Last night our son Jack called to say his debit card was declined.
We sat on opposite ends of the couch, trading the phone back and forth, trying to calm him down.
He was trying to order food from Uber Eats. French fries and a frozen Pepsi.
We checked the account. There was money in it.
We assured him it was some kind of blip with the app.
Still, he panicked. He was scared someone stole from him. He didn’t understand why it happened.
I heard your voice rise and fall in frustration. You explained it again and again. Then you told him he’s ordering out too much. He should use his money for other things.
I felt my own nervous system rise with your voice. A familiar pit in my stomach returned.
I was determined to stay quiet—to not get involved in the father-son exchange. This is hard work for me. I often want to intervene and explain.
When we hung up for the final time, you and I argued.
I thought you were hard on him. I made the case that ordering take-out is something a lot of college kids do. He is sticking to his budget.
As so often happens, a disagreement about take-out bloomed into something larger, the way a small spill on the rug becomes a stain.
It turned into discussion about the future—his ability to organize his finances. Pay bills. Keep track of his money.
In my mind, it takes so little to make him happy. French Fries. Soda. Why not let him have it?
Behind our words was a story all its own.
Behind phrases like independent living and accountability, I heard the weight of a Forever Father’s commitment to providing for his son for as long as he is alive. This is a heavy burden. It is more than a frozen Pepsi and salty fries.
But I couldn’t say any of that to you. Because we were in an Autism Standoff. I couldn’t acknowledge your hurt. It might cost me too much.
Our voices had a jagged edge as they made their uphill octave climb.
We went to bed angry.
This is an Autism Marriage.
It is real and raw.
We alternate. One worries, the other hopes.
One pushes, the other soothes.
All the while, our ribcages vibrate with thoughts of the future.
What will happen when we’re no longer here?
Who will talk him off the ledge when he’s frantic about a debit card?
Who will make sure he doesn’t blow through all his money in a week?
This morning I sit at my desk. I go through the motions of emails and phone calls, while last night’s argument hangs over me like a fog. The sky is gray. The clouds look like they have something to say, if only I could read the mist.
The truth is we have not yet learned how to parent a young man with autism.
The younger problems of years past feel so much easier.
Getting him to stack blocks, sit through dinner, finish a worksheet, use a fork.
Now, we have over-texting, French Fry delivery, budgeting.
Dating apps, loneliness, sexuality.
We have to find a way to root from the sidelines to live him through his mistakes, his mishaps, his lapse of judgement.
We’ll get there. I know we will. I just don’t know how.
It’s unchartered territory. There is no handbook for life when autism stops being cute and quirky.
For when terror clenches your heart at the idea of bullies, online predators, cars speeding in the crosswalk.
We have an Autism Marriage. And sometimes things get magnified as we hope and hurt and worry for our vulnerable child. There is more at stake as we prepare for a future when we are gone.
Today, Jack called the bank himself. He explained the problem. He filled out the paperwork and ordered a new card.
He did this because of you.
He did this because every Saturday morning you brought him to the bank.
You showed him how to make a deposit, sign his name, and check his balance.
You introduced him to the teller and explained how to stand at the counter and wait his turn.
You taught him how to ask for what he needs and reach for all that is rightfully his.
Marriage is hard.
Building a family is messy.
Last night we disagreed.
Today, I honor the work you did to get this boy here.