Adrian Patayon doesn’t want you to pity him.
He was born with cerebral palsy. He walks with a limp, has slurred speech and his hands shake.
Growing up in Hawaii, kids teased him because they saw him as “different.”
“I fit in, but I didn’t fit in,” Patayon said. “I couldn’t do what the other kids were doing, or if I could, I was slower.”
The pain of feeling unaccepted by his peers led him to drink and then become depressed. His drinking didn’t mix well with his depression. It only made it worse.
“I lost jobs, I lost family members, I lost my oldest friends because of my drinking,” Patayon said. “The more I drank, the more depressed I got, the more I drank.”
When he was 26, he moved from the Big Island to the mainland as a way to start over. He moved in with his brother’s family and put himself through treatment for alcoholism and depression. It took years and a lot of hard work, but he found his second chance.
“I know I can’t change, that I will always have this leg and this limp,” he said. “Once I finally accepted it, my life became easier. I knew I could do what I needed to do.”
He shares his story in his book “Adrian’s Aloha Song,” a memoir of his life with cerebral palsy. He recounts his ups and downs through childhood and into adulthood dealing with his disability and explains how he learned to accept himself for who he is, imperfections and all.
He will have a signing of the self-published book May 24 at the Arc of Snohomish County’s annual membership dinner. Order the book from Trafford Publishing at www.trafford.com. It’s a quick read at 96 pages.
Now 52, Patayon is happy to be himself. He’s nearly 22 years sober and managing his depression. He has a job he loves and shares a house in Everett with his former sister-in-law.
His hope is that his story will help others who are struggling with their disability to accept themselves for who they are, too.
“I’m not here to ask for your pity,” he said. “I’m here to help you change your life.”
Tell me about your book.
It’s the story of my life. I was born with a disability called cerebral palsy or CP, but I didn’t find that out until I was 12. Kids made fun of me. They would call me names like “MR” because they thought I was mentally retarded or “drunk man” because of the way I walk. It was really hurtful. I didn’t understand why kids were teasing me. I didn’t understand why I was the way I was. After I was diagnosed, doctors told me I would never use a knife, never climb a ladder, drive a car or operate machinery. So many people told me, “There’s no way you can do this.” But in my heart and my mind I told myself, “You can do it,” so I kept on trying. I proved them wrong.
What inspired you to write a book?
I want to help other people with disabilities (and their families) realize that they’re not alone. There are a lot of safety nets out there now — research, services and support groups — that I didn’t have in the ’60s when I was a kid. All you have to do is make a call, and you can have answers to your questions. I just want to say to them, ‘Hey, you can do it. Just give yourself a shot.’ ” I hope I can change someone’s life. If I can touch one life, then that would be my honor.
Regarding the title of your book, do you sing or play?
Yes, I play the guitar. I picked it up when I was 5 years old. My oldest brother, my uncle and one of my grandpas used to play Filipino songs on the mandolin, so I would grab my guitar and just follow along. It feels good to play. I love music. I don’t know the chords, I just play from my heart. I just listen and go with the flow. I play Hawaiian, jazz and Filipino. I bought a brand new guitar two years ago, but I haven’t had a chance to play it. My focus has been on getting my book published.
You mention in your book that you wanted to be a disc jockey. Why a DJ?
Because I love music and I love to talk to people. I wanted to be a DJ since I was very young. When I was 15, I called the radio station in Honolulu and started talking to the DJ off the air, and then he invited me to the station. I started buying my own collection of LPs and 45s, which I still have today. I have Three Dog Night, Chicago, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac. Disco came out in the ’70s, so I have a lot of disco. People told me I couldn’t be a DJ because of my speech. I did some speech exercises to learn how to talk like a DJ, but I couldn’t do it. I had to look for a different career.
Instead of a DJ, you became a janitor.
That’s right. I’ve been in the custodial business for 40 years, working for small companies and big companies. I’ve worked for Boeing, the city of Everett, the city of Lynnwood, the Everett Naval Station. I even had my own company. Right now I work for Varsity Contractors as a janitor part time because I’m semi-retired. I clean three buildings in Mill Creek. I really enjoy what I do. I look at it like I’m cleaning my own home. You want to keep it tidy and looking good in case you have guests. I want my customers to walk into a building that is nice and clean. I always try to do my best. If your customers are happy, then your boss is happy. I really love to be a janitor. I don’t know why, but that’s my passion right there. I’ll do it until I retire.
What do you do to help others with disabilities?
I serve on the board for the Arc of Snohomish County, which offers support for people with disabilities and their families. I’ve been a director since 2006. We’re one of the smaller chapters in the state, but we have many services and programs that offer lifetime support. I’m also a director-at-large for the Arc of Washington State’s board and a member of the state Developmental Disability Council. I advocate for people with disabilities. I mostly advocate for programs that help people who want to live independently. The thing I’m worried about now is Medicaid because so many people with disabilities rely on it for medical care. I don’t know how far the government will cut the budget.
If you could share a meal with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I would have a meal with Lee Bussard. He was an author and had CP just like me. (Bussard died in 1999 at the age of 42, two years after publishing his memoir “More Alike than Different.”) I read his book. He had a similar story to mine and wrote about what it’s like to live with CP. He was a motivational speaker who would travel around the world talking about living with a disability. That’s my goal for this book.
Finish this sentence: People would be shocked to know…
That I’m in recovery. I live independently, I have my own car, I work on my own. I’m involved in a lot of organizations dealing with people with developmental disabilities. And I think they would be more shocked to know that I try to help or save lives in any way I can.
What is your most proud moment?
I don’t have just one proud moment. Each time I prove the doctors wrong is a proud moment. I’m living a life no one imagined for me. I’ve been appointed by two governors to serve on the Developmental Disability Council. I have letters from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen thanking me for all the work I’ve done to advocate for people with developmental disabilities. I was named Arc of Snohomish County’s Citizen of the Year in 2004.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @sarabruestle.
Adrian Patayon will be signing copies of “Adrian’s Aloha Song” May 24 at the Arc Annual Membership Dinner, held at The Old Spaghetti Factory, 2509 196th St. SW, Lynnwood. The book will be available for purchase. A paperback is $13.95; hardcover $23.95. Dinner is optional for $13. Membership to the organization is not required to attend. Registration opens at 5:15 p.m.; dinner is at 5:30. For more information, go to www.arcsno.org.