A Birthday Message to Colin

by Bill Brenner on February 13, 2014

A mom from Kalamazoo, Mich., created a Facebook page for her son called “Happy Birthday Colin.” She did so after he told her he had no friends to invite to his upcoming birthday celebration. Colin has issues that are similar to autism, though his specific diagnoses are not yet public. Given my youngest son’s challenges on that front — not to mention my own — this squeezed my heart. What follows is an open letter to Colin.

Mood music:

Dear Colin:

Because of the mental and physical challenges you face, some people have trouble figuring you out. Some classmates and their parents may not be comfortable around you. They mean no harm. It’s just that, unfortunately, human beings often react foolishly to things they don’t understand.

I experienced that as a kid, though probably not to the degree you are experiencing now. Some of the kids who made fun of me back then are good friends today. Because we eventually grow up and learn to understand and even appreciate our differences.

If I’ve learned anything in my own journey, it’s that you can’t always hide from hurt and disappointment. Life is hard. But it’s supposed to be.

It’s how we find out what we’re truly made of.

Item: Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a pampered child whose worldview changed when he was crippled by polio in 1921. A lot of people would have given up right there, but he rebuilt his life, became a mentor to other polio victims and was the longest-serving president in history, dealing with war and economic calamity that could have broken the spirit of healthier leaders. Through it all, he carried on an outward cheeriness that put people at ease.

When I was a kid there were plenty of roadblocks. I missed a lot of school because of Crohn’s Disease and lost a brother when I was only a couple of years older than you are now. My studies suffered, and I was put in a lot of the classes where they put the problem children.

Things worked out, though. I got married and had two kids that are much smarter than I was at that age. I have a job that’s allowed me to do a lot of excellent things (excellent to me, anyway).

You shouldn’t settle for anything less than the life you want. And you shouldn’t resign yourself to the idea that you can’t have good friends.

Item: Abraham Lincoln suffered crippling depression his whole life and lost two of his four children, all in a time before anti-depressants were around. He led the Union through the Civil War and ended slavery.

There will be setbacks and those can be discouraging, but you CAN survive them with the right perspective. Be patient with those around you and they will come around someday.

Item: The drummer from Def Leppard had an arm ripped off in a car wreck. A lot of people thought his career was over. Twenty-six years later, he’s still drumming.

Just keep trying, and never give up on yourself. Nobody can hold you back. Only YOU can hold yourself back.

One more thing: Having a good life doesn’t mean you get to live without the bad stuff from time to time.

It’s easy for people who fight mental illness and neurological disorders to go on an endless, futile search for the happily ever after, where you somehow find the magic bullet to murder your demons, thus beginning years of bliss and carefree existence.

There’s no such thing as happily ever after.

That’s OK.

I believe in you. Your mom certainly believes in you.

The rest is up to you.

Your friend,



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Penny February 15, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Bill, once again you demonstrate your grace. Thank you for sharing this simple yet powerful message of kind encouragement.

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