My husband is a great dad. He is in the trampoline jumping and laughing with our silly boys. He is ever-hunting for new hiding spots in our backyard for the next game of hide and seek. He builds an impressive fire and can roast marshmallows with the best of them. He is so much more than present. He is engaged and active in real moments with our sons every single day.
He is a great dad. And I love him for that. But he is also an exceptional autism dad.
You may not think there is a difference. And that’s OK. I am happy that you have never had to witness the difference first hand. But I know the difference. I know the difference because he is a dad and an autism dad just like I am mom and an autism mom.
Our life presents a lot of really wonderful moments. Moments when my husband can just be “’dad.” But there are a lot of really challenging moments, too. In any given week I see my husband step up to the autism plate a million times. In those moments he has to be so much more than he ever imagined being. He is an autism dad.
I see him get hit across the face, take a deep breath, and keep working through a strategy. I see him remain calm as things are thrown and broken. I see him try every day to understand something that makes no sense to him.
But more important than the things I see are the things I feel.
I feel the comforting touch of his hand on my shoulder when I am hunched over in tears. I feel his strength when he pulls me back to my feet. I feel my load get lighter as he takes on more and more to help.
My husband works out of our home in patient care. He has limited access to phone and email during the day. It is difficult for him to participate in phone calls and meetings for our son’s treatment. Because being an autism parent is a full-time job. On top of the full time jobs we work to afford the house and the resources needed for treatment.
He comes home from long days at work and dives headfirst into the autism schedule. He drops his coffee thermos in the sink and jumps immediately into the chaos. And the chaos is rampant.
Amidst the chaos, he listens carefully to updates from the day. He asks questions about new strategies. He inquires about calls and emails exchanged with our ever-growing treatment team. He seeks deeper understanding of the things he doesn’t understand.
He does this every day. He walks this journey every day. This is his journey every bit as much as it is mine.
I have witnessed so many moments that I am certain he never imagined as part of his fatherhood journey. I can still see the look in his eyes when we sat around that table and learned of our son’s diagnosis; something between heartbreak and fear. I remember the agony on his face the day our son shattered the second television in six months. I feel his pain as he watches our son struggle.
I cannot protect him from these moments any more than he can protect me. So we do what we can do. We love each other. We support each other. We remind each other every day that life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.
My husband is a fantastic father. And I love watching him be “dad” to both of our boys. But I love him the most when “autism dad” is in action. In the moments when he is implementing a behavior strategy to redirect our son. In the moments when he consoles our youngest son after he has been hit during our oldest son’s autism meltdowns. In his own moments of weakness when he still finds the strength to give me encouragement to keep pushing forward.
The distinction between dad and autism dad may not seem important to you. But in our house, mom and dad are not enough. Life needed more from us. Our kids needed more from us. And so we became the parents we needed to be to walk this journey.
And sometimes even autism mom and autism dad are not enough. Sometimes we have to be occasional bad-ass autism warriors. So we do that too.
I, autism mom, choose him, autism dad, to walk this journey alongside me today, tomorrow, and always. I am thankful for his super power. Thankful for his super patience. Thankful for his super love.
He is super. Super dad. Super autism dad. Super occasional bad-ass autism warrior. And I super love him for being all of those things for us every single day.