Five separate times he thought he was going to be a dad. When it finally happened, the circumstances weren’t what he was expecting.
I’ve always wanted to be a dad. I envisioned grand thoughts of riding bikes and playing baseball with my son.
In a perfect world, he’d be smart, witty and caring just like his pops. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Sometimes the cards we’re dealt in life aren’t always royal flushes or full houses. Yet, like poker, it’s not about what cards you’ve been dealt. It’s about how well you play those cards.
My experience into fatherhood has been like a worst case scenario of bad beats. Five times in my life I was expecting to be a father. The earliest at age 14. None of those times worked out.
Because of those experiences, I spent most of my life with the idea that I didn’t deserve to be a dad. That limiting belief shattered into pieces the day Dominic walked into my world.
Despite not being my biological son, I’ve stepped into the role of being a daddy for Dom. I’m also playing the role of daddy to his 3-year old sister Kalia, too.
It’s not the scenario I dreamed of because Dominic has severe autism. The struggle of raising an autistic child is something I’d never wish upon anyone. It can be grueling, frustrating and at times downright saddening. At other times, it can be the most rewarding experience I’ve ever known.
Throughout this process, I’ve discovered a variety of things about life and parenthood.
The first thing I’ve learned is that my way isn’t the only way. I’ve always been pretty stubborn and like to do things that follow my routine. That kind of thinking doesn’t get me far with Dominic. This kiddo learns in a much different manner than me.
You and I may read from left to right, but Dominic may start in the middle for all I know. I have to tune into every little nuance to figure out what works for him, not me.
I may hear the relaxing tunes of Mozart on the iPod, but he may hear one C Minor chord that freaks him out. Tapping into what works for him is a challenge that requires a new way of thinking.
One essential tool to help understand him better is working with a deeper sense of empathy. Putting myself into his shoes is the only way I can try to feel what he’s feeling. But let’s face it, I’m kind of shooting arrows in the dark. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have any special training for this kind of thing. Yet, I try. Then I try some more.
The second thing I’ve learned is that patience is a virtue. It’s difficult to remain calm when you have an agitated kid screaming in your ear all day. Seeing him punch himself in the face doesn’t make it any easier either.
Knowing that Dominic will ape and mimic my actions reminds me to remain cool. But let’s face it, sometimes that’s easier said than done. It can be hard to stay mellow when there is chaos all around. Still, I must try. Then I try some more.
I’ve found meditation and long walks outside to be helpful when I get overwhelmed. The good news is; this forces me to meditate and walk a lot!
The third thing I’ve learned is that any fool can make a baby, but it takes a super dad to raise a child. Especially one with special needs like Dominic.
Beyond just focusing on his needs, I’ve realized that it’s crucial to tend to my needs as well. My personal development is imperative in his growth. The better I show up, the more impact I have on him. The more patient I am, the more I have available to share.
Never in a million years did I think I’d be in this position today, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I don’t know what it’s like to witness your babies first steps. I’ve never seen a child utter their first words. But I feel like we get these type of experiences every day as we watch Dominic grow.
Despite what most of the experts tell us, we believe we can help Dom shed this autism disease. I see it with my own eyes every day. It’s not going to be easy, but I can tell you that it’s worth every ounce of effort we put forth.
So until then, I’ll continue to remain open to his ways of thinking, staying calm and doing everything I can to remain a Super Dad!
Photo is author’s own.