Being a Dad…the best role I've ever had.

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The Extended Family

Last night, Preston was having a bit of a difficult time. He had a concussion in November and is still suffering from the ill effects of the injury. He was a little upset that the weekend was over and he wanted to spend more time with his father. I may be step Dad, and treat him like my own, but I’m not DAD. I explained to him that I knew exactly how he felt. He gave me a funny look as if to say ‘yeah, how would you?’ I told him how lucky he was, he had two Mom’s and two Dad’s who love him very much. When I was growing up, I didn’t know my ‘birth’ mother or my Dad. I had spent some time with them, but didn’t really know either. The lady I called MOM, adopted me when I was his age. I told him that I didn’t really get spend any time with my Dad until eight or nine but got to really know him when I was a teen. I told him it was OK to feel the way he did and never be afraid to talk to me about it. He gave me the biggest hug, like a burden had been lifted. He asked me a few more questions about my childhood, which I answered. I reassured him that his Dad was welcome to drop by anytime he could to spend time with Preston. It also made me think about ‘FAMILY’.
They say blood is thicker than water, which may be true, but FAMILY trumps it all. And, in my book, there doesn’t have to be any blood relation to make a FAMILY. Yesterday was my SISTER’s birthday. We are not related by blood and, it seems, we don’t even share the same mother…but, that is OK. I grew up knowing who my family was, just as I want Preston to know his. Mike has been part of my family for six years now and it does not matter, to me, how that came to be. He, too, is part of my family.
Ann, the sister who had the birthday yesterday, and her late husband, treated me like a king when I was little. I remained very close to them until they moved to New York. I always had a problem with that, but, I really do not know why. They moved to be closer to their son and grandchildren. As that happened after the deaths of my Mom, my Dad and my first wife, it kind of felt like I was being left alone. That scared me. I don’t know why, as I still had a big family right here at home. My son, my then girlfriend (whom I married a short time later) and the rest of my family-which, just seemed invisible.  Ann and I grew apart, but not very much. The death of her husband had a big impact on me, he was, after all, like a Dad to me for most of my life. And, even though I don’t talk to her as much, I still love her and nothing will ever change that. I have three other sisters too…Mary, which Mom also adopted; Katy, who is my blood sister (meaning we are actually, biologically, related-have the same parents) and Rose. I could write a book about this.
Each one of those three ladies are awesome in their own ways and, as a result, I feel like I am a better man because of things I learned from them.
Mary was always unapologetic and adventurous. She showed me that following the rules was not always the best thing to do…I know how that sounds, but, she was right.  She’s had some rough times, but got through them and is now a fine lady, content with the way things turned out. Even now, when things don’t always go the way they should, she maintains that same attitude. It is a quality I wish I had.
Katy is my more liberal minded sister.  Polar opposite of me, more like the way my Dad thought.  She is very much like him, her sense of humor, the way she looks at things and the way she just accepts people. Well, OK, my Dad was not quite as accepting of a lot of people.  I didn’t grow up with her, we saw very little of each other as the ‘social workers’ in Chesterfield did their best to keep us apart.  We keep in touch now and I’m very glad we do.
Rose was a foster child Mom had for several years.  When she was released from the foster care system, she chose to stay with us. Rose has a physical disability–cerebral palsy–that left her not quite as mobile as most are.  She complemented the rest of my expanding family, only moving out on her own when she was in her late twenties.  Over the years, we’ve drifted apart and I do regret that.  It is one thing I need to work on. It isn’t because of an argument or anything like that. For the longest time, I convinced myself it was the distance-she lives in another state with what is left of her family. Distance, though, is a cop out. I just need to do it.
Suffice it to say, that there is actually very little ‘blood’ in my family and that’s OK.
That brings me back to Preston.  The difficulties of just trying to cope with the big world and Autism is hard enough.  Having your life change so much and in such a short time is overwhelming.  When he started to melt down last night, I though ‘oh my lord, what did I say this time’, but, this time, I think he was just looking for some comfort, even though it took a bit of effort to get him to open up.  And, he isn’t one to just blurt out what his problem or problem really is.  You have to piece it together.  That’s tough to do.
Little dude is having a difficult time dealing with his now bigger family. The two small one’s, Sam and Xander, bug him. He has to share a room with Sam when he goes to his Dad’s house and, soon, will be sharing a room here, with Xander. Sam is step brother (and cute as a button) and Xander is half-brother. Both are just annoyances to him. I suspect, in a few years, that will change. He still sees Xander as a bother, but warms up to him when he thinks it is necessary and plays with him, from time to time, without being prompted to do so. He still thinks that both are out to kill him, even though they are just playing.  In Preston’s view, there’s little difference between play and non-play action. It is something he is trying to learn.  He’ll figure it out. He’s one smart kid.
He also thinks he doesn’t get much time with Dad.  He’s right, he doesn’t.  That’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the way things are…it’s not always fair. However, having said that, it isn’t quite the lack of time that Preston perceives it to be.  Dad picks him up Friday afternoon and brings him back, early evening, on Sunday’s.  Once in a while, that doesn’t happen for various reasons…vacation, work, illness, etc.  It isn’t because Dad doesn’t want him or we don’t want Dad to get him. Those are infrequent.  Not to Preston, though. One of the Autism traits he exhibits is perception distortion. That is, two days to him is more like two hours.  This past weekend, Dad picked him up for physical therapy and then took him home. He came back a bit early for a birthday party that he had been invited. Now, we are only talking a couple of hours difference from the norm, but, for Preston, it was like a day. Add in the time that Dad spends with Dad’s new family and Preston feels like he doesn’t get enough Dad time.  And, try as I may, I’m not Dad. Nor am I going to pretend to be. I will treat him like mine, but never try to replace Dad.  And, that’s the way it needs to be.  I think Preston has accepted me as ‘dad 2’ and, in this case, I’m happy to be number 2.
We are all working with Preston to not look at his brothers as anything but brothers.  Preston has fully accepted Chase as big brother and Chase loves him the same way. They get along great. He also seems to have accepted his new sister–also older than him. It is just the young ones he has a problem with…they are, after all, trying to ‘kill’ him, you know, when they are not playing with him. He has yet to realize the support system he has or how big his family has become.
In time, though, I hope he will come to appreciate his expanded family as I have mine.
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What if my other children are also Autistic? What if I am?

When we began the process for getting my step-son evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorder, I did not know much about it. I still don’t, but I do know more that I did.  I have also changed my perception of people with ASD.  My first hand experience with my step-son has been all over the map, but mostly a huge, positive one. That, for several years, I just thought he was spoiled speaks volumes about his condition. If you did not know, you would think he was ‘normal’, maybe a bit mature, for his age.

However, thinking back about some of his quirks, outbursts and other traits, I see that in my other two kids.  My 18 year old exhibited many, but not most.  My three year old, again, shows many of the characteristics but not all.  And, then there is myself.  I fit the bill on many of the characteristics but, again, not all. And, this begs the question I posed in an earlier post: how many have either been misdiagnosed or, worse, not at all but should be?

For example, Xander, my three year old, is prone to outbursts, much like Preston did.  He does not ‘melt down’ as much or to the same degree as Preston once did, but, nonetheless, Xander still does.  He also is beginning to show some of the same texture issues that Preston does.  Xander tends to get fixated on one thing for days or weeks at a time.  However, the one big sign that Xander exhibits but Preston does not: Xander has a very vivid imagination.  He can take anything make it into a toy and play for quite a while.  You can hear him acting out things.  He also bursts into song, exhibits empathy and will engage total strangers.  Preston does none of this.

And then there is myself.  I can be rather rigid in my thinking.  And, though I thoroughly enjoy being around others and participating in conversation, I don’t really care much for people in general.  I do not get scared or anxious in crowds, but it is uncomfortable at times.  Sometimes, I find myself not caring when I should and also tend to gravitate to one, maybe two people when in a group.  Generally, when she is with me, that person is my wife.  She is my comfort zone and I tend not to leave the ‘zone.’

As far as imagination goes, I have tons of that.  But, what’s odd is that I cannot always ‘see’ what’s in my head.  I know what things look like, but I often cannot ‘see’ the object in my head.  I found out, via a friend, that this is an actual condition called aphantasic.  You, literally, are ‘brain blind’ in that you cannot imagine or picture anything in your head. I’m not quite like that, I can ‘see’ dim images, but no detail and lack of color.  I would make an awful witness. I am terrible with names and faces for this reason.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, I don’t quite know except that the brain is a very delicate and complicated device.  I don’t think Xander is autistic, but, honestly, I think it is too soon to really know.  I think he is more the three year old than an autistic three year old.  ADHD, maybe. 

Since getting the diagnosis, I see Preston more as a child that needs our help, needs my help, more than seeing him as a spoiled child (which, like most children, he is to a degree.)  Knowing WHY he does what does makes it much easier for me to understand and cope just as he has to.  It also helps me be me…see, I share many of his quirks too.  I always denied it, my wife loves to point it out, but, I think she is on to something.  Who knows, maybe I have Aspergers (which, apparently, is no longer discussed.) Whatever the case, I have learned that the world doesn’t give a darn about me and that was one of the biggest eye opening moments of my life. It does not revolve around me or anyone else.  Preston will figure this out too.

As odd as it sounds, I am looking forward to embarking on this journey with him.  And if Xander does turn out to have the same thing, I look forward to walking with him as well.

Love and patience, my friends.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg…not putting its breast foot forward (here’s a hint…they need women in charge)

One of the benefits of being a Dad is that you are not the Mama. In my case, I don’t breast feed my 12 week old son. For me, that’s a bonus.  For my wife, however, it is both a blessing and a curse. However, before I go on, let me say that is a beautiful thing to witness: that closeness of mother and child. A symbiotic relationship that, until recently, I never fully appreciated.

My late wife was unable to breast feed and it always angered me the attitude that many took toward her for not doing so.

Fast forward fifteen years and my current wife is breast feeding our infant. I totally get why mother’s want to do so: that is a very strong bond and something that is just wonderful to witness. Overall, it’s such a natural and lovely thing…until you go out.

While April has yet to encounter any prejudice or been told to stop, you can see how uncomfortable and just how ill-equipped many places are to handle such things. Places that purport to be family and child friendly. Like a theme park. Busch Gardens Williamsburg, to be specific.

I had recalled seeing several ‘nursing stations’ in the past, but never paid much attention to them. Well, we recently went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg-it is, after all, our favorite amusement/theme park. Big, beautiful, good food and very family friendly.

Except for the nursing stations. 

Elmo land, Sesame Woods or what ever they call the newest kids section is one area where, one would think, there would be nice, accommodating nursing areas. Wrong. They have ONE, little, tiny room with a stool.That’s it. If there’s more than one child who needs feeding, well…mom just has to whip it out and let the child eat.

And that is precisely what happened. 

April was lucky and got the room.  I  am standing outside, waiting. This tall, somewhat thin woman walks up with her infant. Knocks, realizes the room is occupied and turns around and sits on the carrier that she was pushing her child in. Next thing I know, the child is feeding. The woman is sitting there, just smiling and feeding her kid. She did it so fast, I did not realize what she had done.  The woman obviously knew how to discreetly feed her kid. Thing is, she should not have had to do that. (As it turns out, she was a lactation specialist…she and April spoke for a few minutes.)

Now, the other theme park in the Richmond area, Kings Dominion-which, really, is second rate to Busch Gardens-has a really nice BUILDING devoted to the little ones with nearly half of the building devoted to breast feeding Mom’s. It is a decently sized building. A large play area, staffed desk, diaper changing areas, microwave and bottle warmers are available and…five rooms to breast feed. Comfy chairs too.  The difference in the parks, I’m sure, is that there were likely women involved in the Kings Dominion area and men for Busch Gardens. (In fact, we did speak with an employee who suggested that it was, in fact, all men who were in charge.) It is almost enough to me ashamed to be a dude.

However, at least BGW does have them. Most public places do not.  Now, I’m not advocating a law that would require it, however I would think that many business with the room would at least have a small area where a Mom could take care of such things and not make others uncomfortable.

And, I have to wonder, what’s the uncomfortable business about anyway? Most woman can ‘whip it out’ in such a manner that you: don’t see anything and baby just looks like it is using a pacifier (which, I suppose, a nipple is anyway.) I can’t believe I ever worried about it or felt uncomfortable.

Once in awhile, someone will get it and actually talk about it. I recall, recently, an older waitress noticed and just started talking to April about it. It was like it was something that happened all of the time (I don’t think it is in that particular place) and it was as if she knew my wife for years. That was the first time they ever saw each other. 

Males are the worst at hiding it. Some will act like nothing is going on and make sure they direct their attention at me while others will discreetly stare or, at least, appear to look my wife in the eye. I know they are angling for a glimpse…horn dogs.

I have to admit…when she first started, I was very aware and a little embarrassed. I got over it quickly. I don’t care where she feeds Xander now.  It is a natural and wonderful thing.  People just need to get over it.

Seriously.

Being Dad

xander_spock_paintingI have been a father for fifteen years now.  I have two sons and one stepson.  They are 15, 5, and six weeks. Yep, six weeks. At the young age of 47, I have started over this whole Dad thing.

I still remember when my late wife informed me that she was pregnant. I was still mostly asleep.

“Honey, I’m pregnant.”

“Honey!”

“That’s nice dear!”

“Did you hear me? I’m pregnant!”

That was nearly sixteen years ago. Last summer, my wife says “Honey, I’m pregnant! I’m not crazy!”

My reaction, this time, was a bit more lively. Tears ensued and, well, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.  Just like that moment, sixteen years ago when it finally struck me that I was going to be a Dad.

Until I met and married my first wife, being a father was the last thing on my mind. I was a horny geek. I only cared about geek stuff and sex.  Funny thing, once the sex entered the picture, I didn’t even care about the geek stuff.

I was a late bloomer when it came to dating.  Awkward and inexperienced. I had no idea as to what to do or how to act.  Again, being a father was something I had not given a second thought. I was a typical guy, I suppose. Dating and all that comes with it was fun and exhausting. I had a couple of ‘long’ relationships, even thought one was going to be ‘it’. It wasn’t, but that is OK.  It would not be long before I found ‘it’. She was cute, funny and someone I took to right away.

And, once I realized that this cute, funny woman was someone I wanted to settle down with, then I began to think. Maybe this family thing was something I wanted. Yeah, maybe so. We talked about it, a lot. We decided we wanted to be in our own house before raising a child. Almost six years went by…

Fast forward to 1997 when my first son was born.

Suddenly, I had this wonderful little person to help care for.  It was rough at times, for Chase was colicky and, once we got that under control, he started getting sick. A lot. As time went on, we found out that he had an autoimmune problem. He could not produce enough white blood cells to fight off anything. As he got older, it got worse and we ended up having to give him infusions once a month. It worked, and his immune system got much better.

Today, he still gets sick, but not as often and not as long as he used to.

In 2010, Chase’s mother passed away. She died from pneumonia, but had been sick for quite some time.  It was quite a shock to both of us, but Chase was my bedrock and we got through it.

Through Facebook, a relationship with someone blossomed and, last year, I married her.  She is a beautiful, vibrant and all around awesome lady. And, best of all, she puts up with me.

Preston, my wife’s son from a previous marriage, is a smart and full of energy five year old.  Like Chase, Preston is a scary smart kid.  Preston needs little in the way of instruction when it comes to electronic devices. He can grasp certain ideas (but, like any child, there are some that go over his head, like listening to parents) and has an excellent grasp of the English language.  He is lucky in that he has not one, not two but three parents who care deeply for him and spend the time with him.

Xander, our six week old, is just so damned sweet. So sweet, you just want to eat him up, figuratively, of course.  I cannot wait to experience the firsts again, to watch him figure out what those things are that he keeps flailing. To watch him experience solid foods. Take him to his first movie. Watch him walk.  Watch him develop. And, I cannot wait to ride his first rollercoaster.  I got to do that with Chase and Preston. It was very special. I still remember riding one, for the first time, with my Dad. It was the Scooby Doo at Kings Dominion near Richmond.  I remember the Jet Star at the State Fair.  I don’t know why, but the rollercoaster experience seems very special to me and I cannot wait to do so with Xander.

Being a Dad has its downs as well. Having to correct them is never fun. Especially when you know they are fully capable but were just careless. Teaching them that there will be consequences in life for ones actions is, perhaps, the most difficult part of parenting.

Perhaps being able to tell when they need guidance and help is also a difficult aspect.  I know I’ve had issues with it. Both our five and fifteen year old have needed certain help and I was slow to recognize that. But, we have gotten over that. At least, I hope we have. As with anything in life, one never can be certain but you hope you do the best for them.

I hope my sons know I am there for them. It may not always seem like it, but I am. Just as my wonderful wife is, so am I. 

Trying to maintain a balance with the kids, my wife and my own needs is very tricky. Sometimes I am selfish, I know.  I try my best not to be, but I know I don’t always succeed. My bride sometimes lets me know, but, for the most part, she puts up with me and does not complain. She is awesome.

With all it entails, I cherish the role of Dad. I would not trade it for anything in the world.

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