The unexpected gift of fatherhood: More self-awareness

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 15, 2014, 8:59 PM | comments: 0

My general malaise for what I call "greeting card" holidays is well-known. This includes Father's Day. Since my parents split, I didn't see my dad all that often growing up, and my step-father and I were not really close (the reasons for which vary, and probably don't matter). While I did have father-like figures in a collective sense, I can't say that I have much of a blueprint for being a dad. It's possible that I overthink being Simon's father.

I think being a parent can be challenging at times no matter who you are or who your kid is. Some have it easier than others, but it's a lot like romantic relationships in that any two people with predisposed personality types have certain kinds of chemistry. With your kid, you get to shape that to an extent, but you also don't get to ditch the relationship if you grow tired of it.

The last year has been full of extra learning around ASD and SPD. It's understanding that many parents would be distraught over any kind of diagnosis like these, but honestly for us it was a sigh of relief because it enabled us to take concrete steps (well, Diana mostly took the steps) toward helping him. Developmental delays were present in some of his earliest checkups, and I'm grateful that Dr. Cargo Pants was so on top of things back in Seattle, when we got him into an early intervention program.

I spend a lot of time having to be a disciplinarian these days, which is likely true for any parent of a 4-year-old. His therapist continues to give us a framework to help him learn and understand his own behavior. The progress in the last year has been astounding. We're also lucky that while some stereotypical behaviors of ASD become more evident, others are absent completely, especially his social abilities (the kid can order food at a restaurant like a champ, which is difficult or impossible for many kids on the spectrum).

I don't think any of this is new information. I've written about all of this before. What I find most amazing is that I find myself relating to him. It's really intense. Learning about the sometimes subtle, sometimes extreme ways that he thinks differently brings me back to childhood with crystal clear memories. For example, when he plays with his trains, he gets his face right down there, watching the wheels move over the track junctions and opening or closing the gates. I can see him observing the most extraneous details about the way simple things work. I used to do that constantly. When he has what people often describe as an "autism meltdown," with no regard to the social context or a desired outcome, I feel what he's feeling because I've been there. (Yes, Mom... that time in grade 5 was one of these situations, I'm certain of it.) When I see him spending more time disassembling and reassembling certain toys instead of playing with them as intended, that was me.

I was never diagnosed with any flavor of autism, maybe because when I was growing up, anything less than the main character in Rainman was "normal." I'm not qualified to make that assessment, but it would explain so much about the way I grew up, likely fitting into that category of people who have many of the traits. I'm surprised at the number of artists who were thought to have some form of autism, and less surprised at the number of highly technical people on the spectrum (social dysfunction in particular isn't exactly rare in my line of work). In some ways, it seems like if you get the right combination of behaviors, one might even find them beneficial in adult life, even if it meant a lot of issues in childhood. This could also be me projecting, that my kid is going to grow up and be awesome, too, because frankly that's the only outcome I can imagine for him.

In any case, learning about the challenges that Simon faces gives me so much understanding about myself at that age, and maybe why I am the way I am. I try to teach him, and he constantly teaches me. I love that about him. The idea that you're charged with helping this small human being grow up to be a contributing member of society, and they can in turn help you achieve the same thing is a part of parenthood I never expected. It's awesome.


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