This probably isn’t the best use of my time today, but here it goes anyway . . .
My estranged father passed away about 6 weeks ago. We had not seen or spoken to each other since 1999 when my family decided to emotionally attack me and my son my Braeden. I had gone through life being the ugly, fat and stupid one in their eyes (and words) and they had decided that because Braeden wasn’t social with them that he must be autistic. My father went so far as to say “but he is still okay to be around” – this from the man who picked him up as a newborn and held him at arms length away from his body.
I was devastated, but since the suggestion came from my brother, a psychologist specializing in early autism, I had to have Braeden tested. Every single person we saw for evaluation said that whoever suggested he may be autistic had no clue what they were talking about it. When we explained it was a Ph.D. who writes chapters of books on autism, they spent a lot of extra time showing us all the ways that Braeden was clearly not on the spectrum. The biggest issues were that as a toddler – he was 15 months old – he used to like run his hand over my braided hair repeatedly and he was a toe-walker. Toe-walking runs in Dave’s family. I have to say it was kind of charming because Braeden was an extremely graceful small child who could toe walk across a balance beam at gymnastics with sheer perfection.
Anyway, I had told my family prior to our visit that while I had put up with the verbal abuse and degrading my whole life because they are my family, there was no way I would allow them to do the same to my child – I would protect him a way that no one ever protected me. After they sat me down to tell me Braeden was autistic, we grabbed him, me in tears, and left. That was that. We saw our family doctor immediately and she said, about Braeden, “He just doesn’t like your brother! And neither do I!” I was in tears and my little 15-month-old was comforting me, very clearly concerned about how mom was feeling.
The only communication I received my father after that date was the letter saying Braeden was still okay to be around, and he may have also been the one who called a year later to tell me my sister was in the hospital (but I can’t remember whether it was him or my mother’s cousin who did that).
I was a much healthier and happier person without this constant negative barrage in my life, but it also hurt because this is not what family should be like. I don’t know how many conversations I have had with Braeden, now 14, about how I never want him to walk out of my life. He did, I would still call on his birthday, or send a card, or somehow find a way to communicate with him that no matter what I will always love him. There may be times when I may not like something he does, or perhaps I won’t agree, but I will always, always, always love him.
Thane came along 4 and a half years after the family divorce. He had issues since the say he was born – failure to thrive, sleeping 21 out of 24 hours, being a very unhappy little baby. We started questioning what was up with him well before our doctors did. He would learn a word, but then if he learned a new one it would replace the previous word. If you tried to get him to talk, he would cover his ears and turn away. He didn’t respond to his name. His speech therapist at two felt he had a childhood apraxia of speech. He was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at 2 years 8 month (in part because it takes a good six months to get an evaluation around here), including sensory integration disorder. At 5 years 5 months the diagnosis was refined to Asperger’s Disorder, though I have some minor conflicts with the diagnosis. I thought it was only for those without a speech delay, but Thane had a moderate- to severe- delay at that first evaluation, though currently has no speech delay (his skills are somewhat Swiss cheese, though, where he some fabulous skills and some issues with conversational and social speech). His most recent evaluation at 8 years 6 months has him with Asperger’s Syndrome, Anxiety Disorder-NOS (some perfectionism and OCD), and, of course, he still has sensory integration disorder. Imagine what fun my family would have putting him down. I can see them all just running their fingers through his hair to make him scream.
My brother left me a message the day after Thanksgiving that my father had passed away that morning. I spoke to my brother very briefly, told him I was sorry for his loss, but felt that if there were services that I wouldn’t be attending as I would cause more stress than anything else. I know my father’s wife would not want to see me, and I feel no desire to make things any more difficult on anyone. I believe funerals and such are for the living, not really for the person who passed.
I have had some condolence letters and flowers sent to me – the flowers from my husband’s family, who have always accepted all of us, quirks and all. Some of the cards I still haven’t opened because my sense is that most people don’t really get what my feelings are. When I was little, my mother really seemed to not like me. She got sick when I was about 10 years old and wasn’t fully diagnosed until I was 13. She had a brain tumor and was operated on when I was 13. I remember when she was sick having her tell me that she didn’t give birth to me, that I was only my fathers. I actually searched her dresser looking for proof – hoping for proof that I wasn’t hers – but I found the hospital bracelet from when I was born. My sister found me crying on the floor in the bedroom because I found out mom was really my mom and I had truly hoped she wasn’t – it would explain why she didn’t like me.
I remember getting sent to a psychologist at boarding school because I said something about my mother being nicer to me after her illness. I was told I was horrible for saying that. Perhaps I was, but she was nicer to me and I did more to take care of her than my siblings did. I think I was searching for a way to get her to love me. I remember when she died a bit part of the pain was realizing I really would never know that my mother loved me.
Move forward 15+ years now and now we have my father passing away. Same thing. He is gone and there is no way to confirm that he actually loved me. His actions say no. I was told over the years that I could call him, etc., but phones work two ways. I haven’t moved in 25 years, nor changed my phone number in that time. He couldn’t have said the same thing. In fact, he moved to about an hour away from where I live and never said a thing, never tried to see us, never tried to see his grandsons, or anything. He may have felt that he was respecting my wishes, and I understand on some level . . . but as I have told Braeden, I would always find a way to wish him a happy birthday and let him know whether or not he wanted me in his life, I would love him forever. My conversations with Thane aren’t as deep – I just assure him that I will love him forever and he replies “I know!”
So why I am I writing this six weeks later? Because on Saturday I got a copy of the will and it all just reminded me that now both of my parents are gone and there is no chance to ever feel like either of them actually loved or cared about me. My husband, who has been with me now for 27+ years, pointed out that I was a misfit in my family – they just aren’t loving people, while I am. My ex sister-in-law told me once that they all looked down on me because I was common, where they think of themselves as aristocracy or something. My siblings think they had a great childhood traveling all over and I feel like I had a childhood of being dragged places. They went to ivy league schools and I went to the University if Maine.
More than anything, I hope my own children never decide to divorce me, and that they always know that I love them more than anything. We had a lot of trouble maintaining a pregnancy. I have told Braeden that he is my miracle. Why not? He is! He is definitely not autistic. He is smart, funny, and wonderful to watch on stage. And Thane is my very welcome surprise. And yes, some people may think he is less because he has autism, I will tell you he is definitely different not less. He is sweet, charming, quirky and totally lovable. His joy is so palpable it resonates through a room and everyone smiles with him. Too bad for you, my birth family, that you had to miss out on knowing them because you thrive on being superior and critical . . . they are worth far too much to me to allow you to treat them the way you treated me.