Derrick Pendergrass sees the world through a small window. The shades are drawn on the left side, the panes foggy and blurred on the right.
When you’re visually impaired, sounds are magnified. What can’t be seen can be heard. And appreciated. And even cherished.
“Who doesn’t love the sound of little feet running up and down the hall?’’ Derrick asked.
Those footsteps belong to his 5-year-old son, Corbin, who brings the blessed assurance that every day is Father’s Day.
Kindergarten graduation. Giggles at the bowling alley. Summer trips to get ice cream. Wide-eyed explanations from the back seat of the car. Another visit from the tooth fairy this past week.
When he was a baby, the first words out of Corbin’s mouth were “Dada.’’
For Derrick, the joys of fatherhood must keep pace with the daily challenges. He has no vision in his left eye and limited sight in his right eye after he was born two months premature and spent his first eight weeks in an incubator.
He is a licensed marriage and family therapist with Crossroads Christian Counseling Center in Macon. He serves as a part-time chaplain at the Medical Center, Navicent Health. On Sunday mornings, you often can find him playing guitar and singing in the praise band at Forest Hills United Methodist Church.
He married well, too. Hope McMichael Pendergrass was valedictorian of her senior class at Putnam County High School, graduated from Wesleyan College and has been a CPA with Mauldin & Jenkins for the past 15 years.
She also is the answer to a local trivia question. She was the first baby delivered by a physician staff member from Mercer University’s new medical school on Saturday, Nov. 8, 1980. That’s a sacred date for Georgia football fans — the day of the famous touchdown pass from Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott beat Florida and propelled the Bulldogs to a national championship.
Her birthday was pretty special 23 years later in 2003, when Derrick asked her to marry him. (He was predestined to be a Dogs fan, too, since he grew up in Athens.)
They met through a mutual friend in Macon, and folks would later chuckle and wonder if it truly was a “blind date.’’ Hope immediately was drawn to his sweet spirit and positive attitude. The glass was always half full, even if he couldn’t fully see it.
“He is focused on moving forward instead of wallowing in the way things are,’’ she said. “It would be easy for him, of all people, to talk about what he can’t do or wasn’t going to do instead of what he can.’’
She had no doubts he was going to be a fantastic father.
“People asked me when I was pregnant if I had any concerns about having a child with someone who was visually impaired,’’ she said. “I didn’t have it all figured out, but I had zero concerns. I knew it was going to be OK."
Corbin is a rising first-grader at Rosa Taylor Elementary School and is attending the “Kid’s College” at Wesleyan this summer.
He will turn 6 in August, and his arrival in the world in 2012 was a sharp contrast to his father.
Derrick and his twin sister, Leslie, were born nine weeks premature in 1978. Derrick weighed 2.5 pounds and was kept in the neonatal unit at Eugene Talmadge Memorial Hospital in Augusta.
Corbin was a week late and had a birth weight of 10 pounds, 1 ounce. He was delivered by Caesarean section, and his father spent part of the time picking himself up off the floor.
“They let me go into the (delivery) room with my cane, and they handed him to me,’’ Derrick said. “His head was hanging off here, and his feet over here, and I said, ‘You’re going to have to take him now. I’m about to pass out.’ I held on to my cane and slid down to my knees. It was the reality of the moment. Before, she was just pregnant. I don’t think it hit home until then.’’
Fatherhood was terrifying. It was exhausting.
“I remember holding him in a chair because he couldn’t sleep,’’ he said. “He was crying, and I was crying because it was 4 in the morning.’’
Those early months of new parenthood were an emotional tsunami.
“It was the reality of taking on the responsibility to raise and nurture a child and it not all be about myself,’’ he said. “That meant something to me. My dad wasn’t around a lot when I was growing up. He taught me some valuable lessons, but he admits he wasn’t ready to be a dad.’’
Corbin shares his daddy’s love of music. He has been taught the importance of good manners and being prayerful and helpful, like holding the door for people and carrying in the groceries from the car.
“I don’t know how much he understands about my vision,’’ Derrick said. “I think he does a little. Sometimes it can be a challenge in a restaurant. But, rather than hold onto her, I hold on to him and say, ‘Let’s go!’ ’’
Said Hope: “We call him our ‘Seeing Eye Corbin.’’’
Although Derrick cannot drive and often works long hours, he finds time for his son. After all, you never “have’’ time. You make time. It’s called the spirit of presence.
The family plans to attend a Macon Bacon baseball game in the near future.
“Derrick won’t be able to see the game,’’ Hope said. “But he’ll be there.’’
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy and is the author of nine books. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.