I made a vow in the months leading up to the birth of my son, Nolan, in 2005 that I would be a great father on whom he could always depend. I renewed that vow, with conviction and in front of a room of doctors and specialists, when he was officially diagnosed with Autism in the summer of 2008.
Nolan would always need someone who projected strength, and who better to do that than his dad? You’re underestimating what you think he’s capable of? I’m going to tell you you’re wrong, cupcake. He’s having a difficult time in public, yelling at 90 decibels and headbutting me? Count to 10, 50 – whatever it takes – take several deep breaths, stand tall, and keep telling him everything will be all right.
As far as my own belief in that, I know sometimes that I sit on a throne of lies.
Last week was at times a turbulent one at our house that included hyperactivity, tears, and insomnia. I mean, there are many weeks where something that happens here – meltdowns, messes, damaged or broken items – meets the criteria of a Category 5 disaster. But much of the mayhem stemmed from the fact Nolan got up very early two mornings – 3:15 one day, a little before 4 another – and went from 0 to 120 miles per hour the second his feet hit his bedroom floor. It also didn’t help that there were evenings where I’d dozed off in the living room and then had trouble falling asleep once I’d gone to bed.
I’m typically the one who wakes up and gets Nolan what he needs, and also to make sure nothing catastrophic happens so that Cindy can try to get a little extra sleep before she has to get ready for work. It isn’t always pleasant, but I normally can function just fine once I’m up and moving. However, on one of the mornings when it was still dark, Nolan had requested food on his iPad and left the kitchen after I’d gotten him what he’d asked for, and the school bus wouldn’t pulling up in front of our house for another two-plus hours, I went back to our bedroom, fell facedown onto the bed, and said “uncle.”
“I don’t know if I can do this the rest of my life,” I told Cindy.
There is no question that I love Nolan unequivocally. I’ve long since stopped asking why he has Autism, and I no longer take a detour to a world where all the bad things have been cleaned and sanitized better than Servpro ever could. Yet there still are too many instances when I feel sorry for myself. The “woe is me” goes against everything that was instilled in me decades ago, yet that mentality still has a tendency to creep into my mind when it shouldn’t.
These are the moments when I need reality to slap me aside the head, ala Cher to Nicolas Cage, and scream at me to snap out of it. I had such a moment later that day.
I ran into someone I’ve known for a few years and started chatting. This person has an adult child who has had a rough go of it the past couple years since leaving home. There’s also been some tension between the young adult and another family member. But thankfully, the family and this person had talked things out, and they were going to be moving back home. Simply saying that their child would be back under their roof for as long as they needed to be made my friend smile.
I’ve long admired this family for many reasons, the biggest of which is their unconditional love for and commitment to each other. They might face adversity – and believe me, they have many times in the years that I’ve known them – but they always come together and deal with it. I would hope, and I would like to believe, that all of this family’s children realize they have something very special in their parents.
I can only hope that Nolan has the same kind of faith in me, even when I’m not feeling so strong.
My late mother was, and still is, my role model when it comes to having intestinal fortitude. She spent nearly 40 years of her life taking care of my late father, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis around the time I was born. I witnessed her having to deal with more than her fair share of challenging situations over the years. Did she handle all of them as well as she could have? No. Did sadness and frustration occasionally get the best of her when no one was watching? Yeah. Stronger people have reached their breaking point much faster under less stressful circumstances.
But whether she realized it or not, I always saw her project confidence to the outside world. She loved dad and did everything she could to help him until weeks before she passed away. Anyone who met her couldn’t help but believe she had everything under control, even if that wasn’t the case.
I think it’s fair to say the really challenging days still lie ahead for Cindy and me as Nolan moves closer to adulthood. We’ve begun planning for his post-high school life, which is – gulp! – just a little more than five years away. And as much as I don’t want to think about, the effects of aging will become even more noticeable in the coming years. But even though I might get weaker physically, I know my resolve to ensure Nolan’s well-being must get stronger.
Will I handle every difficult situation well? I know I likely will do several more faceplants into the comforter in our bedroom. Will sadness and frustration occasionally get the best of me when no one was watching? Yeah. There will be countless days when I’m going to feel like Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago have all leveled me back-to-back-to-back. But if Rocky Balboa got up and kept fighting, then so can I.
Am I great father? It goes without saying that I try to be. I always fall short of where I want to be, and I know I always will. But can Nolan always depend on me to be there for him? Absolutely.