Sunday, June 20, 2021

Autism Answer: So Many Dads



When I first started having babies - looooooooooong ago - I thought dads were overrated. I thought sure, dads are fine, but I never really had one and I didn't think much about it. Staying in a relationship just to keep a dad around is worse for the kids than walking away and doing it yourself. Dads are fine, I guess, but overrated.

Now that I've had a lot more life and have met so many dads, including two of my sons who are now dads, I have a different way of seeing it.

My mom raised eight of us on her own, and she was undeniably enough. She was strong, no nonsense, hard working like a stereotypical father and soft, loving, singing like a stereotypical mom. Yet, she was anything but stereotypical. With adopted kids, biological kids, foster kids, homeless kids, crippled kids, disabled kids, abused kids, all the kids - she loved everyone equally, saw potential all around, and pushed us fiercely while showing us how to build our wings, roller skates, trucks, businesses, homes, whatever we needed to move freely our way in the world.

So it's true that a family can be raised without a dad. But it is not true that dads are overrated.

My own dad wasn't around much when my biological sister and I were growing up, though he wasn't entirely out of the picture. He was okay. He didn't help mom at all but he didn't hurt us when we visited. My step dad, however, was around and did help our mom for a while. He also did hurt us. When mom saw that she left him. It would be hard to overstate how drastically our lives were affected by him.

My entire childhood and teen years I dreamed of being a mom, but not of being a partner. I wanted the children and I wanted them alone. When I finally was having babies I never told the dads they could not see their children, but I subconsciously picked ones that wouldn't.

I, errrrrrr, I am not my mom. So I wasn't as awesome on my own. Luckily, my mom was there to help me out. And then, luckily again, I met a man who would be their dad.

He was great! I didn't live with him so I got to have my dream of being a mom alone, but I had help. He worked hard, cared about each one of the boys equally (only one was biologically his but you'd never have known by the way he treated them, though only one having black skin might have given it away. :D) and supported any dream we had. He was not overrated.

I started to notice other dads. Dads who were always there, dads who were behind the scenes, dads who were not really dads but taking on the role, dads who were helping and dads who were hurting. Dads are not, I began to notice, overrated. They are powerful.

There is no one way to be a good dad. But when you are a dad, you matter. My sons, the ones who never met their biological dads, had been hurt by that. But, luckily for all of us, they were also cared for by so many.

Right now two of my four sons are dads. (All four of my sons have always dreamed of being dads and I love that.)They are drastically different dads, but they are both dads that care about being dads. They are not overrated.

My love, the man I live with now, has been being a dad - with his own children and children of others - since he was nineteen or twenty. He stepped in and cared. He is not overrated.

My own dad wasn't there a lot when we were little. But later in life, when my sister and I were moms, he reached out. Funnily enough, to ask for help from my mom. For a while he was like one of the children my mom took in and loved fiercely while showing him how to build the wings he would eventually need to move freely out of this world. He was an attentive and available grandpa, my boys thought of him as a father figure. My oldest particularly. His presence in their lives, in our lives, is not overrated.

There are so many dads. Some are dads biologically, some are dads because they are moms alone, some are dads that step into a dad role, some are dads that are doing it alone. There are so many ways to be a dad. Fierce, quiet, available, at work, playful, nervous, accidental, confident, hard-lined, most often a mix of it all with certain features prominent. Whatever type of dad you are, whatever type of dad you have, whatever type of dad you are evolving into, remember you are powerful.

I was right that you don't have to have a dad but I was wrong about them being overrated.

A dad is a powerful thing.
If you are a dad, any kind of dad, one of so many dads, I hope you're aware that you matter. Whether the children you care for are little or grown, you matter. You are not overrated.

If you are a dad that is doing your best to be your best, thank you.
That matters.

Happy Father's Day to so many dads!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Autism Answer: Sexuality is Often Fluid



It is #PRIDE month. If the energy and camaraderie of this gives your child the confidence or desire to come out, to tell their family and friends that they are gay, trans, nonbinary, bisexual, asexual, queer - I have a simple suggestion.
Believe them. Accept their version of who they tell you they are, appreciate the courage they are showing, and give them space to discover. 
Keep in mind, sexuality is often fluid. So if your child is gay today and nonbinary tomorrow, don't presume it's because they're making it up or just trying to jump on a trend. It's quite likely they're simply evolving. 

If your child has been afraid to reveal their sexuality and struggled to understand it quietly then they have also been building walls and inventing stories to change, accept, challenge, hate, and love themselves. Coming out doesn't magically make those narratives disappear or push them easily into the past.
And yes, as with all of our children, (but not us adults, no, never us adults) they could be jumping on a trend. It could be they want so bad to be an ally they take on a role, or they want attention, or they're simply curious.  It can be tempting as parents to aggressively try to figure out which it is but that's a mistake. 
Most of our children are going to try on identities in reaction to trends, and most of them will do things, make memories, that create issues they'll have to deal with. But ultimately we help our youth most when we accept who they are, ask how we can be good allies, and imagine futures where they are who they say they are. 
In this environment of acceptance and freedom I believe our children are most likely to change in their own healthiest and happiest directions. It may be that they continue to be bisexual or asexual. It may be that they are and always have been gay. It may be that they don't quite know who or how they love but they do want love. I don't think this means we stay completely hands off and just nod in acceptance as they work to figure out who they are, particularly where our more socially challenged loved ones are concerned. This is a time when our guidance is especially important. (Though, admittedly, appropriate appreciation from our teens and young adults will almost certainly be severely lacking. 😃)
I think we're likely to be the most helpful to our kids by knowing we love them, knowing we want them to be caring and to be cared for in any relationship, and moving forward with them and that in mind.
In this environment I believe our children, our families, and our societies are most likely to change in their own healthiest and inclusive directions. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Autism Answer: Getting Past The First Part


I'm suddenly seeing it more and more, I love that I'm seeing it more and more, and I can't wait till I'm not seeing it at all. 
That's how I feel about the diversity and inclusion I see in shows and in print. Finally, there is more representation and inclusion for people I love. Autistic people, overweight people, older people, gay and trans and non-binary people, physically disabled people, black and brown people. Mixed groups and unusual relationships. I could go on.
Now, I have to be entirely honest. I'm fairly new to watching shows. I've always been a fan of movies and books, but I have generally avoided watching shows. Not because I don't think they're good but because I don't trust myself to nibble on them in moderation. However, in my love life at the moment we are having a blast watching shows and smooching between episodes. (Okay, sometimes we smooch during episodes, too. This is why shows are great! Unlike movies, you can smooch during the show - especially sitcoms! - and not miss out on any urgent or necessary plot points. Even with the real good shows where subtlety and sophisticated storytelling are employed, there's so many more hours of show to help you get caught up. So, smooch away!) So if this diversity and inclusion has been more of a gradual graduation and not so much of a fantastic splash, as it seems to me, then my observation will be old news to you. But I hope you'll permit me to appreciate it out loud anyway. 
When I watched shows in my younger years, I rarely saw people that reminded me of the people in my family (my mom was a single mom with eight kids - six adopted, four with autism and other diagnosis that included fetal alcohol syndrome and mental retardation - three of my brothers are native American, mom is bisexual, a creative entrepreneur and has been diagnosed as "historically Asperger's") and if I did see someone with any similarity to folks in my family it was generally in the form of a character who never changed, was whittled down to a stereotype, and was not the main character of the show.
I think this is partly why it was so hard for me and almost everyone we met to believe my mom when she insisted my brothers were far more capable and complex than we allowed for. When she would beseech us to see them as so much more than a character who would never change and grow, we couldn't fathom where she got this assumption. She confused us by asking us not to see them as challenged but to instead see they had uncommon challenges. Because, yes, they had challenges. My youngest brother, Rye, ran with desperate speed and agility to wrap his little lips around hot tailpipes for a reason. Mom insisted if we cared enough we could help him by figuring out what that reason was in order to find a new way to give him what he needed while keeping him safer and his lips less blistered. I have no idea where she got this certainty, but I know she was right. 
There are so many people in the world like the ones in my family. Yet, we rarely see them. They're not the most common, but they are common. 
Lately when I watch shows and see commercials, when I see print ads and read stories, I notice how many more of the less common people there are. And in more sophisticated and complex ways, as people with more to them than only the part we would label. I love that! 
It still feels a little bit forced, or too purposeful, sometimes. Like, maybe the characters are there merely to say "see, we put them there" or something. But that's partly because we aren't used to seeing it so much. Sure, some of it is likely pandering. But I think it is largely genuine. 
The thing is, we have to get past this first part.
This first part where we make mistakes, where we notice it everywhere, where we struggle with our human nature to resist change while insisting everything needs to change, while we remember that a lot of people think diversity and inclusion is actually the wrong thing to do, and while we opine that we're doing it in the wrong way but struggle to agree on the right way. We have to get through this first part and get to the part where people are more willing to be who they are, to take their disabled loved ones to the store more often, to hold their same-sex spouses hand on the walking trail, to wear a bathing-suit in public regardless of thigh size or body hair or surgery scars. 
I think once we get past the first part it will become like so many other things. Seeing ourselves represented we are more comfortable being ourselves, the public spaces become more accessible to the various disabilities and we meet more of our disabled neighbors, the husbands take their children to a park and so many people don't bother thinking "good for them" or "what is this world coming to" or things of that sort because we are past the first part. 
I think it is deeply important to pay attention what we let ourselves get used to. People who have spent a life being abused are used to being abused. This is something worth changing. And being used to caring about and considering very few people who are disable or sexually diverse or not traditionally attractive is something worth changing. 
And then one day, as it is with so many things, we'll be past the first part and onto the part where we see how it plays out. People and societies are always evolving so this is a never-ending gig. Paying attention. Making changes. Getting past the first part.
But, for the most part, I like what I'm seeing.
And I like looking forward to when I don't see it anymore.