FACETIME- Lighting the fire: Father, son find healing with candles
Atman Johnson remembers 2002 as a dark year. He lost his wife to heart disease and his job as a food supplier. Making life even harder: Johnson had the sole responsibility of caring for the couple's disabled son. This year, however, Johnson has found a way to bring light– and some money– into his life with a new company.
"I wanted something we could do together," says Johnson of his decision to pursue organic soy candlemaking with his now 19-year-old son, Param, whom he and and his late wife took as an infant foster child and adopted at age 2 1/2, knowing that with cerebral palsy he would need lifelong care.
Johnson describes Param as an "outgoing and highly personable" young man who's confined to a wheelchair and uses a voice box to communicate, and says he took to the enterprise, Golden Presence SoyCandles, right away.
Finding work that the two could do together wasn't easy, but as Johnson reviewed his options, the idea of candlemaking appealed because of his interest in environmentally friendly products. While petroleum-derived paraffin wax, the candle industry standard, emits toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, vegetable-derived soy wax, Johnson explains, burns more cleanly– and up to 50 percent longer– than paraffin.
Despite his physical limitations, Param is able to participate in the candlemaking by overseeing the wax melting. He's able to control the temperature on the hot plates by pressing a button. His father adds scents and vegetable dyes– all organic– before pouring the melted product into various shaped containers.
So far, the Johnsons have been generating buzz by word of mouth, in addition to selling their wares at the City Market, on the Downtown Mall, and at church markets, including a fair at their own Church of the Incarnation.
"I think this gives Atman a chance to express himself artistically," says Lauryn Mathena, the church's outreach minister. "We thought we knew a lot about them," she says. "Now we know they have this creativity, this artistic ability, to produce these beautiful candles, and it gives us a chance to support Atman and Param and to watch this little family business blossom."
Because of his tight financial situation, Johnson hopes to see Golden Presence candles in stores locally and one day, perhaps, beyond. Param's adoption subsidy, the father and son's only income after Johnson lost his job, will end less than two years from now when Param turns 21, though Johnson will continue to provide full-time care for him long beyond that.
Even more than earning a living, however, Johnson says he hopes to spread the positive energy he and his son share while making the candles.
"I feel," he says, "that there's a spiritual significance to burning candles."