“I’d like to talk about the Autism Dad for a moment.
You’ve probably come across him once or twice. It’s not always obvious at first.
He’s the guy attempting a smile while his son screams. He is the man who holds his teenager’s hand as they walk down the street, oblivious to the stares.
He is the father whose vision of coaching Little League and relaxing on Sunday afternoons sprawled in front of the football game has been replaced by sessions of Applied Behavior Analysis and speech therapy.
This is a father who imagined he might one day have to give a serious talking to about a low grade in chemistry, but instead sits through long IEP meetings and reads articles about anxiety and neurology.
He never relaxes.
He is always grieving what might have been while trying to figure out what is possible.
The thing is, an Autism Mama’s grief is loud. It takes up space. It is bright and colorful. You might witness it in the grocery store or on the playground. She is not afraid to cry.
But an Autism Dad’s heartache is a private affair. It often takes place on the couch long after the rest of his family has gone to bed.
Only then, in the darkness of the living room, does he consider the long-term practicalities such as health care, living arrangements, and living wills.
He thinks through the events of the day—how he lost his patience during dinner and felt drained and exhausted by bedtime.
He remembers the way, earlier in the afternoon, he apologized to the woman in Target after his son didn’t say hello. He thinks of the way his stomach clenched in annoyance at her persistence in the greeting.
He makes a silent vow to himself that he will never again apologize for his complicated boy.
When it comes to autism, this father doesn’t like to think about why.
Why his son?
Why this diagnosis?
To him, these questions are like stretching his fingertips too close to a burning flame. He knows he’ll likely walk away with his heart on fire.
Instead, this father asks himself questions that begin with who and what.
Who can this boy become?
What will it take to get him there?
He considers these questions and then he sets to work.
He shows him how to hold a fork the right way, and how to shake hands with a firm grip.
He teaches him how to look both ways before crossing a street.
He talks to him about politics and taxes, and how you should always have a flashlight handy in case you lose power.
This father, he exists in the realm of peace and faith.
He makes peace with the small setbacks and the disappointments autism offers him.
At the same time, he has faith in his boy.
It’s easy to assume this father has it all together. After all, he seems so strong, determined, and sure.
But deep inside, he is full of doubt and worry. He is trying his hardest to protect, explain, shield, and learn.
What I’m trying to say is, be gentle with him.
Be gentle. Ask questions. Smile with your eyes, and recognize this tender father is fighting a battle many will never understand.
And if you see a man holding his teenager’s hand, remember, he isn’t just holding a hand. He is holding his whole entire heart right there on the street.
For the Autism Dad, there are no shortcuts. He only has one chance to raise his son.”
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