Today’s fathers are sure different from mine. Incredibly intellectual, my dad never reached out to hug me, or touch my hand, or to do anything affectionate in that way. Conversations with him consisted of his eyes looking at me over the newspaper, or whichever professional magazine he happened to be reading. Playing was something children did with each other.

That’s what last generation’s fathers were raised to be like. Maybe that’s why I never tire of seeing a father being tender or playful with his children. Dads today are so much more in touch with their hearts — so much more willing to meet a child where they’re at.

Blue Eyes was going to be an affectionate, hands-on father like that. But one of the most difficult aspects of autism for us parents is how it’s a one-way street: you put out all kinds of love and affection, and nothing comes back. Blue Eyes was sad when he’d come home from work, a whole day away from his son, and there would be no light of recognition in Joseph’s eyes — no smile saved just for Daddy. No nothing.

Ouch.

Neurotypical kids naturally take the apprenticeship role, seeking to learn from their elders, trying to be just like them. This is a great way for dads to interact with their kids, and Blue Eyes, a builder and a craftsman, looked forward to sharing his expertise with Joseph.

But autism drives a wedge in the master-apprentice role. Autistic children are often not interested in learning, in expanding their worlds. Comfort is found in a small world — a narrow, predictable world.

Thanks to various interventions and a lot of grace, the one-way street with Joseph has substantially more two-way traffic than it used to.  We have also worked hard on developing his apprenticeship role, and it’s coming along nicely.

The Waldorf system maintains that the mother holds the child, literally and figuratively, until s/he is seven. Joseph turned eight this spring, and it’s become apparent to us that Blue Eyes needs to step in more. Fearful by nature, Joseph will become even more of a mommy’s boy if Dad doesn’t take on a more prominent role.

Though Joseph’s had a lot of recovery, there are still many autism-related obstacles that Blue Eyes has to wade through. John, our RDI Consultant, has been working with my guys on how to do stuff together, like build simple things. I’m proud of Blue Eyes for letting go of past hurts and rejections, and moving forward to create a close relationship with Joseph as he is now.

It’s a funny thing: Every time I step out of the picture and the guys do something together, Joseph’s energy is different. He thrives under his dad’s attention. Blue Eyes challenges him more — he needs that — and models how to be a whole, healthy man. Things I can never do.

So here’s to dads: what a priceless role you play. Kudos to you, Blue Eyes, for your resilience, your love for your son, and your willingness to keep showing up in his life no matter what. You’re the best.

Happy Fathers Day to all you amazing men, and most especially to those of you who stay in your kids face when you’d rather not; for those of you willing to do the hard things; and for those of you who never, never give up on your special needs child.

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