Not Always Nice

I’ve alluded in past posts to scenes where Nate and I tussle. Those are difficult moments, when our emotions are unleashed and I, though I should know better as a non-autistic, much older person, should keep it together. I usually do, but not always. When he and I battle, it ends with him forgetting about it, ending the episode with a flatly delivered  “Sorry I hit you Dad,” and me weighed by deep guilt and a sense of confusion and loss (though temporary) of my identity as a “good father.”

Those are the worst of times, but there are more casual moments, when my usual sharp tongue can’t be controlled. Sarcasm and mockery are two of my greatest skills, but I’ve tried to never use them on my kids. As Robbie and Joey got older, and they developed the same pointed wit, then I could kid with them, because they either started it or were quick with a comeback. Those interactions have led to some funny family moments.

Nate is usually spared that, although, on some level, I don’t think he should be. During high school, there were kids who knew just what to say to set him off, and while Nate’s support team felt that was verboten, I mildly disagreed.

“Why should he be exempt from high school teasing? No one in history has been.” Thankfully, Nate was usually impervious to the taunts, his autism providing a thick shield of asociality.

At home, his brothers were mostly kind to him and so were his parents. Yet, there have been times when I couldn’t help but cut loose. This past summer, when he was in the back seat yammering a stream of catchphrases, gibberish and noise, I said, with what I thought was warm humor, “Nate, you’re really having an autism party back there!” Nate and I often talk about his autism so it didn’t seem out of line to me, but Rob was dumbfounded; he couldn’t believe I’d said something so cruel.

Interestingly, a bit of name-calling resulted in an amazing shared experience. Nate was babbling away, maybe having a fit  (this was in 2008 he just told me) and I was at the end of my tether.

“Cut it out Rain Man!”

Nate stopped cold. “What is that?” He was suddenly very focused, very pointed.

“It’s a movie about a guy kind of like you.”

“I want to see that.”

I ordered it from Netflix and Nate and I watched Rain Man together. We would talk over it sometimes, comparing Raymond to Nate. Nate watched closely, with great fascination, and I watched Nate, with equal amazement.

Back in 1988, when Karen and I had been married for two years, we saw Dustin Hoffman as the autistic savant. Interesting, emotional, but in no way connected to us. Life is full of surprises, isn’t it?

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About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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