I'm resisting the temptation to quote from "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford, not because I have a remarkable sense of restraint, but because I think I did that very thing in a blog post made in a galaxy far, far away.
My posting frequency to this blog has dropped dramatically in recent months. In part, that's because I have been writing and posting with some frequency to my music/poetry blog, My Wordsmithing. The other reason has been nearly everything I feel compelled to write about is either political or religious, and a part of me thinks there is already too much political and religious noise cluttering up the bandwidth.
Thankfully, in this post I don't have to. You see, yesterday marked the 20th birthday of our son. They have been the most challenging, exasperating, and rewarding years of my life. I'm sure there are some other adjectives I could throw out there, not all of them suitable for family consumption.
These 20 years have been challenging because there have been many times when we have wondered what exactly our autistic son is and will be capable of doing for himself as he transitions into adulthood. The answer, as I have learned, is - more than we think.
As parents of a special needs child, I think the tendency is even greater to want to try and protect them from the outside world. The danger in doing so is that we and they never learn what they are truly capable of doing for themselves. As our son has grown into a young man, I have tried to restrain that urge to overprotect. As a father whose own mother worked a lot of nights and whose father was not around while I was growing up, turning that urge off has been even harder.
These 20 years have been exasperating in part because I have realized I am not that great as a father. I suppose I can blame a large part of that on not having good role models while I was growing up, but the fact remains that I am still learning.
The last seven of those 20 years have been particularly exasperating because our son has been, well, a teenager. Although there are some things other teens can do that our son cannot (such as drive), in many ways, our son has been a typical teenager, often not wanting to do the same things as his parents and often spending large chunks of his time in his bedroom with the door closed. I was prepared to say "doing God knows what," and to anticipate the likely response from readers. In this case, though, I know what he is usually doing - playing video games or watching YouTube videos about playing video games.
I suppose these past 20 years have also been exasperating in that our son often will express an interest in this or that and then do nothing to pursue said interest. I have certainly tried to nudge him in the direction of those interests, but I realize I cannot push too hard because in this respect he is a good deal like me. (For many years, I told anyone who would listen that I one day wanted to write a novel. While I have made a few starts, I realized I don't have the patience or the discipline to sit down and do that.)
These 20 years have also been rewarding. One selfish reason for that is that, unlike my own father, I stuck around. That alone likely moves me near the middle of the pack when it comes to fatherhood rankings.
These past two decades have also be rewarding as we have watched our son continually confound, surprise, and exceed the expectations of the so-called experts on autism. He has long been what I term a square peg trying to fit into a round hole kind of world.
I think, though, perhaps the opposite is true and that he is the round peg trying to fit into the world's square hole. Teachers and other experts have always had a hard time trying to get a handle on our son's interests, capabilities, triggers, and the like.
We have long suspected he was capable of much more than the system asked of him, and the last few years have proven us right. The challenge, however, remains finding the proper outlets and channels for those capabilities and the right people to guide him.
While there will always be some things our son will not be able to do, there are, I suspect, things he will be able to do that others cannot. He just needs a little help, a bit of support, and a gentle nudge now and again.
In a little while, we will sit down to cake and presents and celebrate the fact that our son is now 20. The first 20 years have been a remarkable ride. I suspect the next 20 years will be even more remarkable, and I can't wait to find out what great things we will see along the way. Happy birthday, Christopher!