I participate in a "Dads Coffee" that gets together and chats up the autism latest-&-greatest and then.....well, other things besides autism. One of the things I have come to grow dependent on is the friendship of other Dads walking the walk. It is so easy to talk trash about the ills of all that we deal with. The best thing about our group is that we don't focus on the negative. Yes, we do dive deep into some of the more painful discussions...but, our intent is to enjoy the journey and the fact that we have all come together because of our common bond.
Therapeutic - check
Necessary - check
Learning - check
Growing - check
Knowing you are not the only one dazed and confused most of the time - check
I have heard some Dads say, "Just because my kid has autism doesn't mean I have to make my circle of friends be centered around autism." That's cool...BUT YOU'RE MISSING OUT! I've enjoyed some fabulous friendships over my life. Some friends were truly intended for college days alone and didn't continue afterwards. Other friends have come and gone over the years. Then again, some friends have become permanent fixtures for various reasons and we can't shake each other off...for better or worse. When you have a child with a disability, no one on the outside truly understands the intricacies of life and the toll it it takes on all your relationships unless they are living the journey as well.
If you are a Dad and you are not connecting and befriending other Dads traveling this path, then maybe you are not doing all that you can to support your family (and yourself) through the journey. Yes, you may be working two or three jobs and doing everything possible to make money to support your family. We support you in doing all that you can. This may very well be the way you are connecting with your family and the community. However, I would bet there are many who are just trying to escape. Maybe you are in need of more "me" time and tired that your wife spends every waking hour in front of the computer researching. All the talk in your home might be about autism this and autism that. You scream, "What about me?" Get over yourself. It isn't all about you anymore, slugger. I don't care how famous you are, how 'together' you have it, how much of a man you think you are. We can all agree, you do need to find ways to refuel your engine, balance your personal dreams and the new requirements of your family. But, leaving your wife and family, walking out when they need you most, this is the easy way out and will scar your children beyond what you can even begin to imagine.
It is pretty common in locker-rooms and boardrooms to hear that you need to "Man Up", "Show 'em what you got", "Get some control", "Be THE man". The one thing missing from all these statements is "no matter how tough things get". Add this short phrase to the end of any 'manly' statement and then it becomes a mantra that has meat to it. I have been an executive and an entrepreneur. I am not speaking from outside the window. I am there in the front row both at home and at work just like any of you. Marathons, triathlons, weight training...these used to be hardcore areas of focus for me. My life changed and so did my priorities. I learned to let go and in return I have let in things I never dreamed possible.
The gents that get together for "Dads Coffee" come from all walks of life and varied life experiences. They do, however, have one common thread...autism. It changed our lives and we are changing each others lives for the better. Autism didn't take my life from me. The experiences I have gained from living in this unique world has broadened my knowledge base, expanded my reach, shown me that anything is possible and introduced me to some very real men. When I come home my boys call me Daddy. I am not the guy who used to be there or the one who couldn't hack it.
Do the right thing and man up, guys. It is about time that autism wasn't viewed as the mom's issue to deal with anymore.
Life is about balance. That is something we have learned over the years. Whether it is girl's weekend (and I stay home to watch the kids so Angie can get away), date night that is made possible because of respite care at a local church or simply getting away to a movie by yourself for time to decompress, refueling your tank and living a balanced life is so important. Come back tomorrow for more ideas about living a balanced life. I'll share what has worked well for us as a family and individuals while navigating this complex maze called life.