I’ve always called my Mom when something went wrong with the kids. Sick. Bad grades. Sibling rivalry. It doesn’t matter. Her voice hugs my fears and frustrations, and is the assurance needed to know that this too will pass. Her words carry a sense of certainty and serenity. And even when she is stumped on a matter, somehow her “I don’t know” still says “It’s ok” and brings the comfort I long for. So when my son was diagnosed with autism, her warmth cradled my unknowns and my despair. It didn’t remove it, but her presence was my backing when everything in me felt weak. My father, a pillar from afar, was less vocal. He prayed for Callie and would ask how Callie was doing, but for the most part, he couldn’t quite comprehend the name that was now tied to his grandson. He was quiet, yet perplexed. No one in our family had autism. What was autism? What does that mean for Callie? How was he to interact with him? The life with the first grandson did not resemble the life of the second grandson. How was he to carry on a conversation with one that was nonverbal, when the only form of communication he had was talking? Everything was different. He would have to familiarize himself with the routine in place and also be aware that deviating was not an option. Food had to be prepared a certain way, at a certain times. Books and puzzles (Callie’s entertainment) could not be touched and or even looked at. And showing affection or just being social was out of the question. All the things known to a grandfather was stripped. Even tossing a ball. Playing a board game. Reading a book. Eating popcorn while watching a TV show. All was an automatic shutdown. My oldest didn’t have a problem being the only one enveloped in his grandfather’s love, but my heart hurt. My parents lived states away and it was important to me that MaSweet and PaPa (what they are called) was not known in name only. Initially, they would come visit three times a year and Callie appeared to be content just seeing them those three times a year with no real contact. That was his world, and for awhile, my father played by the rules. He didn’t impose. I’m not sure he would have known how to connect anyway, especially if every attempt made yielded no response. Therefore, my Dad just had to live life happy (for the time being) with one grandson running into his arms and heartbroken that the other one did not. This certainly was not the portrait of family he had envisioned. But daylight would later seep in where darkness had obviously reigned. Callie said his first words at four years old. The magnitude of brightness that moment brought cannot easily be articulated. We heard WORDS! I didn’t care if it was on repeat. His voice was like music that swept in hope. And it didn’t stop there. Small strides toward not only communication existed but the social skills were worth checking the progress box. Every day, however was not a championship win, but forward movement of any kind caused us to wake up each day expecting to see the sun and each night, ready to jump over the moon. Limitations were off the table and upon hearing about Callie’s gradual climbs, my father’s heart skipped a beat for the possibility of his grandson not only seeing him but knowing him. It was a turtle pace development that led to brief hellos on the phone, lunch at McDonald’s and short park visits. He was the one who taught my son to pee in the toilet instead of all around it. He showed him how to clean up his room and take his tray into the kitchen. It was my Dad who even convinced him that he was too big for baths and showers were the way to go. Because of the meshing of patience, compassion and understanding in every visit, now my son asks for my Dad. He knows the dates when PaPa is coming. Their relationship is still evolving, and because my Dad doesn’t live around the corner, it does take extra effort to not lose what has been established. Yet, he’s done well. He’s experienced the zigzag of life on this autism road and has learned a lot. Some days you get what you expect based on routine. Then there are days a tidal wave hits and in an instant, strength, faith and perseverance are engulfed and you’re left perplexed on what just happened. He’s shaken hands with both the rises and falls of this journey and through it all, his determination has stood still and has made me proud.
Father’s Day is Sunday and for me and my son, my Dad is a rock. He is the eagles’ wings that secures us, the pier of courage and stamina that undergirds us and the heart of gold that embraces us. Without much knowledge of autism in the beginning and still walking careful and unsure on some things, he’s adamant about his “I’m here” not being a mere statement. It is a declaration of love and support that touches the depth of my son – while in his presence, as well as, when he is a great distance away.
So I want to say “Happy Father’s Day” to my Dad and to all of the autism Dads, grandfathers and uncles whose definition of adoration and acceptance goes beyond a dictionary meaning. Actually, their picture and their story should be in a separate book. Words like love, resilience, fortitude and so many others wouldn’t need to be in bold print because their voices on paper would say it all….and I believe the mothers wouldn’t be the only ones praised for their dedication to their child and to the cause. But that’s when…only when you would really see the Dads and fully grasp how incredibly amazing they are.
Thanks for listening,