As we celebrate Father's Day today, I am thankful to my dad and Ed, Alex's dad, for the love and support they have given me through the years, but I am more grateful for the compassion they have shown Alex. Even though they haven't been able to do traditional grandfather-grandson or father-son activities because of how autism impacts Alex, the two most important men in my life and Alex's have embraced him as he is and found common ground to share with him. For instance, my dad and Alex both find numbers, statistics, and meteorology interesting; in fact, when I'm buying gifts such as books with those themes for one of them, I usually pick up another for the other one. Probably only Alex and Grandpa find interesting the number of miles on the odometer that Grandpa's cars have had through the years; Alex can recall and recite not only how many miles Grandpa's first Studebaker had on it, but also what year model it was and how many years he kept it. Maybe the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, after all.
For some reason, whenever my dad says hello to Alex, he always drops his voice about an octave to greet him with a deep voice. This change of tone has not gone unnoticed by Alex because in return he drops his own pitch, trying to match Grandpa's, and says in a deep voice, "Hello, Grandpa!" This imitation was especially funny when Alex was a little boy. In addition, he has generalized this greeting such that whenever he talks about Grandpa, Alex says "Grandpa" in that same deep voice. Usually, he grins when he talks about Grandpa, too, because he finds him amusing, and I think he senses the special bond they have.
Through the years, Alex has closely identified with both of his primary male role models in my dad and Ed. In spite of his language and social skill delays, he clearly admires both of them and wants to be like them. As Alex has gotten older, one of his favorite things to do with Ed is to tease me, which he finds very entertaining. The other day, we were talking about the county fair, and Ed, who enjoys taking advantage of my trusting gullibility and good nature, told me that there was going to be a new event this year, "Pet the Poultry." I must confess, I have a deep-seated fear/dislike for all birds (unless they are roasted or fried), like my dad who as a farm boy had to ride to market in the car with live chickens in a bag flapping around him; therefore, Ed knew this comment would incite a reaction from me. Apparently, my wide-eyed expression and innocently questioning, "Really?" was the prize for this made-up event, and he and Alex both found putting one over on me really funny. Even though the two of them gang up on me and find humor at my expense, I don't mind because I find their camaraderie endearing, maybe because it seems to be a typical father-son activity in our life that autism often makes untypical. As I described last year in my blog post, "Daddy," which appears below, Ed has become a wonderful father to Alex, in spite of, or perhaps because of, how autism has affected all of us.
Looking through Father’s Day cards, I noticed several include a sentiment something to the effect, “Though I don’t say it often enough, I appreciate/admire/love you, Dad.” While this kind of card indicates a lack of communication in the relationship, perhaps this comment best illustrates what Alex feels toward his dad. I know without a doubt that Alex adores Ed, but because of his language and social issues, he cannot easily express either verbally or through affectionate gestures how much he does appreciate, admire, and love his dad. Alex doesn’t initiate hugs or kisses, but will give them if asked, and he only says “I love you” if we say it to him first. Nonetheless, he shows his love in other ways, and for us, that is enough.
In the rare times that Alex has been sick or has had nosebleeds, he has relied upon the calm reassurance of his dad, who gently reminds him that everything will be all right, all the while, holding his head over the commode or a bucket to vomit or holding an ice pack on his nose. (I, on the other hand, clean up any mess left behind and get him fresh clothes or sheets, knowing that he prefers Daddy’s easygoing nature to Mommy’s high energy at those times.) In the middle of the night, when Alex has awakened, Ed has often stayed beside him until he fell asleep, Ed’s very presence soothing him. When I give Alex his twice weekly vitamin B-12 injections, he likes to lean his head on Ed’s shoulder for comfort and never lets out a whimper. He trusts that Daddy will always take care of him.
While many fathers can enjoy watching their sons play sports, Alex’s motor delays denied Ed this pleasure. I’ve wondered whether hearing about his nephews’ successes in playing various sports has ever bothered Ed, but he has never indicated as much. Instead, the two of them have shared interests in politics, the stock market, math, and weather; Alex starts discussing these topics with Ed by asking, “How about nice conversation?” Lately, Alex has shown more interest in sports, watching NASCAR, baseball, and basketball with Ed on t.v., and Ed has patiently tried to teach Alex the basics of baseball and basketball when they go to the park together. Even though Ed has to remind Alex repeatedly to watch the ball, he never gives up on him. Through the years, Ed has learned greater patience and compassion through much testing in many ways. On this Father’s Day, I’m very proud of both of my guys for the men they have become by loving each other.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4