Ryder Gordon was just 3 years old when he had his first major surgery, but he wasn’t too young to be uncomfortable with the scars that the procedure left around his chest and neck. Four subsequent surgeries to remove tumors caused by a rare genetic condition left Ryder feeling more self-conscious.
That’s when Ryder’s dad, Thomas, had an idea. He couldn’t remove his son’s scars, but he could make Ryder feel less alone.
“From him being kind of embarrassed about his scars, I decided to make myself look like him,” Thomas told Insider. With Ryder in tow, he visited friends who are tattoo artists and requested tattoos that were exact replicas of Ryder’s scars.
Now, father and son —now 9 years old — have matching marks around their necks, scalps, and sternums.
“I wanted him to be comfortable in his own skin,” Thomas said. “It was so hard in the beginning. He wanted us to take his scars off. I just wanted him to know he was okay and to feel normal. I didn’t want him to be embarrassed to take off his shirt. So, I said, ‘I’ll have scars too.'”
Ryder has a genetic condition that causes tumor growth
Ryder has neurofibromatosis, or NF, a genetic condition that causes tumor growth along the nerves. The condition can cause a curved spine, bowed legs, headaches, learning disabilities, and a host of other symptoms.
Depending on where the tumors appear, Ryder needs surgery, chemotherapy, or both to treat them. He’s even had a spinal fusion.
“NF is so challenging because you never know what you’re going to get until you have an MRI scan,” Ryder’s mother, Magi Gordon, said. “You can never take the edge off, because you’re just waiting for the next scan.”
Matching dad made Ryder feel more confident
Ryder will navigate NF for the rest of his life, but Thomas hopes that having matching marks will at least make Ryder’s day-to-day life easier.
“It made him more confident,” Thomas said.
Now, when kids ask about Ryder’s scars, he might joke that they came from a shark attack or motorcycle accident. A few close friends know the real story.
The scar tattoos are Thomas’s favorite now
Thomas also gets unsolicited comments.
“People will say, ‘What happened to you?'” he said. That’s when he explains that they’re tattoos, not actual scars.
The tattoos hurt going on, said Thomas, but they don’t compare to the pain that Ryder has had to live with.
“Mine is minimal compared to what he felt,” Thomas said.
Their impact, however, has been profound. “They’re the most important tattoos I have,” Thomas said.
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