Father’s Day Special - Interview with an autistic Dad
I’ve considered him a great Dad since he first walked into town on a snow day, from our mountain top valleys house, to get our first pregnancy test. We went through such trauma and loss on the first pregnancy that it reinforced the foundations of our relationship. We have since got married and had two beautiful boys, and we have lived in tired, bleary-eyed happiness ever since.
Diagnosed just after our first baby was born, this step in acknowledging his needs as an autistic man was crucial in giving him confidence in his parenting duties; he’s a great Dad and he knows it. But his parenting is informed by issues quite common in the autistic community: trauma, mental health issues including PTSD and burnout. They manifest in largely positive ways and we want to share this with the community.
1. What’s your favourite memory of being a kid?
When I was about eight and we moved to Wales for the first time, we drove up a long driveway and I thought it was a beautiful hotel. I found out it was our new house and I explored for hours with my brother finding hiding places and secret passages.
2. What’s your favourite memory of being a Dad?
Probably the first time George said I loved you when I was putting him to bed. I would say his birth but that’s tied into a lot of terror. When I go back to think about that, which SHOULD be the best moment, and it was wonderful, but at the same time it was on the back of exhaustion and terror of what could go wrong. So when I think of the best moment I instinctively go for the more calmer memories. And to me, that’s routine and winding down at the end of the day. For him to volunteer that information (“I luh yoo Dada”) in a time that he was barely speaking... even though some part of my logical brain told me he doesn’t know what he’s saying so he can’t mean it... the rest of me, the parts that’ve grown as a Dad, know it’s true and nothing else matters. Because he’s happy, safe and warm and he wants to tell me that.
3. What’s the most important Dad lesson?
I can’t really think of anything. Just generally learn from your own past. Apply the stuff that worked and filter out the crap that didn’t. Try to remember how things made you feel at that age.
Nothing’s as difficult as your head will think it is. If you’ve never changed a nappy in your life, you’ll figure it out after one try. Powdered milk has instructions. When they sleep, you sleep.
My logical brain helps break things down into accomplishable tasks.
But then I was pretty primed, being the oldest of seven, before I had the boys so I have to acknowledge that.
4. Do you remember your grandfather?
If so, what one thing did you love doing with him the most?
Yes. Showing him drawings that I’d done, because he was an artist. And gadgets, he loved gadgets. I owe a lot of who I am to my grandfather.
We didn’t have the relationship where he would take me aside and teach me ‘life lessons’ like ‘here son! Here is how you fish etc’ but what he did do to help, was seeing a lot of the personal traits in me reflected in him, someone so much older than me. Knowing that you can get to that part of your life and still be shy and not a huge conversationalist but you can still be amazingly happy and have a good life behind you. And that a lot of things people tell you are childish like drawing, gadgets and toys, that it’s fine if you enjoy those at any age.
5. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Never, ever had a set thing. I remember beingin infant school and (the teacher) going around the class asking everyone what they wanted to be. And even then I was like *logical and dry-witted* “I’m five... really?!🤷🏻♂️”
The teacher had instant answers from everyone “police man, doctor, soldier, nurse, fireman...” and I remember fireman because it was the kid sat next to me who said it immediately before it was my turn, so when they pushed me next for an answer I just echoed “fireman”. Telling them whatever they wanted to hear to move it on.
6. How do you feel being a stay at home dad is going, four years in?
It feels good that I’m able to do this part of having a family, and have you (Hayley) pursue your career/education at the same time. We wouldn’t have been able to do it if I had to be the “”””main breadwinner”””” because bread is pretty cheap in the shops anyway, who the hell is entering competitions for bread?!
(Chuckles to self) Sure, if you won enough of it, it would be worth *something* but it would go off SO quickly. And I couldn’t pass for a baker so it’s not like I can sell it on. I’d need a storefront, branding and marketing... wtf were we talking about?
The constant comments or just slightly raised eyebrows “ohhh... what does your wife do, then?” Gets really effing grating. But I do enjoy the squirming people do when they really want to tell a 6ft 2” bearded man with a thousand yard stare that he’s ‘doing women’s work’.
So much of it (parenting) is about getting through the moment. If you think you can get through the next ten seconds you’ll be fine.
So much of it is keeping together in moment. A thing happens, you react in the manner you know you should, and you move on. There are a limited number of remedies for any of the daily parenting problems. If they’re crying they may need comforting, food or teething gel. It’s mundane. But mundane is good.
7. What’s your favourite thing to do with the boys?
Lie on the floor, flat. It’s like hyenas on a fresh carcass. There’s swarming and biting and wrestling... that one simple trigger to them of ‘daddy is on the floor now’ ends up in chaos and I don’t know why but it gives them so much happiness. Maybe they’re practising hunting me...
8. What do you think makes you different from other Dads?
That I’m around a lot more. Not just in terms of being a stay-at/home Dad, but because we don’t go out at night or on the weekends to do our own thing.
But also, I’ve a variety of life experiences to add to it. Some of the things I’ve gone through and experienced are definitely on the rarer side of usual. I think that gives me a perception of people that I feel my children will benefit from.
I despise the macho relationship with violence and the subsequent glorification of it, the boys are growing up knowing it’s not something they have to be a part of, or victim to. That experience means I can confidently tell the boys that they can be caring and sensitive and witty, which they are, without the feeling of having to perform otherwise.
No matter who you think you are as a person, you can still be a great dad. Having a partner who is as reliable as you are is important. But ultimately you’re accountable to yourself. How many hundreds of millions of years have we been around as a species and throughout our history there has been so many awful, awful fathers... and yet we are still here.
You’ve got to start with intent, and if you’re intent is to be a good father and you follow through with that, you can’t go far wrong. Not in any ways that really matter.”
After he finished he delivered a silent, tired nod of satisfaction and plugged in to some Fortnite. He’ll wake up in the morning to your average Card Factory goodies and some cards but I hope this mini interview has given him food for thought and the kudos he deserves.