Ryan and Heather Keating’s son Ayden has been obsessed with flags since he was only a few years old.
“I don’t remember how it started,” Ryan told OI, “but he was always carrying a flag around. “I thought it was just a phase but obviously it continued.”
“People would see him out in public with a flag and ask if he collects flags,” Ryan said. “The next thing you know, members of the community, family, and friends start sending him flags from everywhere.”
His parents noticed that Ayden, now 11, lately had been very drawn to the inflatable “tube men” and found one in similar colors to the American flag as a birthday present. Ryan recorded his son’s reaction and posted it to YouTube for friends and family to see.
Ryan had no idea his video was about to make his son a viral internet star.
A few days after Ryan posted the video, a user named “GiftedGaia” posted a link to the video on the site reddit. Within hours, the video had generated tens of thousands of views and over 28,000 people had “upvoted” (or liked) the reddit thread.
Commenters were drawn both to Ayden’s unbridled joy for his new gift but also how he seemed so happy in his room watching his flag blowing in the breeze of the fan.
“That is awesome! He looks so happy,” redditor “ars3nic3” commented about the clip, a common refrain among those who commented on the video.
The redditor who posted the video later mentioned Ayden’s collecting flags and the internet took it from there.
“That’s why we have the fan in there,” Ryan joked. “It’s the best babysitter you can get.”
Ryan said friends started contacting him about the video going viral beyond reddit.
“They messaged me and asked ‘did you know your son was trending on The Chive yesterday?’ and “did you know he’s on the front page of Imgur?'” Ryan said. “So I got on there and read the comments and the comments were just as beautiful as reddit.”
“I woke up yesterday to over 100,000 views on the video,” Ryan told OI. “This morning I checked it again and it was almost 300,000.”
The family started receiving messages from redditors who wanted to send Ayden flags for his collection from their country or state or organization. Ryan told OI that watching people from around the world who don’t know them reaching out to bless Ayden was an incredibly humbling experience.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had in my whole life,” Ryan said. “I’ve never felt more proud of my son, I’ve never felt better about just humanity in general. These are people we likely will never know, we’ll never see them, but they feel the need to give my son a gift. That’s amazing.”
Ryan has also received a tremendous amount of praise from viewers of the video for his obvious love for his son, who has Down Syndrome. A number of viewers commented on learning more about Down Syndrome from watching the video, especially about Ayden’s waving his hands being something called “stimming” that can happen during times of overstimulation.
Commenters also singled out the moment in the video between father and son when Ayden came in for a hug and when Ryan said “totally worth it.” One redditor commented that “this dude does life.”
Throughout the interview with OI, Ayden kept getting into his closet and bringing out different flags that he would bring over to show off and then take to the fan to display them blowing in the breeze.
Ryan told OI that Ayden also knows exactly how many flags are in his collection and where he can find them at any time.
“He knows every single one of those flags,” Ryan said. “We’ve had to get rid of some because they’ve been tore up, stained and things like that. But he can fill our entire 1,700 square foot house on every wall with flags.”
The family says they’ve not yet received flags through the mail from people who discovered the video on the internet but have received messages from people who said they have sent something to Ayden. They have set up a post office box for anyone who would like to contribute a flag to Ayden’s collection:
Attn: Ayden’s Flag Collection
PO Box 1667
Nixa, MO 65714
Ryan said he and his wife are humbled and grateful for everyone who has made a kind comment online or is sending their son a gift.