Posted in Autism, Education and Special Needs

Blog #58~ Dad’s Tool Kit

Blog #58~ Dad’s Tool Kit

How does a man growing up land locked in Hot Springs, Arkansas end up racing sailboats on Galveston Bay?  That’s my Dad.  Indulge me this week, I am missing him.  Tommy graduated with a master’s degree from The University of Arkansas and landed a job at as a Research Chemist at Shell Oil Company which brought him to the waters. He built his first boat on his own and fell in love with the sailing.

Dad on the boat he built……..


I think about lessons that I learned from him. It was never formal like those polite moments in the pristine living room between the Beaver and Ward Cleaver.  I just noticed things.

Ward Cleaver

Here’s what I picked up from Dad’s tool kit………

 1. Keep your car clean and vacuumed

Dad was always washing cars, rubbing the interior with a rag and kept them vacuumed on a regular basis. He kept the 1974 green Nova sedan and later the 1981 beige Chevy Chevette immaculate.  I cringe when I see a car with empty cola drinks and bags of fast food discarded in the back seat like it’s a dumpster.  Dad showed me that it was a sign of respect to take care of your valuables.  So there laid the seeds for my need to have order.

When it comes to raising children you need order, especially with a child such as Nick, who has Down syndrome and autism.  A predictable and orderly environment helps him make sense of his world and be able to function better.  It helps me as well to feel in control and stay anchored.

2. Dab it with Mercurochrome™

Dad skipped the Band-Aid opting for Mercurochrome™ instead.  He would douse his cuts and scrapes with this awful red-orange stained antiseptic.


When I was a kid there was a wart on my leg that would not go away. The over-the-counter treatments from the drugstore didn’t do a thing to rid it.  One evening Dad brought some dry ice from work.  He applied it to the wart.  Within a matter of days, it disappeared.  He and mom made sure I had my own fully loaded toolbox when I moved into my own home.  When I started gardening, he gave me one of his sturdy shovels.  I still use that same shovel each spring when I plant the tomato seedlings. In a way, he is right there with me.

AIOtmp (30)

Sometimes finding your own way to take care of things can produce better results.  Over the years I have learned to find my own solutions when Nick came upon a hurdle in his development.  You can’t expect the IEP team members, therapists or doctors to have all the answers.  Sometimes you have to dig on your own to figure out what will work best for your child.  Don’t settle for just a Band-Aid.

3.Read the Wall Street Journal daily

Every morning Dad read the paper and did the crossword puzzle.  Upon retirement he became a regular at the La Porte Library reading the daily Wall Street Journal there. What a thirst for knowledge.  None of us could keep up when Jeopardy was on. Just as Alex Trebek spoke and barely finished his phrase my Dad would have the answer.

Never stop reading and educating yourself. It is essential for parents who have a child with special needs to keep up with the latest news, research.  Education is empowerment and as a parent you owe it to your child to be an informed advocate.

4.Why not give it a try?

In the winter, when the garden was dormant, Dad would bake long loaves of French or pumpernickel bread.

Beard on Bread

For a while Pops got on this Asian cuisine kick.  Once we attempted to make our own eggroll skins.  It was labor intensive and we never mastered the art of getting them thin enough. In hindsight I would suggest just buying the readymade skins at the store.

Dad also travelled extensively across the world when he retired. Whether it was flying across a zip line in Costa Rica in his 70’s or dancing Swan Lake wearing a tutu along with stripped tube socks and Sperry Top Siders  while on a cruise in Russia, he embraced it fully.

Having a child with special needs can bring many limitations to a family.  It’s easy to stay in the safe shell of home but there’s a problem with this.  Your world can become too narrow.  Al and I have tried not to let this happen. Nick has traveled with us on vacations including three different trips overseas to England, France and Spain.  Was it easy?….. NO!

Can it be done?…… YES!

Big Bend in London along with Grandma Theresa (oh no not the fanny pack again)…… 🙂


I never imagined Nick could go scuba diving. But he did! 🙂  If you haven’t read this story check it out, (See Blog #53~ Scuba, Really?  located in the May 2013 archives).  Sometimes the bread comes out perfect.  Other times it’s a big flop, like those sad little egg roll skins.  But you have to give new things a try.  Grab onto that zip line and just hold on tight!

5. There ain’t no crying in baseball

no crying in baseball

Dad loved this movie, A League of Their Own.  A few years ago, at age 76, he got the diagnosis of stage four lung cancer.  I will never forget the message he sent via email quoting that line in the header of his note to family and friends.  Here it is in part……

“While you all are now sitting there long-faced and maybe teary, let me tell you some of the good side: 

I’ve had 76 years (so far) of a great life with a wonderful family and friends.  Over 17 years of retirement, with trips to Europe, Asia, Africa, South and Central America, down under, to mention a few.  And a terrrific  2nd life as an Ensign sailor/crew.”

Raising a child with special needs has brought many obstacles.  Nothing ever comes easy.  Often things seem impossible and unbearable.  Sadness is part of life.  I’ve had my share of pity parties over the past 19 years.  But Dad showed me how to handle problems with quiet dignity.  As I re-read his words above I am reminded of the fact that there are many beautiful things in life that you should always try to keep in the forefront.  Nick’s infectious smile and sense of humor…. Well it’s pretty “terrrrific!” 🙂

Nick and his cousin, Austin playing with Paw-Paw Tommy…..


Hope you enjoyed some of the tools I have picked up from Pops over the years.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.



Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

9 thoughts on “Blog #58~ Dad’s Tool Kit

  1. Your dad raised a truly awesome special daughter who took his gifts and developed lots of her own. Maybe that’s why Nick’s soul picked you as his Mom. He knew you had a toolbox full of the things he needed. Your writing is so inspiring. Thanks again.

  2. This was wonderful Teresa. I too had a great dad and was very blessed to have him live to celebrate his 92nd birthday. He always taught us kids to be a “good hand”. In other words to always give a good day’s work for a good day’s pay. He has been gone almost five years and I still miss him like crazy. What I wouldn’t give to be able to talk to him about what is going on in my life right now. Thanks for sharing so many personal details of your life. It helps me more than you can imagine. Love and hugs, Brenda

    1. Thank you for sharing Brenda, I like your Dad’s wise words, “Be a good hand.” I guess we have to take their spirit and let it live in us. I can tell that he does in you after all you and Robert have dealt with. Handled with perseverance and grace. Hug and love back atcha! 🙂

  3. Ah Theresa the things we learn from our Dads. You are the poster child for my Dad’s saying of choice. Long before “It is what it is” became an overused cliche Dad used to tell is “It is what you make it”.

    You make life a joy not only for Nick but for those that call you friend. I miss you dearly.

    1. Your Dad’s words are wise. It helps to have friends in your corner and you’ve been one for a long time my dear one. Great to hear from you and miss you too.

  4. Teresa, that was a special blog with such insights. Your father, I’m sure, would be proud of you and what you have accomplished. You hold his memory in your heart, your mind and even in your hands as you dig your garden each year! What a tribute to him. Marvelous blog!

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