at 11:43 PM

When the day is done, after my final glimpse at the stars and before I head for my own bed, I go to Ian. There is a stone on his windowsill; a special stone from a sad, yet beautiful place in my life. It lays there next to his bed, as it has since the day Ian was born; smooth, grey, cool to the touch, unremarkable and yet full of meaning. I touch the stone, kiss my fingers, and gently touch my autistic son's sleeping head.

I tell him how much I love him, and last of all I say, "You're a good boy." I say it very carefully and clearly so that the words will mix in with his dreams, so that no matter how his day has gone, those words will be a part of him.

Each morning as we head our separate ways, I say, "Be good. Have a fun day!" These words are so different from those said at night. There is no stone, no ritual. They are just words I say, rote words, words said almost without thinking.

One morning, it was as though Ian had heard them for the first time, for he paused and said, "You be a good man today."

Those words struck me and were with me the whole day. They are with me still. I try to use them when my demons are with me, on those dark days when I fight them from one long minute to the next. The days when my demons find the light at the end of that long, long tunnel and try to put it out. When those days come, I don't feel like such a good man, I don't feel like much of a man at all.

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But then I come home and I look at my son -- walking the journey of his life -- and his constant struggle to make sense of the world and to find his place in it. His words come to me.

"Be a good man."

I have so much to learn from him.

With a Perspective, I'm Hank Smith.

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Hank Smith teaches kindergarten and music in Upper Lake, California, and has authored a book about parenting an autistic child.

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