with a big hug, and a blissful dad exclaiming, “Rebecca, this is the best Father’s Day ever. I love you all the time no matter what.”

Aspies aren’t the only ones who tell the truth.

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Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, “The Square Root of 2” (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s “Scandal”), and is the author of the book “Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity” from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”

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