The role of a dad changes. Your importance level (usually) goes up and down with the ages of your kids.
My daughter was my biggest fan for the first eight years or so of her life. We spent days together making art projects and going on adventures. As she got older, I would prepare myself for when she returned home from school. Her feet would patter as she stormed into my office to watch television shows and play “the drawing game”. Sometimes it was overwhelming, but I always pushed through and enjoyed our time together. Looking back, they were some of the best years of my life.
They didn’t end completely or overnight, but those intense days of fatherhood waned through the years. Suddenly, while I was still part of her leisure time, she also had other things to do, other people to call, and other adventures to find. It makes me sad to think back on those days gone by, but it’s something that I accepted as a possibility before the shift even happened.
After all, little girls grow up. While she still spends time with me and values our time together, we go through spurts. When we find time, we spend it together, binge-watching TV and playing Game Pigeon on our phones. But as a teenager, she has a life to build. As her father, I have an obligation to respect that.
That’s how kids are. People tell me that with a shrug in response to this story. After all, it’s a hard pill for some dads to swallow. Your children get older and you have to let them jump in and out of the nest when they do. Kids don’t want to be around their dads all the time when they grow up.
Well, except for Lucas.
My son is non-verbal with autism. Some call it special needs or “severe autism”, but however you refer to it, that’s Lucas. He’s unique in some of the most noticeable and beautiful ways.
So many of these differences are usually highlighted as negatives. People will point to his lack of speech or trouble with life skills. Those are easy to notice. We talk about them endlessly at school meetings and doctor visits. As his dad, I get tired of hearing about them. You would too.
After all, my son isn’t “disabled” in my mind. He’s just him. The missing pieces others might see first are pieces we don’t even register as missing. Others view so much of his actions as negative while neglecting to see some of the positives that come with them.
I’m guilty of it myself. After all, Lucas follows me everywhere. That can be a lot. Just like his sister when she was young, my son will appear everywhere I am with a smile on his face or a request for help. Countless times, I have been exhausted or busy, only to see him standing there, in need of assistance, and handing me an iPad so that I can trace the letters on his Elmo App, just so he can unlock a video he will get tired of within a few seconds.
Can it be annoying? Sure. Everything can be annoying depending on the context and timing. That iPad has been handed to me during some of the most inopportune times. Cooking, sleeping, driving – you name it. This little guy has shoved his device into my hand with no care for what I’m doing. That’s how it can be annoying.
Yet, the annoyance is rare and I’ll tell you why. Just shy of 12 years old, he’s at the age when his sister had long abandoned stalking me from room to room on a lazy Saturday. She was already on her way to Facetime with friends and Roblox by the time she got to this age. For Lucas and his autism, though, it’s still a part of who he is.
And I am so grateful for it.
I’m grateful because I know how precarious this time is for us. I recognize that parenting times like these don’t last forever because I already watched one of my dad-kid relationships evolve into something new. Nothing lasts forever.
No one has to tell me that I’m going to miss this time in life because I already know. I already miss it from the first go-around. Lucas is giving me a chance to experience it again. Having this squeezable little guy around me so often is a facet of being a father that I couldn’t take for granted, even if I wanted to. My son and the autism that so many people highlight the negatives of are the reason for this overwhelmingly positive aspect of my current life.
A part of me feels selfish for appreciating this and I’m sure some people can understand. After all, growing up is full of challenges. Would it be easier for him to get through life with language or better understanding? Sure. I want him to be able to navigate the world on his own and I have worries about how to teach him this as he grows older.
But this is who my boy is, at least today. It’s part of his personality and I love that about him. He knows I love that about him too. I see it in his smiles and laughter. Love isn’t something you say or explain or even have to understand. It’s just something you feel.
Lucas makes me feel loved. He appreciates me and I appreciate him. He can follow me around forever if he wants to. I’m his dad. It’s my job, my responsibility, and my pleasure. For him, I am eternally grateful.
You must be logged in to post a comment.