...to have a thankless child" - King Lear
This is a long one, I apologize.
I've written before about how proud I am of my daughter, who, at the age of 2 was diagnosed with autism. Mirror staring, phrase repeating, repetitive behavior, classic autism. I've written about how in many ways it was her own sheer determination and will that helped her break through a good deal of that to the point where she is high functioning and is now under the label of Asperger's Syndrome. I've never written about the part of being her dad that is painful, frustrating and makes me want to run screaming and deny that I am a father to anyone, let alone her.
Today will change that.
First, something to edify those of my readers that don't know what Asperger's Syndrome is.
This is the simplest comprehensive explanation of AS I can find. If you want, read this first, then go ahead. It might be helpful.
My daughter and I are in the middle of a kind of fight this week. Over the Thanksgiving weekend she got into a pretty intense battle with her mother and her stepfather. (To clarify, my ex is not married yet, but her fiancee has lived with them for a few years now so the relationship, while not official, is concrete enough.) My daughter likes digging at my ex wire, as teen aged, early college children are want to do. It went too far, causing my daughter's friends to tell her to back off and my ex wife to break down.
Now to be sure, as events were given to me, my ex was inappropriate a few times and has a tendency to invite this sort of abuse from my daughter without accepting that responsibility. But in the end, my daughter needs to learn when enough is enough. If you've read the link above, you can see how her AS plays into the already troublesome mentality of the late teens/early twenties brain.
Enter me, calmly picking her up on a Sunday before she heads back to school for breakfast and a calm talk about what's going on and how to patch things up. I won't go into detail, but it got ugly at one point when one of the adults lost it and set back my efforts considerably. It was a tough day, but eventually Sarah saw where she had gone too far, felt bad about it and owned up to it. There was peace in the valley, more or less.
I took her to the bus, she hugged me before getting on and thanked me, then off she went.
A little more background. Her mother and I split just before she was diagnosed as autistic. Over several years my ex and I tried to get back together, back and forth back and forth. Long story short, eventually we got smart and gave up.
During the time since splitting up the relationship with my daughter has been complicated for all of us. I alluded to an over possessiveness on my ex's part that created a block between me and Sarah that I didn't have the maturity to understand or work through constructively. The bottom line is that in many ways Sarah and I never got to bond enough in her babyhood. After I moved out, whenever I could come over to begin our weekends together, there would be tears. This was fine and understandable of course, but over time, its difficult to not take this personally.
The AS resistance to changes or shifts complicates this...going to Dad's house for weekends, Grandma's for Christmas, etc...all shifts that are difficult. And because Aspys have trouble with empathy at times, they don't understand the emotional impact of their apparent indifference or resistance. All of this I understand, but in the end, our history while filled with many wonderfuls is also filled with many rejections. Her rejections of me and as much as I get it, it still stings because frankly, its hard not to hear "I love you, dad" once in 19 years. Not because she doesn't love me, but because its just not something she can say. "You too" is the best I can get.
So, honestly, I am somewhat sensitive as a dad. Not one of the most mature aspects of me. But there it is.
Sarah and I had a sort of date this weekend to watch on Hulu from our respective locations, the last episodes of Monk. One of the ways that she and I bond is through the shows and movies we love. It's also a classic Aspy thing and it has made a difference in our relationship. We started to get much closer when I started turning her on to Buffy DVDs when she was 11. It continued with Angel, Alias, Firefly....Monk she found on her own but I was watching it too...and she relates to Monk (guess why).
So, it was something I looked forward to. We made the arrangement last Friday when we were all up at her school to see her ensemble concert. We agreed to watch together over the weekend.
Saturday didn't work out well because it was crazy around here with my roomie's party preparation, so we agreed on Sunday. Sunday was a series of phone calls on my part with schedule issues for her and subsequently me saying, ok..why don't you call me when you are able to watch, even if its not tonight. She agreed.
End of Monday I find on her FB status that she's watched the show and hasn't bothered to tell me directly. Now, I'm less pissed about missing the show with her, though I am disappointed. It's the not calling that gets me.
And yes, she's 19 and to some degree this is normal anyway...and combine that with AS its not unusual. But when I email her about it I get scolded for thinking its such a big deal, as if my phone calls weren't a cue that it was something I really wanted to do with her. To her it wasn't important enough because we weren't in the same room or couldn't talk about it during commercial breaks. So it couldn't possibly be important to me.
Ugh. She doesn't get that its rude, she tries to say that I could have called instead of me waiting for her (as if my 5 calls to her 0 weren't enough). It's the same kind of insensitivity that drove her mother to tears only a week ago.
I've spent 19 years enduring resistance, rejections, patching up fights, advocating for her helping her, coaching her monologues, staying in a city I have come to loathe to be near her, suffered financially to some degree for her and continue to do so. All of these things are things that go along with being a parent. And I don't want to play martyr to it, but today I am sick of it. I am sick of the treatment, sick of the life I live for it, sick of the nonsense drama I have had to deal with. Sick of the situations I am stuck in for her. SICK OF IT.
I know in a few days it will be ok...peace will be had...and that this goes along with the territory of being a father of an Aspy, who is 19, who has all the arrogant and stubborn genes of both sides of her family and who is also a spoiled brat (that I blame on the other parent...but it is what it is). It also goes along with the territory of a child who had the strength of will to pull herself from staring at mirrors in silence at the distance of half an inch, to moving to mainstream education, a specialized high school for actors and into college. Yes her parents helped, but in the end it was her will that pulled her through...and its that same will that makes me want to grow my hair back so I can pull it all out and run to California or Georgia or Arizona and forget I was ever a father. Today. Sometime later this week I'll be back to being proud as can be of her for one reason or another.
I just have to keep remembering, this comes with the territory, this comes with the territory, this comes with the territory.