I have taken the last few days off from my job to settle my son into a routine since school has let out. My son and I are autists (people who are diagnosed with autism.)
No. I cannot afford to lose time at work. But his mental well-being would take a hit if I just left him at home without any preparation while I went to work. I hope to be able to place him in a two week summer program where he will mingle with other children and get the socialization with kids his own age he does not easily get at home.
While we are together, we manage the housework. I teach him how to water the garden, pick up leaf litter, empty the dishwasher, wash larger dishes, empty the trash, put out the trashcans, all for the day when he will have to do this for himself.
No, this isn’t any different than any other father, I would suspect. However, I have the added requirement of doing it half a dozen times until he understands the process, can manage a reasoning structure to realize why we are doing it and can add it to a list of things he will go through every time he walks through the door.
I have to add it to his mental machine, his processing tree of thought he goes through to function during the day. I have to consider how long we do everything.
Too short and its frustrating, because he wants to know more than he used to. Thus I have to ensure he is getting a full explanation of the process and how to do it well. Too long and he loses focus, and I will have to start again tomorrow as if it hasn’t happened at all. Thus every task has to have just the right amount of data or I risk losing his attention.
Every task has this level of added difficulty. Imagine homework. We averaged four hours a day, everyday except Friday. Friday we did domestic chores outside, so he could understand its not just the inside of the house we are responsible for.
We are teaching him to cook, to clean, to manage his emotional stress, all of these are challenging because we have to gauge just how much we think he is capable of dealing with…today.
This is why I don’t subscribe to Father’s Day, a day where I sit and await the lavish treatments afforded Dad on a single day of the year. Because no single day could account for the ups and down of being a real father, tending to the needs of his children, in the present, planning for the future, while acknowledging sometimes his own needs are not getting met.
He is losing sleep, he is running late. He is behind on work projects and his personal issues just don’t get acknowledged at all, unless he is very lucky.
And you mothers who have made it this far, please don’t tell me about my struggles and how they pale in comparison to yours. I don’t have time to hear about them. I have a wife and she is just as frazzled as I am dealing with this eating machine with a hollow leg which is always hungry and has been taking a page from your average locust swarm.
If I am not at the store, I soon will be… Again. My son is a teenager. A Black teenager in a world where I get to listen about acquittals of white police officers who manage to shoot and kill Black men as young as twelve. See: Tamir Rice.
I fear for my son’s safety, while recognizing my own isn’t guaranteed any better. I am not safer because I am older. I am simply more experienced at navigating the treacherous waters of police interaction. One mistake and I could just as easily be dead.
This is my thought as I get behind the wheel everyday. As it has been for the last three years and 75,000 miles (enough to drive around the circumference of the Earth, three times) I have put on my car as an Uber driver. I am cognizant of my mortality and yet focus my energies on getting home to my family, raising my son, dealing with my own emotional issues which I can’t share with him or just about anyone else because men aren’t afforded such emotional connections by cultural fiat.
So I make due. I focus on the little victories.
I woke up. No heart attack between 4:00 and 4:30 AM on Monday morning (the time statistically most common for men to have that fatal heart attack…)
I had a cup of coffee. I try to be grateful coffee plants have survived again this year, through the threat of global warming. One day that won’t be true. I pray when the year coffee stops growing on Earth, I am no longer swimming to work everyday.
My car works. Thanks to my wife and her rigorous adherence to my car’s maintenance schedule, our car gets up every day, puts in 200 miles a day like a champ.
I didn’t get into an accident. Three years is a long time to drive a car during rush hour traffic for anywhere from two to four hours. In the height of traffic, going back again and again.
This is not what you do. You get in your car, you drive to work, you get out and go in your office free from the murderous stress of one more person who shouldn’t be behind the wheel dragging down the species as a whole. I have no such luxury. The street is my office. The MP3 player is my prayer wheel. My steering wheel is my church.
I pray every time I don’t hit a pedestrian who didn’t look around while wearing their headset, with a hoodie over their head and crossing against the light, as if being in a crosswalk would make them exempt from being killed. Driving in San Francisco, I can assure you it won’t.
I still contend, if major cities were to paint outlines on every crosswalk where someone stupid got run over because they were inattentive, on their phones, not looking up, maybe, after the first dozen in a particular crosswalk people might pay more attention.
“Hmm, there are thirteen chalk outlines on this corner. Perhaps I CAN turn my head and stop texting for a moment.”
I get home. Unscathed. No accidents, no police officers nervously fingering their guns. No shouts of “get out of your vehicle and put your hands on your head.”
At least not today.
No one tried to murder me. It has happened to other Uber drivers. Stabbed, gunned down, stolen cars, left in the woods. The list goes on. A real thought every time a person gets into my car. As if the world didn’t feel dangerous enough to me. See: Philandro Castile
I hug my son. I love him with an intensity I didn’t know was even possible. I have spent almost all of my adult life in his presence, because I have had both the misfortune and the fortune to not have a job that I wanted, while I cared for his needs.
When he could not speak, we drew pictures. When he couldn’t stop crying, I figured out what was wrong. Lights too bright. Wrong kind of clothing. Strong odors neutralized. Removed meat from his diet (because we kept trying to feed it to him and he kept not eating it.) Over-stimulated, we learned to soothe him with classical music.
He learned to speak by drawing Chinese symbols and associating them with words, in Chinese. I was taking a Chinese course at the time and when we drew characters, we made sounds and he figured out they were words with a single element. Much easier at the time than drawing letters which had no value unless they were connected to other letters. Too much work for him.
It didn’t matter. It worked. Since I have spent my son’s entire life in his presence, I have something most men can only dream of. A burning love of my child unfiltered by anything the modern world deems more important.
Because I know the truth. There IS nothing more important. My son took precedence over everything else.
So I drive my car. I pray all day for the strength to drive one more pretentious asshole to his six figure job making apps no one needs for a company no one likes, with people just like him whom no one wants to put up with except for the fact he is richer than God.
When I am honest, late at night, after I put my son to bed, I remember, I was that asshole once. I wouldn’t trade that life for what my son has become or what he means to me today.
So I drive my car and pray. That one day, something else will come into my life and be as fulfilling as raising him has been. Something I can dedicate myself fully toward and maybe I can be a whole person once more.
Father’s Day is a myth. If you have a father, love him every day. You have no idea what he goes through in your name. And he is never going to tell you.
It’s not how we are made. But I sure wish we were. I have never had a job I have loved as much.
Enjoy the day, dads. I know you have earned it.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning essayist, author and journalist for various online publications, anthologies and websites which fancy themselves having discriminating tastes in speculative fiction, non-fiction journalism and critical thinking.
He is a known collaborator as the Answer-Man with Krypton Radio and the Good Men Project. He edits Future SF Magazine, right here on Medium and blows the doors off the Nerdist’s comic commentary when he writes on Quora.com. He also coordinates and works with the Afrosurreal Writing Workshop in the city of Oakland. In his spare time, he collaborates with Black Comic Creators in an effort to promote their work and the impending Black Age of Comics.