Autism Dad: Fathers, Sons, and Baseball

My dad’s a hero for not saying anything, for resisting the urge to intrude. Ryan, now 5, couldn’t manage the same self-control.

 “Dad, your room is disgusting.”

“Ryan, that was totally gratuitious. Did I ask you for your analysis of MY room? You don’t tell me what to do, okay!”

Today I, um, cleaned my room. I did. And it felt good. The bed is made and the clothes strewn across the floor have been “repositioned.”

In the process, I stumbled upon a baseball card that I had collected as a child: Enzo Hernandez. He wore #11 for the San Diego Padres, who fielded their first team in 1969. I turned the card over. Enzo batted .195 in 1972 and .223 the next season. He is in a long line of “good field, no hit” Padres’ shortstops. I’ve been a Padres fan my whole life and, with my father, suffered through many lackluster seasons. For the first half of my life our conversation was almost exclusively devoted to discussion of baseball. That’s not fair; we did discuss other topics…you know, like football and maybe basketball very occasionally. I handed my dad the baseball card. He put on his glasses.

“Remember Enzo, Dad?”

One of my dad’s first acts was to take me to the field and convert me to a lefthanded hitter, just like him. We’d play at the park for hours. When the San Diego sun began to dip, a sadness settled over me.

Oh! Only if it would stay light for 15 more minutes, I could field some more ground balls, pivot like Enzo Hernandez and throw the runner out!

Dad handed me the card back. I turned it over to check the stats.  Enzo Hernandez was born in 1949 in Valle de Guanape, Venezuela. He’d be 62 today.

“Dad, I have these memories when you’d take me to the game. And when it was over, the parking lot was insanely congested and you’d always run so fast out to the car, that I could hardly keep up with you. Do you remember?”

He smiled. Not hearing it all, but getting the gist of it.

I was maybe 9 at the time. I remember after the game, on the way home, falling asleep in my dad’s green VW bug to the soothing voice of Padres announcer Jerry Coleman. That was a great car and I remember how much pleasure my dad took in driving it, the authority with which he shifted gears. Later he took me in the same car for a cross-country trip that began in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We stayed at KAO campsites, where we played catch.

Baseball season is in the air now. I can’t help but think of Ben and how much fun we once had playing catch. He was maybe 2, a year before his autism reared its ugly head, causing not only loss of speech but also complete loss of interest in baseball (LINK). I am still hoping that one day we will again share that simple, and oddly poignant, father-son ritual of tossing the ball. And that one day he will accompany me downtown on a breezy Sunday to sit in the sun and watch the Padres up close, just as my father did with me.

It appears, I hesitate to say, that my dad is not well, in spite of the fact that he looks well and generally feels well. He’s a version of his old self, just a bit slowed down. He had a bone marrow biospy last week. We don’t yet have the results; the worst case scenario is a blood cancer like Multiple Myeloma. And last week I spotted a growth on his back shoulder that appears to be skin cancer. We have an appointment next week. I hold out hope that nothing serious is wrong with him. But something seems to be going on.

When I was in my 20s, I lost my mother, with whom I was very close. That was back in 1993. A diabetic, she was already on dialysis when she was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. She chose to terminate dialysis, thus terminating her life in a matter of seven days. As the countdown began, I wanted to hop in my car and drive, just drive and drive and some more…and never return. I am glad I didn’t do that. I am glad I stayed and was there by my mother’s side when she died.

Because my mother never met her grandkids, it was important for me that my boys see a lot of their Papa. When I lost everything in this recent recession, I moved in with my 81-year-old father in the suburban home in which I was raised. When my boys are with me for the weekend (I’m picking them up in two hours!), it’s the four of us under one roof, straight out of some male bonding sitcom. Let’s just say, we’re desperately in need of some estrogen.

My dad keeps himself in great shape and is so clever and passionate — and now he expresses things to me that he never did. I want to believe that we will have him around for many years to come. But I must also prepare myself. The thought is always there, in the back of my mind, like the earthquake they keep warning us about in California — the big one’s coming, it’s just a matter of when. This realiziation doesn’t stop me from enjoying the moment; if anything, it heightens the intensity of the the time we have together.

When that moment does come, it will signal a new phase in my life, one that, inevitably, we must all perform for our loved ones and do so with grace and dignity. Near the end, my mother was in bed just down the hall from where I am typing. She had lost control of her body functions. I would change her and clean her up. I would like to believe that I did it with compassion and composure. It occurred to me at the time that it was an opportunity to clean and comfort my mother just as she had done for me.

Still it’s nothing I’m anxious to relive.

And while my dad needs me, and may soon need me even more, my boys need me too. In “Is Autism Dad an Autism Warrior?,” I noted that my intention was to eventually move out of my dad’s house so I could be closer to my boys, who live nearly an hour away. My father, I imagined, would encourage me and completely sympathize with my dilemma. 

But this was two months ago, before his recent health issues had emerged. Now I feel very torn. My boys need me but so does my dad. I’m sure many readers are also learning to perform dual roles–sons and fathers, daughters and mothers–and understand that trying to figure out this balance can cause internal turmoil. If you don’t give a damn, life is so much easier.

But I give a damn.

And yet life goes on. In a couple weeks Spring Training will be here. It’s a time of hope and renewal, when anything is possible. My dad and I will re-take possession of our comfy chairs in front of the TV. And with a beer as our prop, we will go up and down the lineup, passionately discussing and analyzing the state of our 2011 San Diego Padres. I will listen to my dad’s brand of practiced skepticism.

And I will smile and, just for the sake of it, take the opposite side.

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This entry was posted in January 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Autism Dad: Fathers, Sons, and Baseball

  1. Carla Altland says:

    This is good, covered all the basics of how we deal with our parents and our children!! Also ,great about baseball too!! I went through some of the same things with my parents, my mom was last to go at 90 ,just about a year ago… so I hear you , keep on writing , it helps you and others too!!! Sincerely, carla altland

  2. Autism Dad says:

    Carla, thank you for your beautiful words. I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for reading….

  3. cassiejean says:

    Once again, from the heart. Always a pleasure to read your stuff. Sorry to hear about your father, and being torn between taking care of him and your sons… Please let us know what happens. I will be praying for you.

  4. This post covers a lot of ground. My boys don’t care much for sports, but they get the same sadness when the sun goes down, and it is time to come in.
    You are in a tough position. Best wishes.

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