In Praise of Fathers on the Autism Spectrum

Father's Day 2013

Today I spoke to my Dad for three minutes on the telephone to wish him a happy Father’s Day. Dad is notoriously uncomfortable on the phone, so we keep conversations short. It does not matter. Dad knows I love him. We can cram a world full of emotion into the tiniest sentence.

This brief exchange compelled me to examine fatherhood on the autism spectrum.

My Dad worked incredibly hard to support our family. Daily, he coped with anxiety and insomnia. To fit in with his co-workers he memorized jokes, stories and scripts.  He stuck to lists and written instructions for organization and daily living. Long before Asperger’s syndrome diagnoses reached our family, he handled life with aplomb.

fathers day 2
Dad, singing at a campfire.

I am deeply proud of my father.  Please permit me to generalize wonderful things about my dad to all fathers on the autism spectrum:

  1. They share with you. I once asked my Dad how to tie a knot. Heh. For the next three weeks we explored the history of knot making. Not only did dad personally show me how to tie dozens of fancy, complicated knots, but he gave their full background and a stack of illustrated books to study.
  2.  They will be honest with you. At six I asked my dad if Santa was real. A pained expression crossed his face. He said, “The spirit of Christmas is real.” I pressed, “So Santa’s not real?” He shook his head, “Santa is an idea. He represents the giving spirit of Christmas.”  Over thirty years have passed, but I remember the moment vividly. He respected me enough to tell the truth.
  3. Their enthusiasm is contagious. When my Dad talks about his favorite subjects, he glows. You not only see his incredible joy, but it washed over you. He loves spelunking and mineralogy. Ten minutes with him and you will dream about sparkling crystals and mysterious caves
  4. They are loyal.  Public school distressed me. Every four months or so, I crashed and missed three or four weeks straight. The school system so harassed my mother over absenteeism, that  a school administration meeting was scheduled so my father could attend. Wild-eyed and fearsome, Dad defended me so staunchly that the issue was resolved for the remainder of my school days.
  5. They will understand you. My Dad always had great compassion for my war with anxiety. When I was 25, I dropped out of college for the fifth time. Heartbroken, I felt like an utter failure. He took my hand and told me it would be okay. He promised me that as a family we would find a way to finish school and select an agreeable career.  In the ten years it took me to get my degree, he never begrudged my tuition. He accepted my struggles long before my Asperger’s diagnosis gave a name to my difficulties.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Dad in the fifties:

Dad in the fifties

And me as a baby:

Ears like papa

Note that I inherited a goofier version of Dad’s ears!
I was hoping to post some of Dad’s adventure pics, but unfortunately they are hidden somewhere at my folks place. I’ll be sure to add them in the future.
Anyway, Tyoma and I dropped by to wish Dad a happy Father’s Day. We relaxed under the shady Mulberry, discussing the latest discoveries in paleontology, specifically the feathered juvenile T-Rexes unearthed in China. After an exchange of opinions on dinosaurs and birds, Dad took off his naturalist cap and brought out the guitar. Tyoma enjoyed his serenade and promptly conked out.
Later in the evening, Tennisfiend asked me if I had any special childhood memories about Dad. I rambled on for at least twenty minutes, until I came across the memory. I was six and felt very sad about the loss of our two weimarainers. We lost them over two years ago. I was younger when Mom told me their spirits were happy, chasing lizards in the desert. Now, I was unconvinced and full of questions, “Why couldn’t I see their spirits when we were in the desert?” Bless her for not saying “Spirits are invisible.” She sent me in for a talk with Dad.
He explained his beliefs: All living things are a part of the universe. People really don’t know for sure what happens when we die, but many think that we return somehow. Some think we return as spirits, angels or even as energy that the natural world re-uses. The only thing we know for sure is that we remember the people and animals we love. By remembering, a person can keep their loved ones close by, with us always.
This might have seemed rather heavy for a six year old, but it was honest, simply stated and it made me feel better. Ultimately, that conversation shaped the outlook of my life. Thank you, Dad.