Parenthood is scary for most guys, it’s more of a commitment than marriage. Suddenly you’re responsible for shaping the future this little person’s entire life… what you do or don’t do will have an effect on who this person will grow up to be.
Then you find out that your child has special needs, like autism for example, and suddenly your commitment and level of responsibilities sky rocket while your opportunity to shape that young life begins to fade. More work, less rewards.
Like all adversity, this can bring out the best and worst in men… here are a few ways this can affect a dad.
Sadly, this is far too common, where a father simply refuses to believe that their child is “broken.” They’re far more willing to accept that they’re just delayed, or slow, or my personal favourite… that they’ll come around eventually. They’re proud fathers… far too proud to admit “defeat.”
Think back hundreds, even thousands of years, when men had to be warriors or scholars. If a child was born ‘defective’, they’d literally be put to death as it would diminish society. Pretty harsh, isn’t it?
Obviously we’ve come a long way since all of that ugliness but there’s still a touch of that spark in most men, our need to raise children to be warriors, to follow in our footsteps and to make us proud.
The only thing worse than having to accept that our child is flawed is labelling them as such. A father in denial is a father that will do anything to avoid getting their child diagnosed.
The problem with that is that it can mean years of missed opportunities to get therapy, help and even financial support that would have had a profoundly positive impact on the rest of their lives. The first 2 years are crucial!
It’s hard, so very hard, to accept being powerless. You think life is hard on a day to day basis, you have no idea how hard life can be when you have this child that won’t look at you, doesn’t talk to you, doesn’t answer their own name, won’t play with you… not to mention the random meltdowns (uncontrollable temper tantrums) while you’re out in public.
Add to that the $150/hour speech therapy appointments, money for medication, special diet and so on and the bills start to add up.
Having a child that seemingly doesn’t love you, certainly doesn’t connect with you and bills that keep getting higher and higher even though you already can’t manage them can really make you question your abilities as a father.
By the way, did I mention that many children with autism don’t sleep through the night? So you can add on a couple years (yes, years.. not just days) of sleepless nights onto that list.
Feeling where the self doubt comes from?
Perhaps most tragic, at least in my honest opinion, is the father that views their child as something that needs fixing. This means that they see their child as flawed, broken… defective.
No child should ever feel that from their parents, even if they never do learn how to speak or use the toilet, they are human and they are aware of other’s emotions. What’s worse is that when your child can’t function, people, even their parents, tend to forget to filter the things they say and will talk about their child as if they’re not right there. And the things they say, when they think their child needs fixing, can be painful to hear.
These fathers set out on a mission to find the causes, the cures and the people responsible. They channel their inner Rambo and take to the world in search of anything that will make their child the perfect little person they were meant to be.
This can manifest itself in extremely costly treatments that don’t even work, or in vicious attacks on people that have no idea who they even are. They take to the media, or social networks or anything else that will give them means to lash out at those they feel are responsible… or to find anyone that may have any answers for them.
Some dads are quick to realize just how amazing the women are that we’re lucky enough to have as the mother to our child (at least, in most cases anyway. Not all women make great moms).
When it comes to autism, or any special needs really, moms are viewed as warriors for all they have to deal with. They can juggle a million things, a million emotions, the finances, appointments and more…. each day!
There’s a very good reason why there are for more blogs, support groups and more that are not only founded by women but consist of mostly women. And it’s not because men are traditionally the bread winners and don’t have the time. That excuse has come and gone with the changes of time.
The reason is that they’re amazing and the Mr. Moms of the world recognize that they can’t take that for granted.
The Mr. Mom type of dad recognizes that even if they do pull an 8-12 hour shift, they may still have to get some laundry moved ahead or tackle the dishes themselves. The Mr. Mom realizes that he’s going to have to pull his weight around the house because what his wife is doing amounts to much more than 50% of the work load… no matter how stressful your job may be.
Cleaning up, dishes, laundry, doing the grocery shopping and more… some of the things that Mr. Mom isn’t afraid or ashamed to do because he’s more than proud to help out the mother of his special child.
On some special occasions, a father will recognize just how much the women of the special needs community are accomplishing on the internet and around the world and realize that there’s room for more.
Remember how I said that some fathers want their children to grow up to be warriors? To be strong and change the world?
Sometimes a diagnosis like autism has a way of triggering the warrior within themselves. It happens more easily for women because we all know that a mama bear can be very fierce when the well being of their little ones are threatened.
Some fathers are able to take a page from mama bear’s play book and find themselves standing up a little taller, a little stronger… ready to fight for their child.
It’s a clarity of vision for some… the realization that maybe their child being different doesn’t mean they’re broken, maybe it means that it’s the rest of the world that is broken for seeing their child that way.
An activist father sets out to fix the world… not their child.
We’re all too familiar with the concept of men that can’t handle the family life. It’s something that many men run from just because… let alone when you add in all the hardships that having a special needs child adds.
Far too many moms are on social networks right now, looking for support, because they’re single parents.
I’m not without some level of understanding, I know how easy it is to excuse the decision with reasons like “I’m not a father, with me gone, she’ll find someone who is so much better for her” or “I only make her life harder, they’re better off without me.”
It’s noble… but it’s wrong.
You have to realize that leaving a single mom with a TON to do, no sleep, no support, a special needs child and a massive financial burden… what guy wants to jump on board with that?
Sorry women, if you’re reading this, I know I make it sound harsh… the truth is, there are some men out there that will love you despite all that and will help you. But the honest reality is that they are far and few between.
So Mr. Invisible, whatever your reasons are… they’re wrong. You are wrong. And most importantly, no matter how hard it is, your child is perfect… you’re not. Accept it and man up.
Where ever I may roam…
However your child’s diagnosis affects you, unless you’re just plain evil, chances are that your path is created out of love. Whether you feel defeated, too proud, stronger, more sensitive… all of it, it’s because you love your child.
That’s a pretty powerful thing and can create some very powerful results. Whichever path you do find yourself on, remember a few key things:
1. If your child was able to tell you, would you expect that they’d be proud of your actions or ashamed?
2. Are your actions positive or negative? Do they have a positive or negative impact on others?
3. Are you doing what’s best for your wife and child or for yourself?
4. Are you willing to admit, at some point, that the path you found yourself was the wrong one? And more importantly, will you be strong enough to make a change?
Children look at their fathers as if they’re the biggest person on the planet. Don’t let autism be any reason for that to change.
My name is Stuart Duncan, and autism has turned me into an activist. I’d love for you to join me.