A few years out of college, the only job I could find was as a door-to-door salesman. I remember it clearly. I was picked up in a van and dropped off in a suburban neighborhood with a motley crew of six mostly obnoxious guys. On my first day, I received training from Greg, the beer-guzzling sales manager, who accompanied me to my first door. I wanted to run and hide, but I kept telling myself: if you want to live at the beach, you need a job — any job! The door was opened a crack by a man who was not in a particularly cheerful mood. I tried as best I could to deliver my 15-second sales pitch, but no words came out. Greg walked me back to the sidewalk.
“I don’t think this is for me,” I said sheepishly. He wasn’t going to let me off that easily. Instead, he shared a little nugget of sales wisdom: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I went to the next door and I didn’t feel any less nervous. It’s not easy to fake it when you’re terrified. By the fifth door, I was getting my spiel down – not perfect, but the fear on my face had receded and was replaced with a natural smile. With more practice, I no longer felt I was faking it. And in fact, I held this job for another eight months, earning enough money to subsidize my beach lifestyle and postpone entering the real world.
Door-to-door sales isn’t exactly a noble career and I thought I had vanquished this unpleasant but necessary chapter in my life; today, however, it came roaring back when a friend questioned my motives behind the Autism Dad blog.
First order of business: “I think you’re trying to find a rich girlfriend,” she said, “who will be so touched by your circumstances that she will take you under her wing.”
“Brilliant insight,” I replied. “Because being an unemployed single dad who lives with his dad while raising an autistic son is such an irresistible package!” She had no come-back, so she tried a different tact:
“What is this, a campaign to refurbish your image, to reposition yourself as the world’s best dad?”
Ouch! Her beef was that one day I asked her to watch my boys for a couple hours so I could finish an Autism Dad essay. She even used the h-word against me. I will concede that she had a point. In the future I mustn’t put my readers ahead of my boys, because I don’t want to be a hypocrite. Score one for her.
This raises an interesting point: am I portraying myself in a false light? Am I guilty of emphasizing my good qualities to the exclusion of my not-so-good qualities? Is Autism Dad selling snake oil over the Internet instead of door-to-door?
I’ve thought long and hard about this. We all want to look good and avoid looking bad. Like most parents, I am far from perfect. (In the name of full disclosure, last week my little 4-year-old spilled ice cream on my dad’s couch and I erupted in anger, causing Ryan to cry hysterically.) If there exists a gap between the idealized version and the “real” Autism Dad, that is not such a bad thing in my book. It points me in the right direction and gives me something to strive for–to become the man that I want to be.
You see, there is something powerful about putting it down in words, about constructing a roadmap.
A year ago, I attended one of those motivational seminars that are easy to mock, but which sometimes offer a useful nugget or two. The facilitator spoke about the power of declaration. He said we can transform ourselves simply by declaring a new way of being, a new way of existing. Autism Dad is my declaration.
I am not transformed, but I am transforming. I have not arrived at my destination, but I am moving in the right direction — inch by inch, day by day, word by word. The role of dad is something I’m still trying on for size—and I must say, I like the way it fits and feels.
As far as being a dad, who knows if I am “making it.” What I do know is, I’m no longer faking it.