There are all kinds of fathers.
Strict, playful, reserved, affectionate.
Some change diapers and nuzzle newborns, others prefer toddlers, or even teenagers.
But you are a special-needs father. You are in a league all your own.
I remember the way you gazed upon this baby with a mix of bewilderment, and awe.
I watched you peer into his wrinkly face, the hopes of your heart written in your eyes.
Throwing a baseball in the yard, or plucking at the strings of a guitar.
You are good.
You are a good man.
You love your complicated, mysterious son with a father’s heart.
A father’s heart is different from a mother’s heart, you see. This heart, well, it grows and changes and expands. It beats with endless hope.
You stay up late researching Autism Spectrum Disorder, and self-driving cars, and the side effects of medication. You wipe your tears in the dark.
A mother’s grief is colorful. It fills the room. It takes up space.
But a father’s grief is strictly after-hours. It is a when-everyone-is-asleep-and-it’s-quiet kind of thing. It is private, and perhaps lonely.
You know this boy like no one else knows him.
You know how he hates puzzles, but if you wait long enough at the table and you hold your breathe and sit very still, he will come sit beside you, and tentatively join the pieces together.
You know how badly he wants to drive.
You are the father who stood outside in the middle of winter, coaxing 6-year old Jack-a-boo into the restaurant when anxiety snaked through his spirit and stole his smile.
It was sixteen degrees that night.
But you never gave up on him. You waited and you walked and you held his hand in yours, until at last he was ready to come inside the warmth.
He needs you.
We need you.
From the first moment you knew he had autism, you swore you would not let it break you. But if you had to be honest, it breaks you just a little bit every day.
Sweet, tender father. Let yourself break. The breaking is okay. It is good, even. Because only through the cracks can light shine.
You are the man who works long hours trying to reconstruct what might have been lost this terrible spring.
The father who played Uno at the long table night after night, laughing with the kids amongst the brightly colored cards.
Yes, I know the way you hold it close to your heart, and try to be strong.
You are every father.
You are autism’s father.
He loves you.
He needs you.
He hugs you with two arms and a tight squeeze and a soft smile.
He hugs you like he hugs no one else in the whole blue world and this is special, and good.
Many fathers build a family around trophies and awards and great report cards.
Instead, you decided to rebuild your family around the arc of a bell curve.
Over the years, I’ve watched you trade a dusty baseball field for hopes better suited to a boy who loves license plates.
Do you remember the license plate phase? When he recited them and read them and leapt out of the car to look at them.
Some men work for lake houses, and boats, and retirement under bright sunny skies.
You work to make sure there is enough money and financial planning and security for a son who will never make a living of his own.
A boy who has no concept of a mortgage, and thinks cars cost $500, and who cleans his glasses three hundred thirty-six times a day.
You taught him how to change a light bulb.
You taught him how to flip a pancake.
You taught him how to pray.
He holds your hand when we walk through a parking lot. He is taller than you and he reaches for your hand because you are safe.
The thing is, you don’t see a diagnosis. That is the most amazing-unbelievable-swirly-heart part. You only see a boy.
Today, and every day, I salute you.
You are a man.
And you are good.
You believe in him.
Because of you, he will triumph.
Tomorrow for you. I will make chocolate chip pancakes.
Love, Jack Cariello