Papa, the Shillelagh, and a head in the clouds….

As I was growing up, I recall my mother often seemed practically concerned about my fanciful ways and ideas, and my tendency to have my head somewhat ‘in the clouds.’ My mother might be considered a bit of a worrier, and she is also practical, highly organized, endlessly supportive, and the kind of person that everyone trusts instantly and talks to as though they have been friends for years.

I vividly remember my father quietly, perhaps even subversively, layering in his perspective: “Leah… it’s okay to have your head in the clouds… as long as your feet are on the ground…”

My reflections here are not meant as a comparison that one parent’s perspective was better or preferable to another, or that one of my parents was more supportive, as that is not the case. The reality though, is that my parents are two different people, who offer different perspectives, and with whom I have a completely different relationship. I am a mix of both of them… and I am grateful to them both as well.

But this post is about my father – Papa, to his grandchildren…

This man who would sometimes say, “Leah, come and sing for me…” and meant it.

When I was a child and young adult, my father cultivated my love of language and irony and wordplay. He challenged and nudged my cognitive process with philosophy, politics, ideals of social justice, and a multitude of theoretical frameworks. He encouraged the exploration and entertainment of possibility and he somehow paired this with an unspoken expectation that it was hard work that would lead to success in a way that never squelched the dreams.

I felt this as acceptance… and with it came an understanding and a certainty that my Dad completely trusted that my often fanciful, creative, and imaginative ways were something to be nurtured – not reined in.

I feel this still…

This same acceptance and understanding that I have always felt from my father, is embodied in what I observe in his relationship with H.

When H was little he used to climb on his Papa’s lap and run his hands over the sides of his face. He would say, “Papa, I like your cheeks… They are so soft… They are so comfy…”

My dad would melt…

In a way this is a metaphor for their relationship. Papa is comfy: he is a careful listener and a curious and keen observer. He is comfortable with H’s quietness as well as his boisterous side, the part that simply refuses to be contained. He will support a fanciful notion and give wings to lofty ideas, and at the same time he can ground a fear with solid reality and a few carefully chosen words.

He is deeply – deeply accepting.

And every time I see him interact with H, I glimpse that same caring, tenderness, understanding, and love that has been extended to me…

And I am deeply – deeply appreciative…


Papa wowed H with the unexpected gift of his shillelagh! I love this photo that so perfectly captures the love and connection between these two.

Related post:
A conversation with my Dad: Buffers, Limits, and Approximating Perfection


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
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11 Responses to Papa, the Shillelagh, and a head in the clouds….

  1. colinb897 says:

    Lovely Leah. Now, all we have to do is make sure that all professionals and others minded to intervene in the lives of our children, are trained and supported to be like your father.


  2. I love this…and perfectly fitting for St. Patrick’s Day. 🙂


  3. autisticook says:

    That really is a gorgeous picture. Such a connection! Brings a smile to my face. 🙂


  4. dear leah, you are truly blessed to have such a loving,perceptive father.aspies respond well to aspies/older people.possible links?regards patricia AS


  5. This is wonderful. What a terrific man to help you along on your life journeys.


  6. Pingback: Holding Space as Acceptance, Love, and Self-care: #AutismPositivity2015 | Thirty Days of Autism

  7. Pingback: Holding Space as Acceptance, Love, and Self-care: #AutismPositivity2015 | Autism Positivity Day Flash Blog

  8. Pingback: Holding Space as Acceptance, Love, and Self-care: One year later… | Thirty Days of Autism

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