Autism Dad: Home is where the heart is

They say, home is where the heart is. My dream home, into which I poured my life savings as well as my hopes and dreams, was ripped from my clutch by the bank. I was fortunate to move in with my 81-year-old father, returning to the suburban home in which I was raised while I pull myself back up.

Much in this home remains the same. A VHS copy of The Sound of Music, which my mother adored, and her weight-loss videos survive. And my parents’ vast collection of books, from “Marhall McLuhan: Hot & Cool” to the ’70s pop-psych bible “I’m okay, you’re okay,” has not been disturbed. My retired lit prof father daily partakes of his early evening Scotch, which smells the same on his breath as it did 30 years ago when I would accuse him of being an alcoholic. Little did that scared boy-brat know that Scotch was the “water of life” and perhaps explains my father’s maintenance of his faculties and his vitality.  That said, there has been some change: my father has ditched his manual typewriter for a Kindle.

My mother always felt like a minority in this family, outflanked as she was by men three to one. She wanted her privacy, her escape from the testosterone-filled home. Sadly she never got to meet her grandkids. Now, when I have the boys over for the weekend, I smile at the thought that the male bonding would be simply too much for her to bear; as the four bachelors try to manage on our own, the home sometimes feels like a sitcom sketch.  My father doesn’t get to see much of his other grandchildren who live on the opposite coast. That’s why the time we’ve had as a family over the years, but in particular the past five months, has been precious and priceless. I don’t want to say that it’s the silver lining, but…it’s the silver lining.

My dad was the first to point out Ben’s regression in speech and sort of press the issue as Heather and I looked the other way. He sends me articles about autism and takes great interest in Ben. He wishes there was more he could do.

The house itself is plain and getting old. The roots of the giant Eucalyptus trees are intruding. But here’s what being here does give — a sense of continuity. Given that the past years have been so chaotic and uncertain, a connection with the past proves to be of some comfort. It can also be amusing. If I catch myself lecturing my boys, I imagine myself in this same home 35 years ago enduring the same lecture. It’s both creepy and reassuring. In fact, as I type, I am buried in what was once my father’s study, a place you didn’t enter. And here I am now, taking it over with the computer and my mess of scattered papers. Sweet revenge. 

Baseball has always been something I’ve shared with my father. I always looked forward to tossing the ball in the back yard or when he’d take me to a game. And as soon as Ben was six months old, he was already warming up in the bullpen. When he was 3 and his autism reared its ugly head, he lost his interest in baseball overnight. But with my dad there is a shared experience and common vocabulary. I remember standing next to our Santa Rosa plumb tree and making an observation that may have been insignificant but which I found startling. I looked at my tee-shirt.

“Dad, I’m wearing #44 and your age is 44,” I exclaimed, referring to the number worn by Padres slugger Willie McCovey.

I was sure the stars were aligned, but my dad didn’t think too much of my little discovery. It may not be a memory of any real consequence, but the fact that I’m now 44 perhaps gives it some resonance.

And yet this situation cannot last forever. We live nearly an hour from my boys, and I feel disconnected from their world. In Is Autism Dad an Autism Warrior?, I raised the prospect of moving to an apartment to be closer to my boys and more involved in their lives. This scenario, of course, assumes I can afford the rent and additional expenses. Who knows when that time will come. But it will come.  Eventually I need to have that talk with my dad. I know what he’ll say:

Of course you should move closer to your boys if that is what you want.

 But later I worry that a sadness will settle upon him — if not, then a general anxiety that comes from the prospect of living alone. After all, I am his support system and friend. The thought of abandoning my dad causes me to worry. “Abandon” may be too strong, but it’s how it feels.

And yet, as my readers remind me, my time as father is now. If you look, there are signs that point me in a certain direction. Just this week I found a part-time job in my boys’ general vicinity. I didn’t plan it this way, it just happened. My boys live in a part of town that I don’t particularly like, but suddenly that is the least of my concerns. It will happen, sooner rather than later. When I do move out, I will still have my real home nearby and can check on my father, who will be toiling on his Kindle and buried in books and words and in the struggles of our San Diego Padres. In the meantime, I am grateful for the support of my father, the comfort of this home and the continuity that it brings.

Because home is where the heart is…even when the heart is conflicted.

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This entry was posted in December 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Autism Dad: Home is where the heart is

  1. KWombles says:

    What a wonderful post; we live next door to my parents, and the continuity is comforting, especially since my oldest’s first 14 years were not spent here. It’s a blessing to be surrounded by history and family.

    I hope your plans to get closer to your sons work out well.

  2. Makiko says:

    Longtime fan, first-time commenter. 😉
    I got a little choked up reading this. Tell your dad and your boys I said hello.

  3. Grace says:

    I just re-read this, a bit differently this time around. Your writing is so vivid and beautiful. You make me want to sit down with your dad amongst his books, share a drink, and argue baseball.

  4. What a cool dad you have! And really, so are you. I don’t know many men who take much interest in their kids and when they do it is usually dads of nurotypical kids, not ones with autism. I am always impressed with how you delve into your boys world and learn and change as you understand better. You’re dad seeing the signs early on and letting you know is awesome. He sounds like a really great guy.

    Is it out of the question for him to move with you?

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