This really resonated with me. I am am a single dad with two special needs boys. I totally understand his world. Reading this, I am even prouder to be a man.
Father's Love Can Be Thicker Than Blood
By Joe Marciano for The Sporting News http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/3697136
"I want to tell him: This is how I found you,
Joseph. When you were born, you didn't have a dad
and your mom couldn't take care of you. So God chose
me to take care of you."
- Joseph Gabriel Marciano
Like millions of dads, I'll celebrate Father's Day on Sunday. I just
didn't follow the conventional path to paternity. I'm a single parent and
the adoptive father of a 5-year-old boy with autism.
Six years ago, I was 45, divorced and in my 14th season as a special
teams coach in the NFL. My life consisted of football and fishing -- when I
had free time. I felt like I was missing something. That's when I decided I
wanted to experience fatherhood, and I wanted to experience it from birth.
Let's be honest. Most single men would be rejected if they tried to
adopt an infant. But I was lucky. I knew the right people, and I had the
In October 1999, when I was coaching for the Bucs, I went to a foster
home in Tampa and saw a baby boy who was three days old. He was so tiny. I
held him in my arms and fed him his bottle. His eyes were open, looking at
me, the whole time. He wouldn't go to sleep. He just held on to my finger
with one hand and kept drinking. I was hooked.
Three weeks later, I brought him home. I was a father. I named him
after me -- Joseph Gabriel Marciano.
At first, it was like, "Wow!" -- here's this 3-week-old baby, and I'm
responsible for his life. I set his crib next to my bed, and I slept with
one eye open. When he wasn't moving, I'd get up and put my finger under his
nose, just to make sure he was breathing. It didn't bother me to get up a
couple of times at night to feed him because I enjoyed it. I made up for any
lost sleep at work by taking a power nap after my special teams meeting or
I never had any doubts I could balance my career as a football coach
with being a single parent. I've had several good caregivers who have helped
out, both in Tampa and in Houston, after I joined the Texans in 2002. And
I've been fortunate to work for two understanding head coaches -- Tony Dungy
and Dom Capers. There were days when the caregiver didn't come on time and I
had to show up for a 7 a.m. staff meeting with Joseph in one hand and his
diaper bag in the other. That wouldn't fly in a lot of places.
When Joseph was an infant, it was pretty easy because all he did was
eat, sleep and cry. And I became a whiz at changing diapers.
One time, I had Joseph with me in the Bucs' locker room and he needed
a diaper change. When no one was looking, I stuck the dirty diaper in Brad
Culpepper's locker, under his helmet. Culpepper later accused Warren Sapp of
putting it there because Sapp's wife had just had a baby.
Sometimes, I'd take Joseph out in my boat. I'd fish while he napped in
his little cradle. As soon as he woke up, we'd head back in. As he got
older, he'd cry when I turned the motor off. He wanted it running.
A couple of scary things happened when he was an infant. Once, Joseph
woke up at 2 a.m. crying and gasping for air. He was all clogged up and
couldn't breathe. If I stood up and walked with Joseph, he was OK. But as
soon as I put him down, he'd cry. I was in the parking lot at the doctor's
office by 7, even though it didn't open until 8. As it turned out, he had
When I talked to my mom the next day, she said I should have started a
hot shower and let the vapor clear out his breathing passages or I could
have rubbed some Vicks VapoRub on him. She had all kinds of solutions.
Unfortunately, I wasn't thinking straight at 2 in the morning.
Later, when he started to pull himself up on furniture and hold on to
walk, he would drag his right foot, like it was numb. The doctor took an
X-ray but couldn't find anything. A few days later, Joseph started running a
fever, and I couldn't get it under control. He had to be admitted to the
hospital, and this was in the middle of training camp.
The hospital was only 10 minutes away. I'd make two or three trips a
day over there -- I'd be in my coaching gear, all soaking wet -- and then
spend nights. I just wanted to be with Joseph. It killed me to see all those
tubes and IVs coming out of him. I was crying more than he was. It took them
nine days, but the doctors finally got it under control.
It was right after we moved to Houston that I realized something was
seriously wrong. One night, I asked Joseph to pick up his blocks. He threw
himself on the floor and started kicking and screaming. When I pulled him
up, he took off and ran straight into a window. He didn't get hurt, and the
window didn't break, but it was scary.
After my brother, Tony, was hired as an assistant by the Texans, I
invited his family to move in with Joseph and me while their house was being
Joseph would take his toys into his room and not associate with my
brother's kids. Kelly, Tony's wife, was the first one to recognize it. She
said she thought Joseph had some social issues. She was being kind.
I took Joseph to Texas Children's Hospital, where he had a ton of
tests. The diagnosis was that Joseph had autism, a developmental disorder
with symptoms such as impaired social interaction, difficulties in
communication and repetitive behavior. That was not shocking to me. What was
shocking was the doctor gave us no hope. He painted a bleak picture: Joseph
would need adult supervision his entire life, and he might never be able to
I sought a second opinion. That doctor concurred that Joseph was
autistic, but he said it was a hurdle that could be overcome with early
intervention and intense training in ABA -- applied behavior analysis --
which rewards appropriate behavior and ignores behavior you don't want to
recur. It was going to take a lot of hard work on Joseph's part, but it was
a battle he could win.
Just as in football, you have to have a game plan. I just hired a new
caregiver, Michelle Sotelo, who was Joseph's first teacher in Houston, at a
Montessori school. Joseph will start kindergarten in the fall. Michelle will
get him up in the morning and put him on the bus to public school. Then the
bus will take him to her school in the afternoon, and she'll bring him home.
He currently is being home-schooled by Seth Johnson and Claudio
Rodriguez, ABA-trained therapists who are working with Joseph on reading,
writing and arithmetic. Basically, Joseph has to stay ahead of his peers.
What he's doing now most kids are doing in first grade.
Joseph's issues aren't academic. They're social and verbal. Those are
the two main challenges of autism. Joseph will be mainstreamed with typical
children. And the other kids will be his role models for how to behave in
the classroom and in public.
So how has all this changed me as a football coach? I think it has
helped me be a little more patient with players, young ones and veterans
alike. It has helped my time management at work. I'm a lot more structured.
There's no more "I'll get this extra workout in or go for a steam and come
back to my office and work until 6 or 7" because I have somebody to go home
to, someone who needs me.
For the first year of Joseph's life, I exchanged letters with his
birth mother. I sent her pictures of Joseph and told her how great he was
doing. She was a teenager who had gotten into a tough situation, and it
would have been hard for her to raise a child. I thanked her and told her
how much I loved her for what she did.
She also wrote Joseph a letter, which I'm going to give to him when I
know he can understand. Eventually, I will tell Joseph he was adopted.
Right now, through a video and books, he's learning the story of Baby
Moses and how he was found floating in a river. I'm trying to teach Joseph
that's kind of what happened to him.
I want to tell him: This is how I found you, Joseph. When you were
born, you didn't have a dad and your mom couldn't take care of you. So God
chose me to take care of you.
Hopefully, he will grasp it.
No question, being a father outweighs anything that will ever happen
to me in football. If we win the Super Bowl, that will be great. But the
rings and trophies are so temporary. Living this unconditional love I have
for Joseph as a parent outweighs all that in a heartbeat.
Joe Marciano is the special teams coach for the Texans
[Thanks to Jim Donnelly.]