For once why don’t you do something for your boys!
Said by my ex. To me.
On Father’s Day!
I kid you not. I’ve made it a point to always be honest with my readers, even if I look bad in the process. So why stop now? The truth is, when I heard those words, it shocked my system. Messed up my head. I felt rage building.
I so badly wanted to drop an F-Bomb–not merely one, but an entire string, maybe an avalanche of F-Bombs. I glanced at the boys, running in circles on the summer grass. And into my phone I said: “I can’t believe you said that to me, especially on Father’s Day. That was appallingly obnoxious.” Delivering those last two words felt good, providing the same release as an F-U, but without the collateral damage. Since then Teresa has been much nicer. You forgive and move on.
I’ve been spending more time recently with my neighbors Howard and Sue Ann, and their boy Shane. It’s been nice, because it gives me a guy friend and my boys someone around their age to hang out with. It’s important that they expand beyond my orbit — more true for Ryan than it is for Ben, who mostly prefers his own orbit. For July 4th we joined our neighbors for a community event held at the local park. The boys enjoyed ice cream in the sun. Later we went swimming at the rec center pool and enjoyed fireworks.
Ben still doesn’t say very much, but he has enough words at his disposal to advance his immediate needs. His diet is still limited to pizza, hot dogs, ice cream, bacon, Mac n Cheese, and McDonald’s. Inspite of this, he looks fit and lean with a golden summer tan. Ben still has the sunniest disposition and sweetest nature I have ever seen, and an innocence and refreshing obliviousness to social conventions. He will come face-to-face with me and say, “Cashew, Daddy.” The first time this happened, I thought to myself, Great! now he has a nut obsession to go with his other fascinations, like the sounds of a crying baby, grocery shopping, and shutting doors. Seconds later, Ben inched even closer and said it again: “Cashew, Daddy.” He looked at me with his round, innocent eyes, and I at him with a look of confusion. “What are you trying to say, Ben? Use your words.” Instead Ben leaned in and kissed me on one cheek and then the other. That’s when I realized it wasn’t that Ben had suddenly overcome his aversion to nuts. He wanted to kiss his Daddy, that’s all. And for that you don’t need words.
I smiled at Ben. “Now it’s my turn. Let me cashew.”
You think I should tell Ben that it’s not appropriate for a 7-year-old boy to kiss his father all over his face–and yes, including the lips–in public? Should I push away my autistic son and tell him his behavior is wrong? Like that’s going to happen! In fact, I’ll tell you what: I’m not done cashing in on my kisses. That’ll take a lifetime.
Ryan is 5 and starts kindergarten in fall. He is developing into an amazing kid: affectionate, thoughtful, generous to others, compassionate, a great brother to Ben, super smart, and an amazing baseball player, swimmer, gymnast, lego builder, and tree climber!
Recently I logged on to Facebook with little Ryan behind me, peeking at the computer screen. He pointed at my picture and exclaimed: “There’s my sweet Daddy!” (I should mention that since this occurred on Father’s Day, it cancels out the Father’s Day “greeting” I received from my ex.) Recently my father said something to the effect that Ryan’s just like me, but without my bad parts. Thanks Dad, um I think.
When I moved back in with my father, I expected it would be a temporary situation until I got back on my feet again. It hasn’t turned out that way. My father has been too good to be true, giving me space when I want it and companionship when I need it. He has supported me financially and emotionally. No son likes to concede this, especially a 45-year-old man. But it is the truth.
Recently, though, the tables have been turned. In May, the onset of age and osteoporosis led to a fracture in his spine, from which my father is still recovering. He was also diagnosed with cancer, though it appears to be slow growing. This has changed my role significantly, as now my days are filled with doctor appointments, emergency rooms, insurance companies, preparing meals, doing laundry, trips to the pharmacy, and grocery shopping.
And rather than it being a burden, it has allowed me to give back to my father and, in turn, to feel needed. It’s hard not to see it as a silver lining in an otherwise difficult year, almost as if a path were set before me; having my family ripped from my clutch was painful, but maybe it happened for a reason. Or maybe this is just how we rationalize bad shit that happens to us! I have never been a perfect son. And even now, during my dad’s greatest time of need, I have been both patient and impatient, calm and turbulent. It is not easy to witness his deterioration. He is used to being active during the day. I hate seeing him in pain, the look of sad resignation on his face–the prospect of spending yet another dreary day in the same chair watching the same shit on TV.
My father needs me right now and there is no one else, no other family or friends to look after him. I don’t want to be put in the position where I have to choose between my father and my boys, but I cannot be in two places at the same time. You see, my boys live nearly an hour away. I need to move closer to them, so I can participate more directly in their lives and also give their mother a break when she needs it. On the other hand, today I would find it hard to leave my father. And what of the future? His physical deterioration is only going to accelerate over the next years. So the $100,000 question is, how do I balance these competing interests? It’s a dilemma for which I can supply no answer. At least not today. But stay tuned.
And yet my ex’s Father’s Day greeting still occupies and eats away at my mind: For once why don’t you do something for your boys.
Next time I feel attacked, I will say nothing. No F-Bombs, no counter attack. I’ll just smile to myself. And think of my boys and the amazing relationship I am developing with them. I will think of the way Ben sinks comfortably into my lap and holds me as if his life depends on it. I will think of the way he says, “Cashew, Daddy” and then delivers me a kiss, each one a blessing. I will think of restless Ryan and how, after the sun falls, he slows down, becomes vulnerable and asks for cuddling time with me. And the way his face brightens when he recognizes my picture on the computer screen:
“There’s my sweet Daddy.”
On a good day.
Wishing everyone more good days ahead…Autism Dad
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