Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Dad Daze: About a boy who beat extraordinary odds

Ed Condran's Dad Daze column appears Mondays in The Spokesman-Review.

My nephew Danny’s voice was shaking. I knew it was bad since Danny had endured a childhood of neglect and abuse. Danny was demeaned, disappointed and at times devastated by an alcoholic mother and an enigmatic father who left his family days before his only child started first grade. Despite relentless upheaval, Danny was relatively even keel for much of his young life. But palpable fear echoed from the troubled young man who just turned 22. “I don’t know where my mother is,” Danny said, his voice quivering. “She’s been gone for more than 18 hours. Can you try to find her with me?”

It was midnight. We checked the local hospital where she recently spent the night due to intoxication. We learned that she was incarcerated. At 9 a.m., Danny’s mother rear-ended a man leaving a laundromat parking lot. After fleeing, a police officer caught up with her and charged her with drunken driving and leaving the scene. She was sequestered in jail. My sister-in-law never dealt with her crime since she passed away within two weeks. It was a slow and agonizing suicide by vodka.

Danny, who is autistic but high functioning, had no home since his father failed to make an overture.

“That’s OK because I don’t want to live with him anyway,” Danny said. “I don’t even know him.”

After no one stepped up, our family agreed to house the earnest, atypical kid. The question was how to salvage Danny, who moved in with us in 2017 lacking confidence, structure and direction.

The first year there was dependence and the impact of his mother, who was not to be trusted.

“Uncle Ed, you know I would never steal from you,” Danny said. “That’s good, Dan,” I said. “I appreciate that. “Are there cameras in the house?” Danny asked. “Excuse me, I have a date with my dresser drawer,” I said.

My sons’ baseball academy preferred receiving cash, and I had an envelope with $3,200 in cash lying around. I checked for it, and it was gone. Danny initially denied it, but he not only confessed but also revealed that he found a box with all my late parents’ birthday and holiday cards, which were filled with money. It was all gone.

When word leaked out, the outcry from family members who never considered opening their doors for Danny was to boot him to the street. After my anger dissipated, I informed extended family that Danny would stay since I would be worried sick about my nephew, whom I’ve known since he was a toddler. Right around that time, two of his former schoolmates took their lives. Danny, who worked a part-time supermarket job wrangling carts, was lost and frightened.

“You’ve survived one calamity after another, and you’re still standing,” I said. “It’s all going to be downhill from here.” After a stint in community college failed to pan out for Danny, it was time to focus on work. In addition to his supermarket gig, I helped Danny secure a job with FedEx. Danny has not only been working 60 hours a week for just over a year-and-a-half, but he’s also on the straight and narrow. He paid his debt. Danny is independent and has a girlfriend, whom he plans to marry.

Danny isn’t my son, but I told him that he’s an honorary Condran.

It warms my heart to help someone who truly needs support and guidance. I’m optimistic because a kid with a limited skill set, who has been beaten down for most of his life, avoided tragedy and is flourishing. I believe the best we can do in our lives is achieve the most by maxing out our potential, and I believe Danny has nailed it. I look back at the good, not the bad, with my lovable nephew.

“You know I’m very serious,” Danny said shortly after his mother passed away. He then turned and began to make strange, inexplicable noises, which I found oddly comforting. It was one of Danny’s innocuous quirks. And there was the time he was in the shower and left the door open. As I was closing it, Danny’s head abruptly popped out from behind the curtain, and he was wearing glasses, which could have used windshield wipers.

Truth is stranger than fiction. It was like a sitcom at times since there was such a contrast between Danny and my children. That was particularly so with Danny and my son Eddie, who couldn’t be more different than his cousin. My sister-in-law had a greater impact than autism for Danny, who remarkably has left his mother’s memory behind after he clung to her skirt for so many years.

I remember her filling Danny’s sippy cup with cola when her son was 3 years old, and I also recall his mother maxing out four credit cards in her son’s name during the last year of her life. “Uncle, I see all of the damage my mom did, but I’m moving on,” Danny said. “I’m letting all of that go.”

I couldn’t be more proud.