Viet Nam News -
by Thu Hường
Watching children grow up and learn new things in life brings great happiness to every parent.
However, the joy experienced by so many parents is a source of heartbreak for 63-year-old Nguyễn Văn Bình because his son’s mind has not developed normally over the years. He has been deeply hurt many times upon seeing the boy, who has an intellectual disability, come home with bruises or injuries on his body after being beaten by others.
The great love of the old father for his son, Nguyễn Bình Minh, now 26 years old, has led him to come up with an idea to protect him: writing his phone number and the line “Please do not beat” on his shirt.
On the busy Trường Chinh Street in Hà Nội last month, Minh, caught the attention of every passerby with his strange shirt. Despite his mature build, Minh’s manner is just like that of a three-year-old child. He looks at the street bewildered or sometimes murmurs something nonsensical to himself, then plays with his fingers.
Minh then returns home. From afar, a thin figure of his father stands at the doorstep and silently keeps track of his movements, just like he has done for the past more than 20 years.
In 1990, Bình was pleased to welcome his first son, cute and chubby at birth like every other baby. He named his son Nguyễn Bình Minh, which means "sunrise", and the boy filled his heart with love, hope and expectations. Minh is normal physically, but ever since he was small, his capacity for communication and movement was different from that of other children his age.
“I did not think he was sick at that time, but thought he was less intelligent than others,” Bình said.
When Minh was sent to school at the age of six, symptoms of an intellectual disability became more evident. He was restless, fidgeted all the time and easily lost his temper. Minh talked a lot, but could not be understood because his speech was illogical and fast. He could not memorise the alphabet.”
“I guessed my son had something mentally wrong, so I took him to the hospital to have a health check. The doctor confirmed to me that Minh was mentally retarded,” Bình said.
He has taken his son to every doctor from north to south in search of a cure, but all he has received is disappointing news.
“I even took Minh to the hospital to have a health check when CT scans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging were still brand new medical applications in Việt Nam. However, I was told that mental retardation was incurable,” he said.
Minh could no longer attend normal schools, so Bình had his son study at Bình Minh Primary School in Hoàn Kiếm District, a school for children with intellectual disabilities, in hopes that his mental capacity would improve. There has not been much improvement over the years, so Bình decided to pull Minh out of school in 2005 and teach him at home instead.
Despite the pain and disappointment, the father has always tried to live happily with his son. He has never relinquished his goal of helping Minh learn and integrate into society.
“I still ask Minh to take medicine to prevent convulsions and try to teach him many things,” he said. “I have hoped and been disappointed so many times in the past 26 years, but I have never had an intention of stopping his treatment, because I have not felt tired yet. I have set the target that before Minh reaches 30, he will comprehend more.”
Minh’s mind functions differently, so he enjoys teasing other people, ringing doorbells or throwing stones into their houses.
While mostly harmless, Minh’s antics have caused others to become annoyed, especially those who are unaware of his disability. They sometimes yell furiously at him, humiliate him, or worse, beat him.
Sometimes, Bình sees his son being chased and beaten at the doorstep. Other times, people throw cold water on him. Watching his son’s cries, the old father’s heart is torn into pieces.
Bình sympathises with his son, but he still has to apologise to people who Minh has teased and explain Minh’s disability.
“One day, Minh even had a cut on his head and bled a lot. I kept crying while dressing his wound,” he said. “I had not cried after so many hard years raising him up, but that time I really could not help myself.”
A way to cope
He says he has constantly seen his son beaten and humiliated over the past 20 years. Unable to be by his side all the time, the father came up with the idea of writing a plea for patience and understanding on his shirts – “Please do not beat”.
“I have to write it on every one of his shirts, including the old and new ones,” he said.
Bình said that as a result of wearing the shirts, Minh has suffered less.
“I once caught him being bullied, but after seeing the line on his back, those bullies went away. Some others helped to prevent him from being bullied.”
The phone number on Minh’s back also helps him get back home after losing his way, which reinforces Bình’s belief that there are still many kindhearted people around. Those shirts have also alleviated fears when his son goes out alone.
Now Bình’s daily activities surround caring for Minh, like cooking, bathing him, preparing his medicine and doing therapy. He also reminds Minh to wear the special shirts and return home early when he goes out.
As soon as the door opens, Minh anxiously steps out while his father’s eyes trail behind him until his shadow disappears at the end of the lane. Despite the fear and trepidation, those special shirts have brought some peace of mind to the old father. VNS