Fatherhood Unfolds

A dad on Asperger's, dreams and pre-dawn coffee

Photograph by Purple Clover

I had fallen asleep reading a 1922 novel called "Futility," a lost English classic by William Gerhardie, when my son woke me to say he had peed in the backyard. "Futility" is an odd sort of book – the writer has been compared to Chekhov and Waugh, who were neither as tragic or comic, respectively, as the short book on them would indicate; his narrator tries in very British fashion to sort out a bizarre, semi-paralyzed family of Russian quasi gentry. And being the parent of a grown son with Aspergers can be as maddening in its own right – too sad at times to be funny, but too absurd to be truly tragic.

Earlier that evening, my son and I had attended a meeting of Asperger's kids (in their teens and twenties) and their parents in Orinda, Calif. The people running the meeting had started a summer camp for Aspies years ago and now presented their own 25-year-old son, a student at a state college, as evidence that parents’ perseverance can pay off. The "kids" (as they kept calling them) were in one room, playing word games with some of the camp counselors, who were younger than many of the young adults present. Their parents were in another, and I recognized the thousand-yard stare of many parents of special-needs kids that I’d met.

As much as I liked what they were doing and admired their gung-ho spirit, I felt like my son and I were in the wrong place. He was too old for camp and needed something more elusive: a group home with some other grown kids on the autism spectrum. But I’ve learned to treat all these events like fact-finding missions: You can’t really know what’s on offer ‘til you go. But as the evening broke up, with big Aspie kids towering over their parents like giant St. Bernards, one of the counselors told my son he would make a good counselor himself.

I got up to find my son still alive, in front of the TV at 5:30 a.m., and I sent him off to bed. I told him not to worry about what had happened last night.

“Maybe he could come to camp as a sort of senior helper,” the woman running the show said, and my son looked sort of pleased. He gets tired of being treated like a kid, even if he acts like one much of the time, and when we got back to our sublet in Sausalito, we shared a late repast and talked about him as camp counselor. He liked the idea.

Then I went to bed with my novella and, being on East Coast time, I was asleep within about five pages. That was when my son woke me — something he seldom does (intentionally, at least). I sat up and turned on the light as he entered my room.

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“I really fucked up,” he said.

“What happened?” My mind swirled with dark possibilities, though I didn’t smell smoke.

“Well, I’m taking this new medication,” he said, “and I was outside smoking a cigarette when I really had to pee. So, I started peeing in the bushes and I heard the lady upstairs knocking on her window and now I think they’re really mad.”

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It took me a second to process the disaster and finally I said, “Well, that was not a good thing to do. But it was an accident and she’ll get over it and we’ll be out of here in a few weeks anyway. “ I told him to relax and take a bath, and then I fell back to sleep.

I had a dream that morning that he died. My wife was in the dream, too, getting her hair and nails done – she looked like the Cowardly Lion before entering the Emerald City – and she was mad at him for leaving the TV on. Until she too realized he was dead, and we held each other in our grief.

I awoke with that awful feeling you get after some nightmares: You know it wasn’t true but the emotional truth remains. I believe every person in our dreams represents some aspect of ourselves — so I was wishing I could ignore my caretaking dilemma (getting my hair done) and wishing I were dead. And I was a coward.

I got up to find my son still alive, in front of the TV at 5:30 a.m., and I sent him off to bed. I told him not to worry about what had happened last night.

“I’ll get over it,” he said, still ashamed. “Someday, this will make a really good comedy routine.” He left the room and turned off the light while I made coffee. My day was just beginning.

Tags: Parenting

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