Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dad vs. Man


"Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance." - Ruth E. Renkel


Being a dad doesn't mean you can’t be a man. When you have a child with special needs, they need their dads to be as involved as possible. Being a dad makes you a BETTER man.

Some men feel that the two are mutually exclusive. Scratch that. Some women feel that way too, so I guess it is some PEOPLE feel that being a dad means you can’t be a man.

Why do I say this? I say this because to me it is almost like there is an opinion out there that a guy has to turn in his “Man Card” in order to be fully vested in their kids. By that I mean that they take part in and are an active participant in ALL of the day to day routines of their kid’s lives that their schedule allows.

It is a disturbing phenomenon that I see firsthand almost every day. In the vast majority of events, therapies and functions that I attend, I am one of the only guys if not the only man in the room. At first I chalked it up to my unusual work schedule; my days off are in the middle of the week which allow me to be really active in Bianca’s week. But I work nights when I do work, so I am able to participate in weekend activities as well… and again, I am in the minority by a LONG shot.


So how do we get more dads involved? What is it that allows some men the ability to be fully participatory, and others stand-offish providers? I am sure Freud would have a lot to say on that subject. I wish I could tell you why it is that I look at my kids and want to do everything with them, while other guys can’t wait to get out of the house and escape. All I can do is re-assure the other men out there that being an involved dad does not make you any less of a man.

Sometime I fear that when a person is moved by one of my blogs or videos, they build up a false impression of who I am and almost emasculate me. I think that is a natural reaction but I don’t want to portray myself as something I am not. Maybe by talking a little bit about who I am as an Autism Dad, other men may feel comfortable enough to become more active in their child’s life.

So let me tell you about myself. I am fiercely family-centric. I put my family before anything, but I also make certain that I allow time for myself. I have the incredible good fortune of working in sports entertainment television. So when I go to work, I take the “Autism Dad” hat off and go into full sports geek mode. I enjoy testosterone heavy debauchery. I love going out with my guy pals and doing guy things just like any other man. I have a horrible fantasy football team with a funny, but dirty name. We were winless this year… thanks Jamaal Charles! I am so glad I decided not to keep Frank Gore this year to go with one of the few every down backs in the NFL.
On a good day, I am third from the right... on most, third from the left.

I enjoy going to bars with the guys, but I don’t drink like I used to when I didn’t have responsibilities or a 45 minute drive back home from where we would hang out. I love dirty comedians and humor that walks the edge and makes me squirm. I have a thick skin and can understand the difference between a joke and an insult. I am a HUGE Howard Stern fan and have listened to probably every show in its entirety for close to 15 years.


I make time for my heathen activities, but it is in moderation. You have to have balance, but when it comes to balancing a family, the scale has to tip largely in the families favor. I do nothing without thinking of my family first. They are what is important and help to define me as a human being and keep me grounded. Also, they NEED me.

Particularly when talking about kids on the spectrum, an active father is VITAL in their development. We are talking about kids that usually have socialization problems so they need every interaction they can get at any given moment. They need help in pulling themselves out of their isolation that is ASD.

 I was never a great hitter in baseball, so I have no clue what it is like to hit a homerun. I have never experienced dunking a basketball. I can only imagine that being able to do either one of those feats makes you feel like a king. You know what gives me that same kind of juice? Receiving an unsolicited hug from my daughter, Bianca signing that she wants to eat or when she REALLY wants a particular thing to eat… asking for it, my daughter using the toilet and signing the word “potty”, and on the rare occasion that I get an “I love you” out of Bianca… forget about it. That is like winning the Super Bowl.

I know having a kid with special needs is tough on a man. We have to fight a million urges every day to put things right. We put enormous amounts of pressure on ourselves to fix things that we perceive to not be right. We deal with stress in a very different way than women. We aren’t talkative by nature and when we do talk to our other guy friends; it is rarely about something as deep as the tougher moments of raising a kid with autism or the like. We usually talk about (stand by for a shocker ladies) sports, women, more sports, jokes, entertainment, and did I say women and sports? So basically our conversations are knuckle-dragging, not-so-intellectual type stuff. We rarely vent our concerns and frustrations about the real challenges that we face in life. When I do bring something up about an issue or challenge to one of my closer friends, it is usually in a less than politically correct manner. We have the kind of relationship where subtext is completely understood, so I can joke about my life with him in ways that I can with nobody else. That is a vital relationship and helps to keep me sane.

If the man is not a “fixer” he might be a “provider type”. These dads are the types of guys that feel that the solution to the problem is to just work themselves to death providing for the family. This is good for the family from an economic perspective, but I have found in my observations that it is the least rewarding or impactful in terms of bonding with your children. Kids don’t really get that “daddy is gone because he loves you”. Kids just think that all the stuff in their house was free anyway. At least that is what they think during the most important years of development. Even if you try to explain the importance of money and how it is gained and used, if you were to ask your child would he/she rather have daddy go to work or stay home and play with them, I guarantee you the vast majority of the kids are going to choose the quality time with dad.

To be fair, many dads caught in the provider role share that sentiment. The problem is that they feel trapped and are convinced that the time away from the family and earing the paycheck are for the greater good of the familial unit.

I beg to differ.

Men are not the only ones responsible for perpetuating the checked-out dad. Wives have a bit to do with it as well. Whether it is that the wife feels like there is not an open line of communication to tell the father that she would like him to be more involved, or she thinks he has too much on his plate providing for the family, or she just enjoys cashing in the checks, many moms just accept the status quo as is without complaint. I encourage women to talk to their husbands and express your concerns. It may be difficult for the guy to understand, he may be defensive but if you perceive that he is not engaged enough in your child’s life you owe it not just to the child to inform his/her father… you owe it to the father as well.

One way not to approach your man if you feel he needs to be more engaged is by comparing him to dads around you that you see as being more vested. I am aware of it happening with other couples that we have interactions with and this does not go over well.  In fact, it usually results in the man distancing himself even more.  Just tell him what YOU need and what you believe your child needs. Honesty is key.

My motivation for everything.
 I really hope that something clicks and I start to see more men at functions and taking their kids to therapy. It is going to be 2012 and I think we can get involved without it hurting our street cred. Plus it would be nice to be able to vent to another guy about how much Jamaal Charles’ torn ACL stinks in a keeper league, how funny Mike Judge was on the Stern Show, or who I would rather be stuck on a deserted island with for all of eternity, Salma Hayek or Sofia Vergara.

It isn’t Dad vs. Man… it is Dad AND Man.




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4 comments:

  1. My husband attends IEP meetings when he can (most of the big ones, he's there), and I know from being a special ed teacher how uncommon that is. They are often surprised to see two of us there. It doesn't happen often enough...two parents attending a meeting. We're definitely in the minority there.

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  2. hello
    i watched the video, my son is 3 yeras old with autism spectrum, and like bianca he like to laugh, tickled and very hard on getting diet because he loves chocolate too much. he's not talking.Living with autism gives me a lot ..a huge of blessings, prespectives, lesson and i become wiser.
    Here in Indonesia there is no social insurance. And most people dont even know what autism is, but i think western people is more perfectionist so i guess in social perspective its easier for children with autism here. People here (in contrary with the facility) have more compassiom. Both of us, me and my hubby work our best for the therapy. My hubby earlier once a negligent man but now he is much much better father and person. It gives challenge to our marriage and also a glue to fight together. My son's name is Abshar,

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  3. Hi.
    My name is Anine and i am from Norway. I found this blog when i watched the video on youtube. I have a daugther whit autism. She is 12. I have also a blog...
    I liked you video "fixing" autism very much and want to share this on my blog. Hope it`s ok.
    Hav an nice dag.
    Anine:)

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  4. Hi, My name is Sharon and I have a 3 year old Grand daughter who was just diagnosed with Austism, Aspergers. Thank for your video. It was beautiful as was the music. I love my grand daughter so much and will share this video with my family.I now understand her so much more, and love her even more. She is and always will be special to me because God made her special in HIS eyes. God Bless your journey and KEEP THE FIGHT going! ♥

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