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My son Jake was born with significant learning disabilities. A sports enthusiast Jake gamely tried T-ball, pitching machine baseball and grade school basketball with decreasing success. But everyone loved having him on the team because no one showed the joy that Jake showed when he managed to make a play.

Jake spent most of his high school years at a small private school for children with serious learning issues. Approaching his senior year he rebelled and insisted on attending the local high school so he could play sports. He wanted to play football but his cerebral shunt and small size said no way. The coach made Jake an equipment manager and, as something of a team mascot, Jake, running at full speed, led the team onto the field at the start of each game.

Jake also joined the lacrosse team. He loved to run into opposing players, a move that became known as "jakelizing" the opponent. Catching the ball in the stick remained a challenge, however. But again Jake's enthusiasm and desire proved contagious.

I tell you this not to suggest that I, as Jake's father, deserve any credit for Jake's success. I've made too many mistakes when my own frustrations led me to say or do things that I am sure were hurtful to him.

It's not about what I could teach Jake, but about what Jake has taught me. You see, I was one of those achievers growing up, a reasonably talented jock, good grades, class president, good colleges. Without Jake, that is what I would have thought life was about, and that is what I would have expected of my son. Jake saved me from all that.


Jake taught me about grace, the grace that allows me to meet another human being where they are, not where I want them to be. The grace that offers encouragement rather than judgment. The grace that nurtures rather than drives.

We can't have too much grace in this world. I still struggle to live up to the word.  It can be discouraging. But when I do get it right, it's worth all the struggle or, as Jake would say, "it's a home run!"

With a Perspective, I'm Dick Heinzelman.

Dick Heinzelman is a retired hi-tech sales and marketing executive. He lives in Napa.

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