Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"How Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth it is.... have a thankless child" - King Lear

Laurence Olivier as King Lear, Alec Guiness as The Fool at the Old Vic, London (1946)

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.


KCLAnderson (Karen) said...

What a beautiful post. I bet it feels good to have vented.

Wendy Han said...

A very thought provoking and enlightening glimpse of this moment in your life.
I noticed, (my daughter does not have AS) the similar teenage journey to my daughter’s emergence into adulthood (now 28). And how well you seem to have done;

The similarity is not meant to be literal but the intensity of her journey took me by surprise.
I had split from my daughter's father when she was around 14 only to ‘give it a go again’, hoping this would give her some stability at a time when she seemed to be increasingly ‘going off on one’ – the getting back together didn’t work; only enough that there were two of us to share the ‘she’s not come home yet’ moments which then escalated into losing track of her studies and partying most of the weekend giving herself recovery time mid week (socially this was the late nineties dance-rave peak).
I didn’t recognise her and crucially from the little girl I had known any bonding seemed to be rapidly expiring before my eyes. And I did think I had a strong friendship bond with her more than a mother bond at that stage. The partying lasted a few months and her studies started to suffer, she didn’t turn up for her part time job, slept a lot etc.,. I decided to do the talk and said what do you want to do with your life ‘ I don’t know’ was the reply through angry tears, basically I said everybody’s got to do something, and the ‘bank’(any funding I was effectively giving her apart from essential) is now closed.
I know everyone’s experiences are different and yours must be very different from mine. But I wanted to mention the disbelief and worry I felt (for her safety/ where she was heading etc) while at the same time realising an era was ending (for me also). Disbelief and worry, anxious about the transition – just doesn’t cover it! – I didn’t expect that kind of intensity of an 18-19 year old teenage girl (surely I wasn’t that bad?.. Er hmmmm maybe). Then with the same suddenness the intensity dissolved, she stopped being stroppy and got on with her studies and eventually (about a year later, if that) found herself teaching infants (which she loves) and the bond I had with her is there just as strongly, we have differences of opinion and I can still feel the family style tension when this happens but the relationship is more adult. I must say I gritted my teeth as my teenage son hit 18 – he is now 20 and still surgically attached to his computer – different times, different personalities.
But from what you have explained in your piece you seem right on the ball,– albeit a different time and different personalities.
I hold my hat up to you (and your family)

George said...

Great post. I am sorry for your frustrations but I am thankful you can vent them. Take it easy my friend.

By the Seat said...

I have a child with SPD, and I've always been outwardly positive and upbeat about it. I've never found the words to express how painful and disappointing it can be. These feelings also come with the territory. Hugs to you.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the stress of dealing with this. Hope you are closer to peace and proud papa today! I also was struck by the "I love you, Dad." thing, b/c the first blog post of mine you ever commented on (yes I remember) was the one where I wrote about how Bella had stopped telling me she loved me. (She finally started back saying it a month or so ago, but she refused for about 5 months no matter how hard we tried to get her to say it.)

KB in NYC said...

What a beautifully written post. Your frustrations, your pain & your disappointment are all very poignant. The fact that you feel all these things just points to how much you care. She's lucky to have a dad like you and trust me (although it may not seem like it) she knows it. And that's the point of being a parent right? To love your child even when they are totally unlovable. I know my parents did and that's probably the greatest gift they could've given me.

You'll be back to 'proud papa' in no time, I'm sure.