Owen’s Story: A Life-Affirming Piece from Men’s Health

hamiltoncainI found this searing piece in Men’s Health–not the typical source for articles filed under “searing.”  But this essay by Hamilton Cain about his physically challenged son, Owen, is one of the most life-affirming stories I have read in a long time.  It’s entitled “My Son, Solved” and it comes highly recommended from another Owen.

Note that I certainly don’t agree with everything Hamilton Cain stands for.  He has written in Men’s Health before of his support for stem-cell research, a practice I cannot affirm.  He is politically liberal, while I am conservative.  But he loves his son, and that comes out clear as a bell in the article.  His efforts to communicate with him in the midst of a tragic illness that has left Owen unable to speak are, as I said above, nothing less than life-affirming.  (Image: Emiliano Ponzi/Men’s Health)

Cain charts his son’s halting progress with eloquence.  He notes at one particularly moving point how his son seemed to tune in to certain DVDs and programs.  As time went on and Owen’s assistants worked very hard with him, he began to write out his thoughts and feelings, a remarkable step for him.  Here’s what Cain says of his this:

He also started to express his personal wants and tastes. He’d request a specific DVD, like his beloved WALL-E. And he told me he considers “My Flying Saucer” our special song.

I love how this song makes me feel about my dad. It makes me feel happy and healthy on days that are sad. I am only six but I remember when I was a baby and my dad would sing it to me and I loved it. Now I listen to every word every time I hear my song and daddy’s. I love our song very much. I love my dad very much so.

It is well-nigh impossible to read these words in the context of the piece and not choke up.  Before, Owen could not share a single thought with his family.  Now, given the ability to write, he expresses tenderness and deep affection.  In this flawless essay, one glimpses a father’s love for his son, the effect of great assistance by two nurses, and most powerfully, the love of a son for his devoted father. 

The article shows us a bit of what investment in one’s children can bring.  I know next to nothing about Hamilton Cain, but I’m guessing he’s a busy man.  In the midst of his schedule, he took time to bridge the gap between he and his son.  He tried in his own way to connect with him by playing songs to him and singing to him.  Those of us who are tempted to allow productivity and perhaps selfish pursuits to draw us away from our children are reminded by stories like this to push past our sin and our busyness and to involve ourselves in the lives of our children.  You cannot read Owen’s adoring words to his father and not recognize that children soak up all their parents give them–and in turn, often give them gifts sweeter than almost anything else in this life.

We see here as well the power of communication.  In a surprising way, this essay opens up to us just how significant communication is.  Without it, we have little connection with one another.  One cannot help but think of God’s self-revelation to humanity and how gracious an act this is.  Without it, we are all like little Owen, knowing little and unknown in the world.  With it, we find hope, and grace, and love.

We are reminded by pieces like “My Son, Solved”–wherever they may pop up, and they often do in odd places–that life is precious.  It is a gift from God.  It is fragile.  It has been impeded and harmed by the fall of Adam and Eve.  It is filled with struggle and sadness.  It is also filled with love, tenacious love.  As powerful as the love of common grace shows itself to be, love rooted in the sacrificial substitution of Jesus Christ is exponentially greater. 

Indeed, moving as articles like that covered above are, there is a story of love that represents the apex of all others, in which a Father reaches down from an infinite distance in the form of His Son and Spirit to save a people lying helpless, doomed to die, as a result of their infinitely offensive sin.

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  • john schwane

    Thank you for your essay, “The Trouble with Men” in The City. May I offer a few thoughts. You cite Paul’s suggestion in the Pastorals (p. 75) “that the most mature members of the church community be exemplary fathers who fully provide for and spiritually nurture their families.” Is Paul’s counsel not ‘vice versa’: exemplary heads of households (= ‘elders’) are to be respected in their local churches as the spiritual authorities? “By their fruits you will know them.” I wonder whether your way of expressing it perhaps exposes an underlying church problem: mature family men may be emulated in the fellowship, but that emulation does not often transfer to their appointment to spiritual headship and authority. In American churches, what criteria generally are considered for such appointments? One other item. You well document “the sorry situation . . . in an age of widely acknowledged trouble for traditional manhood.” Is there any point, however, for the church to pay much attention to the condition or decline of secular men? The Scriptures were addressed almost entirely to men who revere the true God and even trust His guidance and saving power. If church teaching and spiritual gifts, stewarded by the Holy Spirit, are feeding the disciples of Christ, all will go essentially as the Lord has designed. But if the church focuses on, analyzes, or laments the sorry state of secular men, I fear that the church, even subconsciously, may be attempting to edify itself by marking the contrast. The upshot is that the church appears to be edging closer to the secular status, which represents some sort of least common denominator (cf. Israel’s constant problem of contact with pagan nations). Please understand, your piece was well-reasoned, and I intend to share it with an acquaintance who heads a Christian school. Keep up the good work.
    John Schwane
    P.S. One can’t help but wonder if the abortion culture that has influenced the latter-day church (as detailed in “Abortion & America’s Past,” the piece preceding yours) doesn’t have an intimate connection with the marriage & fatherhood dilemma that you expose.