I stopped talking to my parents nine years ago. I won’t go into it, but I had an epiphany, realizing how I treated my sons compared to how they treated me. Let me tell you, it’s been a relief not speaking with them and, magically, a long series of stomach aches ended. I recommend it to anyone with long-term parental difficulties.
To their credit, my parents didn’t stop trying to get in touch with me. In their shoes, I’d do the same. I simply wasn’t receptive to the overtures and ignored them. Lately, my father has taken his outreach to nasty levels, writing his distorted view of reality (as opposed to reality) on Facebook and Twitter (yes, Twitter!). It’s his right, though it only reinforces my original epiphany and strikes me as a strange strategy.
One thing he wrote about Nate was eye-opening, and I’ll tell you a related story further on. He wrote – “he [that’s me] showed me no respect for all that his mother and I did for him and his sick son.” I have no idea what he’s referring to, but Nate is not sick. He’s autistic. It’s a neurological and developmental disorder, not TB, but sick is as close as my parents can get to relating to it. There’s obviously a sense that Nate’s a poor ill boy, maybe physically, maybe mentally. Probably mentally; my mother once wondered if Nate’s autism was related or caused by some mental illness on Karen’s side of the family.
Treating autistic kids as sick is a real problem. Searching for a cure, looking to heal the illness, steals valuable time from therapy and hard work. That’s been our approach. We never spent a second figuring out how to solve Nate’s problem. We rolled up our sleeves and got down to work to make him as good as he could be – professional therapy, school assistance, at home interaction. It was often difficult, sometimes felt futile, and always our number one goal. That’s where we planted our flag, in hard labor.
Here’s the promised story: once, I was on the phone with my mother, another in a multi-decade series of meaningless chats.
“You have no idea how difficult it is for me with Nate,” she said. Autism was her cross to bear, her suffering, not Nate’s.
“How hard it is for you?” Even for her this was a bit beyond the norm. “I’m his father. I’m with him every day.” This was a time when Nate was very difficult, not particularly communicative and prone to tantrums.
“I’m his grandmother. It’s different.” QED, end of story. She had it worse than any of us.
But back to Nate. We never saw Nate as sick; he’s not. Far from it. He’s quite well and getting better all the time. We only saw him as different and challenging, needing attention, not sympathy, who, with tremendous support, could do great things. Thank goodness he’s got good parents behind him.