Mark Richard Southworth
Photo by Winnie Southworth
Mark is our son. He was born in 1970 and the original reflection was written around 1983 when he was thirteen years old.
"It means he will be an emotional and financial burden on you for the rest of his life." I had asked our pediatrician what he meant when he described our newborn son as a mongoloid. His response did not really answer my question, but it left me feeling cold and empty inside. The next few days were filled with conferences and discussions with doctors, family, and friends. Many of them tried to convince us that we should not take him home, but should place him in an institution. They succeeded in persuading me not to name him Richard Junior, a decision that I have somehow regretted. Deep inside, Winnie and I both knew we would take him home. Whatever his problems, we loved our son, and we would make him a part of our family.
Mongoloid is an outdated term for a genetic disorder now known as Down's Syndrome, and when you look at Mark you can see some of the distinguishing features of that condition. He sometimes appears uncoordinated and struggles to form his words properly. His susceptibility to colds and ear infections and the like seems greater than that of our other children. But Mark brings his own special brand of joy and happiness to our family. His zest for life has forced us to grow, and his congeniality has allowed him to win the hearts of many who at first did not accept him. He will quickly tell you, "I Maark Soufworff." He is Daddy's "Bud-dee."
At thirteen Mark looks like the original "towhead," with his blonde ruffled hair and husky build. When he runs he gets a determined look on his face, and his whole body twists and turns like someone trying to do three different exercises at once. His pants slide down just under his belly which bulges out just a little more than it should. Mark always manages to look just a little disheveled with his coat unbuttoned and at least one shoe untied. I can still see him standing in front of the church one Sunday, all decked out in his suit and tie, with his shirt tail hanging out below his jacket. He sings in the choir, and he really puts himself into his singing. It is only the rest of us who think he is out of tune.
Mark loves life and lives it happily and naturally. When Winnie cried at the death of her mother, he laid down beside her and just patted her head gently. He seemed to know that no words would help. When I begin to fuss, it is difficult to continue when he takes me by both shoulders like a stern father and says, "Daddy not fuss, bad Daddy." Mark goes about life in such a happy, giggly mood that we often call him "Poppin Fresh." One finger to the stomach will bring all the giggles and wiggles of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. When his older sister's boy-friend calls, he yells, "Sissy, 'mhere," laughs at her, and rubs one index finger along the other to tease her.
Mark prays spontaneously and naturally, and it seems he has a special channel directly to heaven. When a smaller van replaced his big school bus we were told the change was permanent. Mark simply prayed each day, "Oh Cod! Big bus, pease, Amen," and the little bus broke down. His "Thank you Cod" ended the matter, and the little bus never showed up again. One Saturday I spent all day trying unsuccessfully to repair a leaky pipe and lost my temper. Mark said very matter-of-factly, "Daddy not fuss, pray." He then squinted his eyes closed, clasped his hands together, and said, "Oh Cod, not leak. Amen." It did not leak. When told that his Grandmother had died, he said, "I know. Be with God." Winnie told him he would not see his Grandmother anymore, to which he responded, "I can," closed his eyes. and said, "I See".
Mark makes friends everywhere. He and I were walking in a large shopping mall and he walked up to a woman and said, "My friend." The woman immediately launched into a long story about how she had met Mark at a school function. Another time we went to an art exhibit with his sisters at another school. We saw no one we knew, but Mark did. He saw an aide from another class in his school who said, "Oh, you must be Mark's parents." She then took us to another area of the show where we learned that Mark too had an entry in the show. He and I recently went to the bank, where Mark immediately began a conversation with the lady at the drive-in window. He then held up three fingers and said simply, "Three pop," and received his three grape lollypops, but only after they had engaged in a conversation that left the line of cars just a bit longer. (One for him and one for each of his two sisters)
We experience some painful times too, like when he sits on the floor at his sister's door and sobs because she needs a little time for herself and will not let him in. Or when he comes in from outside with his head down, his lip stuck out, and a tear in his eyes and says, "They mean, not play." At times when we try to discipline him he sobs his heart out, and I know he just does not understand. He often struggles with a "simple" task, and I am seized by a strong desire to help him. His determined, "No, not you. 1 do it myself," lets me know quickly that I must let him grow. The most painful times come when he is not accepted, and this seems to be most difficult for his sisters. As his ten year old sister writes, "He's normal, but you just don't think so. People laugh at my brother, and that makes me mad. They are not people in my category, because they don't accept one of God's best creations in the universe!!!"
There are times when my desire to heal Mark brings tears to my eyes, but were I granted that healing power I would have to search my soul before deciding to use it. I know some will not understand, but I do not see Mark as defective. I do not deny that his intellectual ability falls short of the average, or that he speaks in simple, broken English, or that he sometimes "runs funny." But that doctor was wrong. Mark is not a burden - he is a blessing. Somehow I know that he has his own mission to fulfill. I love him especially because of his uniqueness, and to think of changing him in any way causes me to hesitate. He is a perfect Mark.
Mark is now fifty-one years old, and he has lived with us all of his life. Winnie and I have never regretted taking Mark home. He has never been either and emotional or a financial burden. He has been a blessing all of his life. He has worked most all of this adult life and pays his own way in the family. As Winnie and I have gotten older he has been a really big help for us. He does the dishes, takes out the trash, and runs the vacuum over the whole house, mostly without being asked. He sees it all as his job and he just does it with only very occasional encouragement. When I remind him of something he says, "I know" and goes and does it. He even goes over to his sisters house and does her dishes and is disappointed when he can't get that done because of other activities.. On most days we also have a short prayer time three times a day, and he holds us to it and participates. He watches church services online sometimes for hours at a time. He has a Sunday School class that he loves and is an active participant. He has heard me talking about needing to finish my second book, and now "Help Daddy with his book" is a regular part of his prayer with us.
Mark does not sing in the choir now, but he does sing along with the songs in church, even when we watch church online. His speech has gotten better in recent years, and he generally dresses himself well with only minor guidance. For a few years Mark volunteered with the local fire department, and I asked one of the fireman if they had any trouble understanding Mark. His response was "oh we speak Mark here."
When we were on the staff of a non-denominational Christian Center some years ago a lady who had lost her husband a few months earlier asked if she could come for a week or so. she hoped time away might help her heal. when she was leaving i said I hoped the time away had helped her Not knowing Mark was my son she said it was funny just a few days ago this boy came running by where I sat rocking I was crying so I put my head down and l put my hand over my eyes as if blocking the sun. He run by but came back, knelt in front of me I didn't know what he was going to do But he put his arms around me, patted my back like a Mother would a child. I just cried! He stayed like that, until I stopped. He then gave me a wonderful smile and left. In those moments I felt as if God had let me know everything was going to be ok. So yes my time here gave me peace! Many people came to us including minsters who said they came there believing disabilities came from sin but Mark chanced that. I truly feel and have seen how God has used this smiling , from His heart, man to heal people And I thanks God for the gift he truly is!