Recently some good friends asked me would I like to write some words on being the dad of an autistic child, and how that relates to men’s mental health issues. Some disclosures, from the get go…. I am no writer or poet, or medical professional, but I am the father of two autistic children. Boy aged 9, and girl aged 7.
So if that is enough to qualify, here goes.
To the great majority of people most likely reading this, you would already understand how bloody hard it is to be a parent of an autistic child, so I will skip right past that part and try to share my experiences about being a father looking towards the future. I did think about what great emotional quote I can use to position the next few paragraphs. I want to sound at least a little bit clever, if no one keeps reading the rest of the piece. Maybe go to one of my old favourites like “Yesterday is gone, Tomorrow has not yet come, We only have today” to paraphrase Mother Teresa.
Did I already mention that I am no writer? Probably best to stick to the facts….
As a typical father dealing with autism I am sure most men’s immediate thought process post diagnosis would most likely align with, how do we fix it? Who is the leading expert to talk with? Let’s get this sorted ASAP!
Step back everyone, I will fix this.
It is a natural and instinctive reaction for both parents, but for fathers in particular. As parents you both of course have unconditional love, care and compassion for your child. But as a father your default setting typically goes straight to the … I need to provide a solution, I can fix this! You get busy in partnership with your wife to research what needs to be done to help. But as you quickly come to learn, yes there are great therapies an early invention programs with support networks to enable the best outcome for your child. But this a lifelong condition and challenge for your child that will always be present. When this moment arrives and for fathers in particular, a dark outlook on the horizon can appear. Every day will most likely present a new challenge for your child, and by association yourself. There are going to be great days, and there are going to be some real tough ones.
At times we might find ourselves looking to the past, I should have done that therapy earlier or I should listened to that advice. Sometimes we feel we can’t move on and we allow that action to shape our today. In the same way sometimes successes can cause the same reaction. We look back to our success but never make any real progress. Of course celebrate the wins and enjoy them for what they are, but always keep pushing to reach that constantly moving horizon. The continual planning and looking forward to what comes next is what make us happy as fathers…. what can I do next that will help!
When the question is asked to me…. ” what is it like to be the father of two autistic kids?”
The answer is simple, “I am just their dad”
And if there is any message from one autistic dad to another, it is just that.
Just be their dad. That is all our kids want.
A dad who wants the best for his children, and will do almost anything to make it happen. Same as every other dad in the world.
Is it a little more complicated…. maybe? But so what!
In my old favourite quote from Mother Teresa listed above I did leave the last line out. The last line of the quote says “So let us begin”
It is not overly complicated in its meaning, but it provides a great reminder to focus on creating a better future and not to continually look back on what we could have/ should have/ done.
To simplify even further, keep working to make the next day better than the last.
You probably won’t be surprised what the benefits are for your kids.
But maybe, just maybe you might be surprised what the benefits are for yourself.
Just a Dad!